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Does every alphabet have to use a xylophone for X? Not necessarily. In my picture book, X means ten on the face of Big Ben. But for the purposes of this blog about RIDDLE OF THE SAMOVAR, it fits quite well.

The musical accompaniment to the original songs for ALICE IN TUMBLEWEED LAND will incorporate instruments for any children in Hickory Bend who want to take part, at any level, according to their talent shown in try-outs. There may be a simple quartet, or a full orchestra. I don't want to complicate the plot, but Grant (Jandy's crush) plays the trumpet, and Heidi (her cousin) the flute. A simple tune may be played on xylophones (metal) or glockenspiels (wood).

Like Jandy and Cal, I'm getting excited about this show, as if it's really going to take place! I've been looking up the scores from the Disney movie, ALICE IN WONDERLAND, and humming the songs my class sang in our 1975 program at Ludlow Middle School. I directed the drama; my colleague Ian played the piano in that golden afternoon.

How do you get to Wonderland, anyway? In 1973, I had painted the set for another ALICE production, at Forelands Middle School. The book was one of my favorites as a child. Is that why the story and music haunt my waking dreams? I can see, hear, smell, taste, and feel it all in my imagination. Let's hope the readers will, too. Read More 
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The Hickory Bend production of “Alice” is a new interpretation with a Texas twist by a local writer. Wonderland is re-named Tumbleweed Land. The play mixes events and characters from cowboy history with those of Lewis Carroll’s two books.

Jandy‘s encounters at her new/old school parallel those of Alice down the rabbit hole and through the looking glass. She gets lost in the warren of hallways joining the buildings. A good student made to feel stupid, she can recite Persian poetry, but has missed out on American classics. Friends leave her behind with their chit-chat about fashions and film stars.

Down is up, and up is down. People talk in riddles. Nothing makes sense. Jandy must find her own ways to navigate the landscape. After a weird and wonderful adventure, she will emerge at Tamam Shud (the Very End in Farsi), with renewed confidence and relief that it is over. Read More 

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After a 5th grade production of "Alice in Wonderland" thirty years ago, a parent thanked me for letting her shy daughter play the Queen of Hearts, because it had boosted her self-confidence. Sally's classmate Brian had relished the role of King. Both children were what you might call solidly built, making their presence felt like Pavarotti onstage. Then there was absent-minded Chester scurrying about with his watch on a chain as the White Rabbit, and Mad Hatter Michael pontificating at the tea party in a top hat, priced 10 shillings and sixpence. It would be interesting to know how much of it they remember now, in their forties, likely with kids of their own at the same school!

As I get to know my characters in the fictional town of Hickory Bend, I will enjoy drawing up a cast list for "Alice with a Texas twist" and watching the drama unfold, on and offstage. Cal wants to be the hookah-smoking caterpillar, but he and his cousin Luke might end up as Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Costumes made by Sue Graham and other moms will offer possibilities for mistaken identity, or notes hidden in pockets, clues to the Riddle of the Samovar.

Let the show begin!  Read More 
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Jandy's adjustment to life back in Hickory Bend after three years in Iran is fraught with setbacks. Classmates ridicule gaps in her knowledge of rock music; teachers berate her ignorance about American history. The school counselor insists that Jandy still lacks one math class, and they cannot fit art in her schedule. Then Mom suggests a nerdy tutor to boost her chemistry grade. Relatives wonder why Dad ever took that job overseas, and the Islamic Revolution hasn't helped matters.

Old friends have moved on to new pursuits - band, cheerleading, athletics. If only Maryam were here! Communication with Iran, by mail or phone, has broken down. Brother Cal is upset that his dog disappeared while staying with Maryam, and takes it out on Jandy. But if they can't work together, how will they solve the Riddle of the Samovar? That knotty problem carries enough complications of its own.

Maryam's arrival in Texas, which should be an exciting, longed-for event, is hampered by resentment from Cal and prejudice from a clique of mean girls. Worse yet, Jandy's attempts to get her a role in "Alice" backfire, when students (protesting the shah's admittance into the US) take over the Embassy in Tehran. No wonder she feels like Alice down the rabbit hole. Read More 
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While Jandy Graham is content to paint and shift scenery, Maryam Darabi prefers acting and dancing. When the international school in Shekarabad, Iran, staged “Ali Baba” in 1978, Maryam played a slave girl, Morgiana [SECRET OF THE SEVENTH GATE]. She swayed and twirled in an ever-faster dance, until she was close enough to the wicked oil merchant to seize his hidden dagger. The school’s previous show had been "Alice in Wonderland" with Maryam in the lead role.

Fast forward to Hickory Bend, Texas, 1979, setting for the sequel, RIDDLE OF THE SAMOVAR. Jandy sees the local production of "Alice" as a way to help her friend get involved in the community, after the ordeal of fleeing Iran. But Tammie Traylor, a Buffalette cheerleader, has different ideas about the Lobster Quadrille.

Should it be danced with the French traditional four walls (lines) or just one, as in the new craze called line dancing? Another girl suggests the disco-inspired Electric Slide. Will the dancers dress as sea creatures, as per Lewis Carroll's book, or wear hats and boots like the popular Dallas Cheerleaders? As Jandy points out, they can be flexible, because this version of the story is already like no other, having been given a Texas twist by a local writer. She even considers a samovar instead of a china teapot for the Mad Hatter scene. But who has the final say on choreography? What about the music? Opera, zydeco, or twangy country?

I had fun researching the evolution of these dances over the decades. Read More 
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