Heat, by Mike Lupica

Heat has it all: Baseball at Yankee Stadium–the dream of Little Leaguers who practice within sight of it; Michael and Carlos, determined to keep “Official People” from finding out why Papi isn’t home; Ellie, a girl with a secret; Mrs. Cora who knows something about angels; the Little League coach who doesn’t like kids who pitch better than his son; and Michael’s best buddy, Manny.

Manny told Michael he’d meet him at Macombs…around three o’clock. …that could mean anywhere between three and four.  He operated on Manny Standard Time, and there was no getting around it if you were Manny Cabrera’s friend.   He was loyal, funny, smarter than he let on, loved baseball as much as Michael.  There were so many good points with Manny that Michael couldn’t keep track of them all.

But none of Manny’s good points, not a single one, involved him showing up on time for anything but a real game.

When Michael is barred from Little League and Carlos no longer has a job, it’s looking bad, and suddenly, walking across the field, come the Official People:

It wasn’t just El Grande and Ellie.

Carlos was a couple of steps behind, walking with Mr. Gibbs of ACS.  And another man Michael didn’t recognize, but one who had Official Person written all over him.

Has Michael’s dream become a nightmare?

Like baseball, basketball, and football stories with real-life type characters?  Try Mike Lupica’s The Only Game, and Last Man Out, Lone Stars, Long Shotand others–some of them New York Times Best Sellers.

Hey–I said I’m not into sports.  But I am into  Lupica’s characters.  Just give me a cozy chair and a mug of hot chocolate.

Crowfoot, Chief of the Blackfeet

I met Chief Crowfoot in 1997 when we camped with grandchildren in Montana and in Canada.  Of course I didn’t meet him in person, because he died in 1890, but I found his biography, and we have driven through the country where he lived.  After reading about Crowfoot, I feel as if I had met him.

“Several Blackfeet women and with a boy were picking saskatoon berries when a grizzly bear surprised them.  The women dropped their berry bags and ran.  The boy tried to fit an arrow into his bow, but the bear swatted the bow away and attacked the boy.  Men from the nearby camp jumped on their horses, shouted, and fired their guns into the air to scare the grizzly.  Crowfoot ordered warriors to the other side of the grove of trees where the bear was hiding.

“With the whole camp gathered at a safe distance, the [men] rode to the other side of the grove.  There, single riders went into the trees and tried to entice the grizzly toward them.  When at last the huge beast came into view, the men shouted to Crowfoot, who was waiting on the far side.  Quickly he guided his horse into the dense bushes and soon was behind the savage bear.  With deadly accuracy, he plunged a spear into the animal and, when his horse became too frightened, dismounted and continued to stab the bear until its lifeless body crashed to the ground…from that time on [Crowfoot] was recognized throughout the tribe as a prominent chief.”

Crowfoot led his people through tragic times in Blackfeet (or Blackfoot) history with dignity and honor.

“Crowfoot learned quickly which white men he could trust, and those men in turn trusted him.  Crowfoot foresaw the end of the buffalo, realized that his people could survive only with dramatic changes in their way of life, negotiated for supplies, tools, and food for his people, protested broken promises and fraudulent dealings.  He co-operated with the Mounted Police and Indian Department officials, not because he could preserve the Blackfeet way of life, but because it was the only way to help his people.

“Crowfoot expected justice from the whites and demanded it from his own people: he was willing to risk his life for it.”
Crowfoot, Chief of the Blackfeet.  He died “beloved by his people, feared by his foes, esteemed by all.”

 

Trapp Family Singers–and a Fly!

When the Trapp Family Singers (Sound of Music) began their U.S. singing tour, they expected audiences who would be impressed by their technical skill and the difficulty of their selections.  Their audiences agreed that they were exceptionally good singers, but that didn’t mean they wanted to listen to a 45-minute-long piece that they knew nothing about!

Their manager said, “There is something you are lacking…something between you and your audience.”

Then came the fly.

The Trapps were finishing a concert of madrigals and motets, Bach and Mozart.  Maria chose a “Jodler”  for the encore.

“In yodeling, one has to take a deep breath and then hold out for long phrases at a time.  We were just in the middle of it when, oh horror!  A fly started circling around my face.  I watched it, cross-eyed, and got panicky,  I knew very soon I would have to take a deep breath, and what if…

“We took our deep breath and it happened.  In went the fly…a good cough would have helped, but to cough the right way on stage is much, much harder than to sing the right way.  I outdid myself in not coughing, but I couldn’t help turning purple.  I happened to have the leading part in this jodler, the melody; but that mountain call had to be finished without it…My brave children tried not to pay any attention to their choking mother, and when they were finished, I was too—with the fly.“

Maria felt she had to apologize.  She announced, “What never happened before has happened now.  I swallowed a fly.”

The audience laughed..and laughed…and laughed.  When they quieted down, she wanted to make up for the spoiled encore with an Austrian folk song.  She explained:  “It describes how a young hunter climbs up in the rocks for hours looking for, and finally shooting, a—”   The animal she meant was a chamois, but instead she said “chemise.*”  Not only the audience, but the rest of the family, shook with laughter.

The missing link had been found–interact with your listeners as if you are at home enjoying a musical party.

  • A chamois is a kind of deer; its hide is the chamois that polishes a car.  A chemise, for those who aren’t familiar with fashion terminology from half a century ago, is a loose-fitting garment that can be a nightgown, underwear, or a simple dress.

 

The Trapp Family Singers: Maria’s Story

Anyone who has enjoyed The Sound of Music is likely to enjoy the true story of the Trapp Family as told by Maria herself in The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.

Yes, the Captain did summon the children with a whistle.

No, he was not nearly the martinet portrayed in The Sound of Music.

It’s fun to read the biography, picking out the details used in the musical.  The rest of the story, after climbing over the mountains (not true) or supposedly taking a skiing vacation (true), continues with as much drama as the beginning, with laughter and tears.

Maria’s struggle with the language made me laugh so hard I couldn’t talk—and then cry because I wiped my eyes after slicing an onion.  I should have been getting dinner instead of reading.  When I could speak again, I read out loud for any family who were nearby, and it even drew a genuine out-loud laugh from a much-too-serious teenager.  Or maybe his funny-bone was tickled because Grandma looked crazy, laughing so hard.

In Maria Trapp’s words:

I invented a method all my own, in which I tried to apply what I had learned about one word to as many like-sounding words as I could find.  … for instance, I learned “freeze-frozen.”  I wrote underneath in my precious little notebook:  “squeeze-squozen” and “sneeze-snozen”.. When I admired the tall “hice” in New York, I got quite offended because they seemed to overlook the logical similarity between mouse-mice and house-hice.”

Maybe the funniest chapter in the book happens before the Nazis invaded Austria, when the Trapp family joined cousins for camping on an island, “Uncle Peter and His Handbook,” but you’ll have to read The Story of the Trapp Family Singers yourself.

John Magee, John Denver, and High Flight

John Magee began composing the poem “High Flight” while flying a Spitfire 30,000 feet over England in 1941.   He finished it after landing and mailed it to his parents.

John Denver loved flying and was the son of a U.S. Air Force test pilot.  John Denver set John Magee’s poem to music.  Watch and listen on U-tube.  As a bonus, he’s chatting with Bob Hope during the introduction.  “High Flight” is also available, in several color and black-and-white versions, on U-tube.

John Gillespie Magee, Jr., enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1940.  John had just turned 18. Hitler’s army was bombing England.  The United States wanted to stay out of the war, but some Americans thought it was time to join the fight against the Nazi onslaught.  John had a special reason to do that because of many happy times with his grandmother in England.

John’s story is well told, with illustrations, in the book High Flight by Linda Granfield.

The pilots needed in England were trained in Canada because German bombing made it almost impossible to practice there.  By the end of September, 1941, when John finished training in Canada and was shipped to England, the Battle of Britain had been won and English pilots were fighting the Germans in France.  John fought his first air battle near Dunkirk, France, in November.  

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States entered the war.

On December 11, John was practicing wing formation flying in England.   As he descended through a layer of clouds, he collided with a plane below him and was killed instantly.

A few weeks before, he had sent the poem to his parents and a local newspaper published it.  It was published again after his death, with a lament for the fallen, and in his parents’ church bulletin.  Copies of the poem with John’s portrait and a drawing of his plane, a Spitfire, were sent to every airfield in the British Empire.

Over the next four years, while World War II dragged on, John’s poem gave war-weary civilians, soldiers and pilots, words that lifted their spirits, words that spoke of the glories of flight, not the ravages of war.  His words inspired hope and courage.

In 1944, Johns brother Christopher, a sixteen-year-old in the Combat Merchant Marine, stood on an oil tanker deck and heard actor Orson Welles’s voice on the loudspeaker:  “I now want to recite for you what I believe to be the finest poem to come out of this war…”

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, –and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of –Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

You will find “High Flight” printed in air cadet handbooks.  Apollo 15 pilot James Irwin carried a copy to the moon.  It’s quoted on headstones in Arlington National Cemetery.  President Ronald Reagan quoted it after the death of seven astronauts on the Challenger.

 

Colin Fischer


From Colin Fischer’s notebook:

“Our neighbors once witnessed me take a metal mixing bowl and some household chemicals into the garage.  After hearing a loud bang, they called the police, assuming I was attempting to manufacture drugs…What the neighbors didn’t know and my father eventually confirmed for the police was the truth:  I was trying to work out the principles of explosive pulse propulsion in spacecraft for a science project.  The police laughed, although my father made me spend a month’s allowance to replace the bowl.”

Remember Encyclopedia Brown?  The ten-year-old boy detective?  I didn’t discover him until our grandson showed me one of the 28 Encyclopedia Brown books, and then Grandpa and I shared those stories.

Colin Fischer is 14 and a high school freshman.  Most of his classmates think he’s weird because he doesn’t think or react the way most kids do.  Colin can’t “read” facial expressions the way most of us do, so he keeps index cards with smiley and other faces to help him figure out whether someone is joking, or scared, or angry, or what.  Because he collects facts the way you might collect stamps or baseball cards, and because he’s curious about the ways other people behave, he finds out who shot off the gun at a birthday party.

This book is a window into the mind of a “different” kid.  There’s a bully, there are friends, and there are kids who become better friends.   The book ends with hints of trouble yet to come from the perpetrator of the crime, and I’d like to see how Colin’s conflict with his little brother turns out, but there isn’t a sequel–not yet…

Colin Fischer isn’t a quick read like the Encyclopedia Brown books. There’s one mystery (but several problems) solved in a full-length book for teen readers.  The book is a bonus if you like odd facts, like the swimming patterns of hammerhead sharks or what is the Kuleshov effect.