Kid Culture - Storytelling


Full casts make stories come alive

Ron often comes up in daily conversations with my 11-year-old son. No, Ron is not a school buddy, but a character in the Harry Potter series. Yet, to my son he is very real.

Bringing characters to life is one of a storyteller's greatest challenges. Many tellers use a wide range of voices to accomplish this task. Another method of making characters more three-dimensional is to perform the story with a full cast of actors. Here are some suggestions for recordings that do this in different ways.

THE MOFFATS, by Eleanor Estes, full cast audio, 2002, $21.95 for 3 audiocassettes, 4 hours; ages 8-up. This audio book is a recorded version of a story that was written in 1914 about the Moffat family, who was struggling to get along in the early part of the century. This warm story is told from the perspective of the second youngest child, Jane. Through her eyes, listeners will get a feel for the townfolk of Canbury, life in the early 1900s, and a strong sense of the importance of family. Youngsters will notice that life was very different but they will be able to relate to many of the situations and feelings portrayed in this sensitive tale. Children will easily recognize the neighborhood bully, the fear and uncertainties of moving (Estes deals with this in an extremely insightful fashion) and the excitement of new adventures. Unlike many of the stories of today, The Moffats is filled with the innocence of childhood.

The full cast treatment of this story adds texture and depth to the characters. A narrator, whose pleasant, gentle voice makes for easy listening, reads most of the book. Her emotive reading serves as the glue to hold the full cast together. Listeners will feel as if they are first-hand witnesses to the adventures of the four Moffat children.

The Moffats can be purchased by calling (800) 871-6152 or online at

WALKING THE WINDS, conceived and developed by Deirdre Kelly Laurakas, book and lyrics by Calleen Sinnette Jennings, Mary Hall Surface, and Eric Wilson, music by Deborah Wicks La Puma, 1995, $13.98 for CD, all ages. The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts originally commissioned this fine quality musical as a theatrical piece. This excellent example of the blending of storytelling and musical theater tells seven American folk tales about hardships, hard work, cooperative spirit and the beliefs America is founded on. The folk tales stem from several of the cultures that make up our country, such as Native American, Chinese American, Mexican American and African American. These tales are a mixture of humor, romance and spirituality.

Listening to this recording is like having front seats at a well-staged theatrical performance. The 12 actors' range of voice and musical talents complement each other well. Texture is added by the musical and storytelling pieces performed in both a solo and choral fashion. Each tale is accented by instrumental music that reflects the culture of its origin. This fast-paced, upbeat recording is full of energy and emotion. It would make a great companion on a long car ride. All those in the car, including adults, are bound to use their imaginations to transport themselves to the Kennedy Center and "see" this production unfold before them.

"Walking the Winds" can be purchased online at

THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD, by Joe Loesch, Toy Box Productions, 1999, $14.95 for book with audiocassette, $16.95 for book with CD, 18 minutes, ages 8-11. This story is part of the Backyard Adventures series in which a group of four children, Farley's Raiders, travel back in time. This book takes the friends to Maryland in 1849 where they meet Harriet Tubman, who is on her way to freedom from slavery. They follow her accomplishments as she helps to free slaves through the Underground Railroad.

Loesch does an excellent job of teaching children about an important historical period while making it interesting and relevant for the current generation. Listeners will be fascinated as they listen to historical facts interwoven with science fiction (an invisible time machine) and problem solving (what can be done when the invisible machine becomes visible at an inappropriate moment?). Youngsters will be on the edge of their seats when an African American friend who joined Farley's Raiders for this trip through time is captured as a runaway slave. After history runs its course and the Raiders solve their technical problems, listeners will be left with the important message of brotherly/sisterly love.

All of the stories in the Backyard Adventures Series are written in play format with different readers bringing each character to life. Normal, everyday children read the lines of the Farley's Raiders which helps to ease the transition when the audio book becomes interactive and the listeners are given the opportunity to fill in one of the roles. "The Underground Railroad" would be perfect on a cold or rainy day as the impetus for a small group of children to produce a play complete with scenery and props.

"The Underground Railroad" can be purchased by calling (800) 750-1511 or online at


Naomi Leithold is an award-winning storyteller and early childhood educator. She lives in Skokie and has two boys, ages 11 and 14. Her Web site,, features story-starters and other resources for young storytellers.


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