By Naomi Leithold
As snow covers the ground and the wind whips through the trees, there is nothing better than cuddling up with your child and listening to a good story or fine music.
Why make a choice? These recordings combine the best of both.
THE JOURNEY OF SIR DOUGLAS FIR, story by Bill Barnes, written by Ric Reitz, illustrations by David Brewer, music and original score by Jim Ellis, lyrics by Ric Reitz, Sir Fir Enterprises LLC, 1999, $19.95 book and CD or video; ages 5-9 and families. This delightful story, based on a real event that happened in Canada, is a wonderful example of the blending of music and storytelling. Your family is sure to be entertained by this Broadway-style, sing-along production. The fully orchestrated music and upbeat songs are used as background, provide sound effects and highlight the action in ways that pull listeners into the story. Before long, younger listeners will be singing along and older siblings will become actors or readers in their own dramatic renditions.
The saga begins in a forest near Shawnigan Lake, British Columbia, where Douglas Fir, a tree, has just celebrated his 350th birthday. Douglas, who is bored with his life, is given a chance at a new beginning when he is uprooted by a storm. His forest friends try to come up with an idea for a novel existence that would suit him. The ecology-friendly conclusion finds Douglas as a flagpole in Exhibition Place in Toronto. The main story is intertwined with facts about trees and positive messages about friendships, intergenerational relationships and growing up.
This high quality recording has everything it takes to make it a family favorite. Listeners will be swept away by the rich, orchestrated music and mesmerized by narrator Bob Gillies, who is known as the Dick Clark of Canada and has a clear and commanding voice. The younger set will be delighted by the colorful, whimsical illustrations in the read-along book and the cartoon-like voices of the characters. The vocabulary is too difficult for beginning readers, but they can easily follow along with the illustrations.
The Journey of Sir Douglas Fir is available from major booksellers or online at www.sirdouglasfir.com.
PLUM BOY! AND OTHER TALES FROM JAPAN, told by Elizabeth Falconer, Koto World, 2000, $10 audiocassette, $15 C; ages 5 and up, 1 hour. This recording consists of five Japanese folk tales enriched by Koto music. Koto is a wooden instrument with 13 strings that came to Japan from China more than 1,000 years ago. It was originally used in chamber music, but today it can be found in a variety of musical styles, including jazz. This mellow instrument sets the mood and adds texture and authenticity to the traditional stories as does a sprinkling of Japanese words interspersed throughout the stories.
These tales are a nice introduction to Japanese culture. Through these stories, children can learn that love and gratefulness are themes common throughout the world. They may also notice that stories they are familiar with have different versions in other countries, such "Issunboshi," or inch boy, which is very similar to the story of Thumbelina.
Storyteller Elizabeth Falconer, who is also a Koto Master, has a soothing voice, which is calm and inviting. She modulates her voice effectively to convey emotion, excitement and peaceful moments. This makes stories both mellow and energetic at the same time.
The cassettes can be found online at www.kotoworld.com.
THE BREMEN TOWN MUSICIANS, Max Showalter, American Melody, 1990, $9.25 for audiocassette, 40 minutes; ages 5-9. This low-key recording includes several clever songs and short stories--the longest, the title story, is approximately 13 minutes. Most of the songs are reminiscent of piano bar tunes. The stories included are classic folk tales from England and Norway.
My favorite story is a humorous English folk tale, "The Three Sillies." A man sets out on a journey to look for three people who are sillier than his girlfriend's family, who are mighty silly. So, this is a seemingly hard task. Yet, it doesn't take long before he encounters many people who approach life in unique and even sillier ways.
Children are sure to join in singing the lively song that is an integral part of this witty story. I also enjoyed the riddle story "Not Driving and Not Riding." This brainteaser is a challenge to listeners of all ages.
Showalter tells the stories with a great deal of energy. All of the stories benefit from musical accents--simple original songs and instrumental accents from the piano, mandolin, banjo, guitar, bass, violin and harmonica. This peaceful recording would make a nice bedtime companion.
For purchase information, call (800) 220-5557 or visit www.americanmelody.com.
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, simplystorytelling.com, features story-starters and other resources for young storytellers.