By Naomi Leithold
I have always been a pushover for teddy bears with soft brown eyes, animals that talk and "happily ever after" endings. Thus, choosing a story for young children has never been a problem. Of course, this skill is no longer required now that my children are ages 11 and 14. I have had to put myself into the mind of an older child because while they might not want teddy bears, the kids still love listening to a great story. Here are a few of those I have found and recommend: MAMA LEARNS TO DRIVE, by Donald Davis, August House Publishers, 2002, $14.95 for CD, 1 hour; ages 10 and up. Davis’ laid-back, folksy style has always appealed to my up son. Davis proves real life stories don’t have to involve snakes and life-threatening situations (a la "Survivor") to be interesting. He takes everyday situations, adds warmth and humor and welcomes the listener into his seemingly normal family. No Osbournes here. The stories cover daily situations—learning to drive, children writing on walls, picky eaters. My favorite, "Peas and Carrots," tells the story of Davis’ adolescent solution to his aversion to these vegetables. Davis’ mother’s rule that "We don’t waste food" means it would be impossible for him to leave the dreaded orange cubes and green circles on his plate. In a touch of childhood ingenuity, he starts to load the vegetables into the hollow legs of the kitchen table. This strategy is successful until the table has to be moved and dried peas and carrots come tumbling out, which leaves the young Davis with a new dilemma. Both children and adults will identify with these heart-warming stories. Davis’ tales are likely to evoke memories of your own family stories and launch a long session of "When I was your age ..." "Mama Learns to Drive" can be purchased by calling (800) 284-8784 or online at www.augusthouse.com. HOOT, by Carl Hiassen, read by Chad Lowe, Random House, 2002, $26 for four audiocassettes, 6½ hours; ages 10 and up. Hiassen, the author of many best-selling adult novels, ventures into the world of adolescent fiction in this novel, which takes place in Florida. This fast-paced story not only has entertaining twists and turns, but also gives listeners a tour of the flora and fauna of this southern state. The main character, Roy Eberhardt, has recently and unhappily moved to Florida. There he encounters the mundane issues of growing up, such as the conflicts with teachers, parents and peers. But he also deals with bizarre occurrences such as a bare-foot boy running alongside the school bus, alligators in a port-o-john and burrowing owls in an empty field. All these factors take Roy on a journey fraught with mystery and intrigue. Listeners are sure to be swept up by this action-packed story, full of hilarity, morality and calamity. They will also learn about ecology and conservation as well as family support and compassion. Lowe, an Emmy-winning actor, brings this fiction alive by giving emotion and individuality to each character and by delivering the kid-friendly dialogue ("It’s a blast!") in a believable fashion. Listeners will feel as if they have personal relationships with each character. Available at major bookstores. TALES OF HUMOR & WIT, National Storytelling Press, 1991, $11.95 for audiocassette, $12.95 for CD, 45 minutes; ages 10 and up. This award-winning recording was taped at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tenn., with a different teller delivering each of the five- to 10-minute stories. The varied styles of these talented tellers along with the different genres—folk, tall and fairy tales as well as personal stories—blend together into a highly entertaining tape. My favorites were "The Hog-O-Phone" told by David Holt, "Cinderella" told by Ed Stivender, and "Sketches of Nostalgia" told by Gamble Rogers. "The Hog-O-Phone" is a multitextured story that incorporates banjo, voices and pacing to produce a highly amusing tale. Stivender’s version of "Cinderella" will have the whole family rolling on the floor. He gives this classic story new life with a blues harmonica, one liners and modern day references (a Mercedes Benz limousine replaces the carriage here). "Sketches of Nostalgia" is guaranteed to produce a smile on even the most serious listeners. The audience will be stunned by Rogers’ ability to string eloquent words together in a manner that would tongue tie most English speakers. His flowery language results in such accurate descriptions that his characters all have a three-dimensional quality. Unfortunately, this story suffers from minor sound-quality problems, but it doesn’t detract from Roger’s incredible delivery. All the stories on this tape are told with warmth, emotion and subtle humor. This "feel good" recording is destined to become a family favorite. "Tales of Humor and Wit" can be purchased by calling (800) 525-4514 or online at www.storynet.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, www.simplystorytelling.com, features story starters and other resources for young storytellers.