Take a tape on the trip to cushion the ride By Naomi Leithold

It's time for vacation," ranks high on my list of favorite phrases. "Are we there yet?"--especially when repeated at 10-minute intervals during a six-hour trip--ranks pretty low on that list. As you head off on the road this year, here are some suggestions for engaging stories to entertain the back seat contingent (and those sitting in the front seat, too) and, hopefully, reduce the frequency of the dreaded phrase. SANDBURG OUT LOUD, stories, poems and songs by Carl Sandburg, told and sung by Carol Birch, Bill Harley and Angela Lloyd, music by David Holt, August House Publishers, 2002, $16.95 for CD, $12 for audiocassette, 1 hour, ages 8 and up. Carl Sandburg's creative genius and unique writing style shines through in this collection of his "Rootabaga Stories" (a region where the train tracks zig zag, pigs are wearing bibs and there is a village of Liver and Onions), poetry and folksongs that he collected in The American Songbag. All of the stories have clever story lines, but what really stands out is Sandburg's use of words. Each tale unfolds as a masterful weaving of alliteration (blue porcelain breakfast plates), catchy refrains and unusual images and descriptions. Listeners are sure to chuckle at the comical names of the characters, such as Give Me the Ax and Blixie Blimber. This well-produced recording of both solo and choral performances is a delight to hear. It is awe inspiring to listen to accomplished tellers Birch, Harley and Lloyd spin a yarn together. The storytellers work as a well-oiled machine, breathing life into the stories with their impeccable timing, voiced sound effects, affect and characterizations. The variety of their telling styles and voice ranges adds texture and interest to the already-entertaining stories. Grammy Award winner Holt completes the picture with his folksy guitar and banjo instrumentals. This will make a fine addition to your family's audio library. Sandburg Out Loud can be purchased by calling (800) 284-8784 or online at THE GYPSY WAGON: TALES FROM THE NEIGHBORHOOD, by Dan Keding, Turtle Creek Recordings, 2002, $15 for CD, 70 minutes, ages 10 and up. Keding's heartfelt stories about growing up on the South Side of Chicago during the 1950s will enchant the entire family. These delightful stories carry the message of the importance of family and a general respect for humankind. Listeners will fall in love with Keding's Croatian grandmother, Noni, her colorful friends and the many neighborhood folk. These stories portray an era when children lived near older family members and learned about the world through their eyes. Youngsters will get a glimpse into (and parents might relive) a time when playing ball in the alley--rather than playing computer games in the house--was a daily pastime. Keding's mellow voice, vivid descriptions, straightforward style and endearing characters make this recording a joy to listen to. His warm, vibrant delivery and his obvious love for the neighborhood and people of his youth are refreshing. Listeners are sure to get the message that growing up in a close-knit intergenerational neighborhood can add to a happy, secure childhood. This feel-good CD is sure to make its way into your family's heart. The Gypsy Wagon: Tales from the Neighborhood can be purchased by calling (217) 344-8460 or online at DON'T KNOW MUCH ABOUT AMERICAN HISTORY, by Kenneth C. Davis, read by Oliver Wyman with Jonathan Davis, Random House, 2003, $26 for four audiocassettes, 7 hours, 15 minutes, ages 9 and up. This informative audiobook is in Davis' trademark question-and-answer style. In an attempt to prove history can be fascinating, he poses thought-provoking questions. such as: "The only woman to formally serve in the American Revolution was: (a) Francis Marion, (b) Elizabeth Ross, (c) Deborah Samson, (d) Molly Pitcher." Thoughtful, detailed answers follow each inquiry. I especially liked Davis' approach to American history. The recording starts by setting the record straight about Christopher Columbus' role in discovering America. Davis makes it clear that Native Americans--not Europeans--were the first residents here. He also points out how historical events affect everyone differently, such as how the Industrial Revolution had both positive and negative consequences. The numerous questions are augmented by portraits of famous Americans, such as John Adams, and excerpts from speeches, historical documents or journals. Wyman has an upbeat narrating voice that infuses the facts with a fresh energy. This fact-filled recording will give your family fuel for nonstop trivia games. Don't Know Much About American History can be purchased at major bookstores.


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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