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Lou Ottens, the inventor who blessed us with the cassette tape, died earlier this month at the age of 94. Thanks to his creation, people around the world have collected their favorite songs as a gift for friends and lovers. A mixtape was one of the coolest things you could give or receive in the 1980s and ‘90s. Though the technology has given way to the online streaming playlist, the idea remains the same: collect your favorite tunes around a theme and share them with people you love.

Thanks to its billing as “Toy Story meets Stranger Things,” my middle grade novel Spark and the League of Ursus (and its sequel) practically demands its own mixtape. I share it with you here.

 

 

Joseph, “Fighter”

Spark is a teddy bear with a simple task: protect her human friend Loretta from monsters. This song came across my radar while starting the second book in the series, and I thought it was a perfect fit, with its themes of loyalty and friendship during difficult times. It doesn’t hurt that one of the lyrics says, “You’re carryin’ the spark…”

 

James Brown, “Get Up Offa That Thing”

Eleven-year-old Loretta is an amateur filmmaker, and she makes movies with her brother Matthew. Her parents encourage this hobby, even when the children commandeer the entire house to create an elaborate movie set.

The family adopts James Brown’s funky classic as their unofficial celebration song. Mom and Dad blast it at the highest volume on happy occasions—including when Matthew leaves the hospital after a long stay, an event the family jokingly treats as if it were a prison break. "Get up offa that thing / and dance 'til you feel better." That advice has never led me astray.

 

Survivor, “Eye of the Tiger”

I’m old enough where I remember my family actually renting a VCR (yes, that was a thing) and watching Rocky III together. That film starts with perhaps the greatest montage of all time (here), something many other movies have tried to emulate. (A great example is this scene from the animated film Persepolis.)

Spark has her own training montage of sorts when she recruits her fellow teddy bears to fight a monster that is determined to kidnap Loretta. What better song to use than Survivor’s classic? (Special thanks to brothers Charlie and Seamus Fitzpatrick in Rhode Island for demanding that I include this one!)

 

The Living Tombstone, “Five Nights at Freddy’s”

Two young readers (siblings Emily and Brian Cahill of Delaware County, PA) demanded that I include this theme to a video game they play, which features evil animatronic bears. Since there are some evil bears in my series, I agreed to squeeze this one onto the list. The youth have spoken!

 

Sam Cooke, “Twistin’ the Night Away”

There’s a scene in the first book where the family does a little spring cleaning, and Mom and Dad play some of their favorites to pass the time, including this one by Sam Cooke. I can imagine Loretta goofing on her parents for liking it, while secretly liking it herself, since that’s how I reacted to a lot of my own parents’ musical tastes. (I should mention that this song is also used to great effect in one of my favorite movies, Innerspace.)

 

Patti Labelle, “Stir It Up”

If this song does not make you instantly happier, check your pulse. I like to think of this as a song that Loretta might listen to with her friends—while laughing about how old it is.

 

John Williams, “Hand to Hand Combat” (from the Jaws soundtrack)

While Loretta and her friends try to complete their latest movie project, Spark has her hands full with a giant monster rampaging through the house. I figured that the music from the climactic showdown in Jaws might be appropriate here, since that is one of Loretta’s favorite films.  You’ll notice some hints from Williams’s later work in Star Wars, Superman, and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

 

Of Monsters and Men, “Alligator”

Another recent track that popped up while I was finishing these books. On the surface, the lyrics are about waking from a dream, but I read them as a metaphor for growing up and moving on and choosing your own destiny, which are some of the biggest themes in the series. Spark protects Loretta so she can move on to the next phase of her life…but that may only speed up the day when Loretta no longer needs a teddy bear. As Spark comes to accept, things are always changing, and all we can do is keep learning and growing.


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Robert Repino

Robert Repino is the author of the War with No Name series for adults and The League of Ursus duology for children. He lives in New York, where he works as an editor at a scholarly press and teaches at the Gotham Writers’ Workshop. Robert had two special teddy bears when he was growing up: Bear and Blue Bear.