Animal stories are surefire kid pleasers By Naomi LeitholdIn my house, mice cause screams of terror and holes in bags of flour. Yet mice have been known to save the world (Redwall by Brian Jacques), perform ballet (Angelina Ballerina by Katharine Holabird) and carry a purple plastic purse (Lilly and the Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes). Through stories, even a rodent can become a character worthy of a child's love. Here are my recommendations for animal stories that your child will want to add to his/her list of favorites.
RASCAL, by Sterling North, read by Jim Weiss, Random House, 1998, $25 for 3 audiocassettes, 4 hours, 41 minutes; ages 8 and up.
Rascal, a baby raccoon that Sterling found in a hollow log near his boyhood Wisconsin home, will immediately work his way into your child's heart. This autobiographical story, originally written in 1963, chronicles the year (1918) Sterling brought this furry ball of mischief to join his menagerie of skunks, cats, a crow and a Saint Bernard. Children will be fascinated as they follow this duo skating, fishing, on canoe trips and even sharing a strawberry soda pop.
The appeal of this story is not only the close relationship of a young boy to his pet, but also Sterling's uncanny ability to integrate this relationship into his family situation, his understanding of animal behavior, his respect for nature and the historical events of 1918. Children will be entertained by Rascal's many whimsical adventures while learning about natural raccoon behavior. My favorite vignette was when Rascal attempted to use his instinctive washing behavior to clean a sugar cube in milk and was surprised when it disappeared. Along with amusing stories, Sterling deals sensitively with difficult subjects, such as his decision to return Rascal to the wild, the effects of World War I and his mother's death when Sterling was only 7. Any child who has lost a loved one will identify with Sterling's warm memories of his mother and his feelings about her death.
Weiss' gentle, comforting voice is a perfect match for this warm story. His knack for producing believable character voices adds another dimension to the loving people in Sterling's life. This heartwarming story will make a wonderful addition to your child's audio library.
Rascal can be purchased at major bookstores.
TIO CONEJO (UNCLE RABBIT), by Olga Loya, August House Publishers, 1999, $12 for audiocassette, 45 minutes; ages 8 and up.
Children are sure to listen intently as a cunning monkey, opossum, dog and rabbit try to outsmart the bullies in these Latin American trickster tales. This bilingual recording introduces children to a folktale genre in which a trickster can be the wise one or the fool, the one who is fooled or the one who fools. In all these stories the trickster is the one who comes out ahead. As children listen to the many twists and turns they will be kept guessing how the story will finally end. This introduction to this genre of folktale can be followed up by a trip to the folk tale department of your local library, where delightful trickster stories from around the world can be found.
On the first side of the cassette, Loya tells the four intriguing stories in both English and Spanish. The second side is in Spanish only. Loya tells the bilingual stories by immediately translating a Spanish word or phrase into English. She does this effortlessly, without interrupting the flow of the story. Hearing the words quickly translated and in context is a great way to expose children to a language that they may have little experience with. Her straightforward, bare-bones style of storytelling makes the stories easy to listen to and requires children to use their imaginations to add the spark that make the stories come to life.
Tio Conejo (Uncle Rabbit) can be purchased by calling (800) 284-8784 or online at www.augusthouse.com.
THE KOOKABURRA AND OTHER STORIES, Volume I by Dal Burns, Gifts from the Art, 2001, $14.95 for CD, 1 hour; ages 8 and up.
All the ecologically sensitive stories on this recording are based on Aborigine myths told to children to teach them the ways of their tribe. Many of the stories attempt to explain how and why something is the way it is. "The Kookaburra" explains the kookaburra's loud, unique call. Through these gentle tales children will learn about the animals of the outback: kangaroos, the duck-billed platypus and the many insects and birds. But the most important lesson of this recording is that humans share this planet with animals and must respect that.
Burns' comforting voice compliments the cooperative nature of these tales. Even though his narration is gentle, he does a wonderful job showing suspense with inflection and volume modulation. Authenticity is added to the stories through the use and explanation of Australian terms, such as billabong and didjeridoo and realistic animal noises.
The Kookaburra and Other Stories can be purchased at http://outbackstories.com/stories.htm.
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, www.simplystorytelling.com, features story starters and other resources for young storytellers.