STORYTELLING: Classic stories never wear out


By Naomi Leithold

Once upon a time there were three bears, a mama bear, a papa bear and a baby bear... Until my oldest turned 4, this was my nightly mantra. They never tired of it. As a young child, I, too, repeatedly requested “The Three Bears.” This is one of the many stories that have passed the test of time. Here are my recommendations for other classics that will never loose their charm.

THE COMPLETE TALES, by Beatrix Potter, read by Shelly Frasier, Tantor Media, 2003, $26 for 3 CDs, $20 for one MP3-CD, 3½ hours; ages 4-8.

As a gardener, I share Farmer McGregor's view that rabbits are pests but I can't help feeling sorry for poor Peter, whose new blue coat gets caught on the farmer's fence. My empathy for this little rascal is due to Potter's sensitive handling of the animals. In Peter Rabbit, as well as in the other 20 stories on this recording, she endears the animals to the listener by dressing them in clothing, naming them, and having them help humans and each other.

Not only will children be entranced by these delightful tales; parents will appreciate the rich dialogue and thought-provoking situations. The animals in these stories aren't the cute, cuddly variety, but ones with everyday problems, such as how to run a business and how to help others in need. Children also will be exposed to the formal English of Potter, who was raised in a wealthy British family in the late 19th century. You can make it a game with young listeners unfamiliar with words such as perambulator (carriage). Have them use context clues to figure out the meaning.

A word of caution: This story was written in a time when corporal punishment was the response to bad behavior. If this goes against your philosophy, you might want to listen to the recording with your child to explain this.

Listening to these popular stories will let young children construct their own images before they go to the library and see Potter's illustrations. Fraiser's clear narration, multiple character voices and sung riddles will definitely aid in this process.The Complete Tales can purchased at major bookstores, by calling (877) 782-6867 or online at

THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER, by Mark Twain, told by Jim Weiss, Greathall Productions, 2002, $9.95 for audiocassette, $13.95 for CD, 1 hour; ages 8 and up.

Listening to Weiss tell a story is like watching a play with multiple actors. His “1,000 voices” along with his energetic, polished delivery do justice to Twain's fine writing. This story about a poor boy and a prince exchanging lives will immediately command the attention of young children. They will sit at the edge of their seats as this riveting story takes many twists and turns and they are swept up by the suspense.

This story will not only entertain youngsters, but also give them insight into human nature. They will witness a self-assured prince become humble, a down-trodden pauper find himself, and see the greed and compassion of the many people who they come in contact with. Children are bound to love the happy ending that comes as a result of the prince's insight into what it's like to live like a common citizen.

The Prince and the Pauper can be purchased in many independent book and toy stores, by calling (800) 477-6234 or online at

THUMBELINA, by Hans Christian Anderson, adopted by Tom Roberts, told by Kelly McGillis, original music by Mark Isham, Madacy Entertainment Group, 1999, $5.98 for audiocassette, $8.98 for CD, $9.98 for video, 26 minutes; ages 5-8.

This delightful story about a tiny girl who's born in the center of a flower is part of the Rabbit Ears Collection of award-winning stories that are told by accomplished actors accompanied by renowned musicians. Roberts does a wonderful job updating this classic fairy tale. Instead of the common formula that includes the helpless woman being saved by the King, he portrays Thumbelina as a strong character in charge of her own destiny. Every time she faces adversity, she overcomes it on her own. When she meets the king of the flower angels, they jointly decide to get married, which results in the expected “happily ever after” outcome.

Thumbelina provides children with many opportunities to use their imaginations. As they listen, they will be swept into the world of this teeny girl as she is captured by a June bug and lives in the miniscule mouse house. McGillis's terrific character voices brings the story to life. Her slow-paced delivery along with Isham's dreamlike, heartfelt music makes this recording a perfect bedtime companion. The gentle instrumental following the story will definitely help to put your child to sleep and guarantee sweet dreams.

Thumbelina can be purchased at major bookstores.



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



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