One-year-old Jeremy was jumping up and down pantomiming a door that could not be opened and frantically saying, “Meow no eat.” This dramatic statement was followed by a “dance” that highlighted the urgency of this message. Not your standard story. Yet one that definitely communicated the plight of my in-law’s cat that was locked in their house, behind a door that we were having difficulty opening.
A good story can appear in many guises. A poem, a choreographed, dramatized or orchestrated piece, and a song, can all effectively communicate the thoughts of the author and entertain, as well as educate, the listener. Here are my suggestions for recordings that turn a story into “not just a story.”
IN DADDY’S ARMS I AM TALL: AFRICAN AMERICANS CELEBRATING FATHERS, poems by various poets, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe, narrated by Javaka Steptoe, Robin Miles, Lizan Mitchell and Charles Turner, music by Chris Kubie, Live Oak Media, 2002, $16.95 for paperback with audiocassette, 16 minutes; ages 5-8.
The delightful mix of poetry in this American Library Association Notable book and cassette set reflects on fathers of African-American heritage. Even though the background of each of these poems focuses on the black American experience (brick makers with calloused hands, a mailman who would rather be an artist but has a family to support and a Georgian farmer) the listener will clearly feel the pride, wonder, honor, playfulness and tenderness that is present in any good parent/child relationship.
The use of natural and instrumental sound effects and eclectic music (from hand clapping beats to jazz to reggae) emphasizes the meaning of each individual piece. The juxtaposition of strength and sensitivity shown by the fathers portrayed in this anthology was supported by the wide range of musical and narrative styles (both ensemble and individual).
“In Daddy’s Arms I am Tall: African Americans Celebrating Fathers” can be purchased by calling (800) 788-1121 or online at www.liveoakmedia.com.
WE ALL GO TRAVELING BY, story by Sheena Roberts, illustrated by Siobhan Bell, song by Fred Penner, Barefoot Books, 2003, $17.99 for hardcover book with CD, 6 minutes; ages 1-4 (read together), ages 5-7 (read alone).
This cumulative story song begins with children boarding a school bus. On the way to school they encounter a wide variety of vehicles of various colors that make unique sounds. The adventure ends when the school bell rings, signifying the beginning of another school day.
Even the youngest children are sure to join in with the many repetitions in this upbeat “I Spy”-themed verse. Before long listeners will also be voicing the vehicle noises and, with the help of the brightly colored illustrations, naming the vehicles in the order in which they appear. The repetitive and rhythmic nature of this story with a melody will make it inviting for beginning readers to follow along.
“We All Go Traveling By” can be purchased by calling (866) 417-2369, online at www.barefootbooks.com or at major bookstores.
MIKE MULLIGAN AND HIS STEAM SHOVEL: A NEW WORK FOR NARRATOR AND SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA, story by Virginia Lee Burton, narrated by Yadu, music composed and conducted by Stephen Simon, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Irish bagpipes played by Paul Brennan, Simon & Simon, 2004, $16.98 for CD and “Program Book” that explains the music, the story and its author and includes several games, 51 minutes; ages 5 and up.
This story is the first in the read-along audio series “Stories in Music” that pairs classic literature with original orchestrated music. The story is told first, then information is provided about the author and the story, after which Simon gives listeners insight into techniques that composers use and the instruments and musical style. He then points out things the audience should listen for. At this point the story is repeated, so the listener can hear it with their “educated ears.”
The whole family will be delighted with how a town helps Mike Mulligan keep his promise that his beloved steam shovel, Mary Anne, can finish a job in a day that would normally take 100 men. They also will root for the little boy (voiced by Sebastian Simon) who comes up with a solution to the dilemma in which Mike and Mary Anne find themselves.
Children and adults alike will be entertained by Yadu’s energetic narration. His authentic Irish accent along with Simon’s choice to use the Irish bagpipes as part of his orchestra (due to the ethnic origins of the name Mulligan) lends a three-dimensional quality to this character. Yadu’s emotive delivery is well supported by the music that comfortably follows the ups and downs of this endearing tale. This well-produced musical version of the classic story is bound to replace the “just-book version” on the list of favorites of many young listeners.
“Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel: A New Work for Narrator and Symphony Orchestra” can be purchased by calling (866) HEAR-MAGIC or online at www.magicmaestromusic.com.
Naomi Leithold is an award-winning storyteller and early childhood educator. She lives in Skokie and has two boys, ages 13 and 16. Her Web site, www.simplystorytelling.com, features story starters and other resources for young storytellers.