Don't forget to pack the stories By Naomi Leithold
My favorite music plays as I quietly day dream and the scenery whizzes by. This is the road trip of my fantasies. In reality, the fighting, complaining and whining of the "backseat bunch," my two sons, succeeds in quickly erasing that dream. Through trial and error I found that good stories have the power to divert attention, restore harmony and quell the standard "Are we there yet?" question. Here are my suggestions for audiobooks and storytelling recordings as we move into the start of the summer vacation travels. These are sure to entertain the whole family and make the miles pass just a little quicker.
THE CAT IN THE HAT AND OTHER DR. SEUSS FAVORITES, by Dr. Seuss, featuring performances by John Cleese, Billy Crystal, Ted Danson, Kelsey Grammer, Dustin Hoffman, Walter Matthau, Mercedes McCambridge and John Lithgow, Random House, 2003, $19.99 for a two CD set; ages 4 and up. The release of this collection of nine entertaining stories is part of the "Seussentennial," a yearlong tribute to Theodor Seuss Geisel to commemorate his 100th birthday. Included on this recording are "The Cat in the Hat" and "The Cat in the Hat Comes Back" read by Kelsey Grammer, "Horton Hears a Who" read by Dustin Hoffman, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" read by Walter Matthau, "Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?" read by John Cleese, "The Lorax" read by Ted Danson, "Yertle the Turtle," "Gertrude McFuzz" and "The Big Brag" read by John Lithgow, "Thidwick, the Big-Hearted Moose" read by Mercedes McCambridge and "Horton Hatches the Egg" read by Billy Crystal.
This absolutely delightful recording is guaranteed to wow even those who have read or heard these stories numerous times. The combination of talented actors and orchestrated music gives Seuss' words and characters a three-dimensional quality. It isn't hard to visualize a conversation between the "worry-wart" fish and the conniving cat in "The Cat in the Hat" when Grammer uses inflection and pacing to portray these famous characters. McCambridge's wide repertoire of voices will definitely endear Thidwick and his visitors to listeners of all ages. And no one can pronounce Seuss' unique words as effortlessly as Cleese when he reads "Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are."
The music, with its pronounced horns and percussion instruments, is the perfect complement to the expressive narration as they combine to accent action, provide sound effects and highlight pacing. The result is a highly entertaining audiobook that is guaranteed to engage your whole family.
"The Cat In The Hat And Other Dr. Seuss Favorites" can be purchased at major bookstores.
IRISH FOLKTALES FOR CHILDREN, by Sharon Kennedy, music by Barbara Russell, Johnny Cunningham and Evan Harlan, Rounder Records, 1996, $2.99 for audiocassette, $15.99 for CD; ages 7 and up.
The five stories on this award-winning recording were created by Kennedy after hearing adult-oriented traditional Irish folk tales during a summer spent in Ireland. Young listeners will be engrossed by the enchanting stories with magical and mystical themes. They will be kept on the edge of their seats as they listen to "Kevin McCullough's Supper," in which a unique catch from a hunting trip leads to a series of unusual happenings. They also will be mesmerized by selchies (seals that transform themselves into humans on land), wizards and wee folk (leprechauns).
Kennedy's expressive telling immediately captivates the audience. She expertly uses inflection and pacing to create suspense and emotion and to emphasize the peaks and flows in the storyline. Her well-chosen descriptions and the authentic Irish accent that she employs in her characterizations will help children to witness the stories unfold. As you are rolling along the highway, these gentle stories and their happy endings are bound to warm your child's heart.
"Irish Folk Tales for Children" can be purchased at major book stores, through Rounder Records at (800) 768-6337 or online at www.kiddomusic.com/KennedySharon.html.
THE EMPEROR AND THE NIGHTINGALE, by Hans Christian Andersen, adapted by Eva Le Gallienne, told by Glenn Close, original music by Mark Isham, Madacy Entertainment Group, 1999, $5.98 for audiocassette, $8.98 for CD; ages 6-9.
This recording is part of the Rabbit Ears storytelling collection that pairs accomplished musicians with renowned actors to tell classic stories. Authentic Chinese music sets the stage for this story about an ancient Chinese emperor who discovers that a nightingale with a mesmerizing voice dwells in his royal forest. He invites the bird to live in the castle and sing for his numerous visitors. One day, the nightingale, missing his freedom, flies away. At the end of the story, the nightingale and the emperor reach a creative compromise.
Le Gallienne's detailed descriptions transport youngsters into the realm of the royal kingdom. Close's strong, gentle voice, unique characterizations and sophisticated telling, along with Isham's multi-textured music, helps to bring this classic tale to life. "The Emperor and the Nightingale" 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 12 and 15. Her Web site, www.simplystorytelling.com, features story starters and other resources for young storytellers.