Slow down summer with a story By Naomi Leithold

Your children look like prunes from spending the morning in the pool, their tongues are red, purple or blue from all the popsicles they have ingested and the thermometer continues to rise. This is definitely not an afternoon for running errands or visiting the park. It's the perfect time to slow down, find a cool corner and listen to a story.

Here are my suggestions for recordings sure to slow the pace and provide for a brief respite from the sweltering heat.

HANA AND THE DRAGON AND OTHER TALES FROM JAPAN, told by Elizabeth Falconer, koto accompaniment by Elizabeth Falconer, Koto World, 2000, $13 for CD, one hour; ages 5 and up.

Listeners will be immediately drawn in by Falconer's enthusiasm, the gentle koto music and the delightful Japanese folktales. Koto is a 13-stringed wooden instrument that came to Japan from China more than 1,000 years ago; Falconer began studying the instrument in 1979. She expertly blends the music into these endearing tales. The soothing sounds of this melodic instrument heighten action, create suspense, provide sound effects (I especially like how she replicated the sprightly sound of flowing water) and make the background music that gives these tales an air of authenticity.

These intriguing, sweet stories are sure to hold a youngster's attention. They have adventure (a girl who dares to befriend a "ferocious" mountain dragon), magic (a fan that changes the size of your nose) and trickery (a rabbit tricks a crocodile into helping him cross the river). Children also will be enchanted by Falconer's gentle, expressive voice and the repetitive chants that children voice in a couple of the tales. This endearing recording is bound to be a favorite choice for quiet times or bedtime.

"Hana and the Dragon and Other Tales from Japan" can be purchased online at or by calling (877) 430-1972.

HOW THE RHINO GOT HIS SKIN & HOW THE CAMEL GOT HIS HUMP, by Rudyard Kipling, narrated by Jack Nicholson, original music by Bobby McFerrin, Madacy Entertainment Group, 2000, $16 for CD, 23 minutes; ages 6 and up.

Young listeners will be fascinated with these adaptations of Kipling's "Just So Stories" that attempt to explain the unique characteristic of the rhinoceros and camel.

"How the Rhino Got His Skin," with its outlandish explanation, has always been one of my favorites. A man, who is angry at a rhino for eating his cake, takes the animal's skin when it's unbuttoned and fills it with cake crumbs. After the rhino "dresses" he spends many hours scratching himself against a tree, which results in the buttons popping off and his sagging, wrinkled appearance. The how-and-why formula of this story is similar to many folktales and can lead to a library search for similar stories or stimulate children to write their own stories to explain other natural phenomenon.

Youngsters will be entranced by Nicholson's distinctive, captivating voice intertwined with McFerrin's mystical melodies. Frequent short musical interludes provide adequate time for the narration, music and sound effects to blend together. Children are sure to smile at the exaggerated animal sound effects and to be engrossed by how the explanations unfold (the suspense is heightened by the mystical music and slow pacing).

"How the Rhino Got His Skin & How the Camel Got His Hump" is out of print, but some new and used copies are available at or your local library may have it available for checkout.

THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY, by Simms Taback, narrated and sung by Tom Chapin, musical accompaniment by Tom Chapin and Mark Deffenback, Live Oak Media, 2001, $25.95 for hardcover book with audiocassette, $28.95 for hardcover book with CD, 10 minutes; ages 5-8.

This well-loved folk poem was first heard in the United States in the 1940s. It gets a new lease on life in this 2002 Grammy-winning (best spoken word album for children) production. Taback's whimsical, eye-popping illustrations include a cut out that reveals the contents of the old lady's stomach. Folksy instrumental background music is provided by banjo, guitar, mandolin and harmonica, and Chapin gives a clear, emotive narration. All these elements combine to introduce or reacquaint youngsters to a woman with unusual dietary habits through a multi-textured experience. Kids are certain to be drawn in by the vivid colors, easy-to-read words highlighted in neon colors and Chapin's cartoon-like animal voices.

The repetitive nature of this poem makes it a perfect read-along, but it also emphasizes the prediction of her fatal outcome, "Perhaps she'll die." (This statement hits heavier in this spoken version than in a sung version that has an upbeat melody behind it.) Even though this is well diffused by comments made by the animals, such as when the bird says, "But it's only a fly," it might lead to some uneasy feelings, interesting questions and discussions. Yet, most young listeners will probably just be entranced by the multisensory experience and laugh at the absurdity of the story line.

"There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly" can be purchased by calling (800) 788-1121 or online at (click on Award Winners and then click on Grammy Award.)

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,, features story starters and other resources for young storytellers.


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