Stories to please different tastes

Storytelling - November 2005


Naomi Leithold

As a young child, my oldest son lived in a world ruled by rodents and filled with space-age gadgets. His younger brother visited this world from time to time, but he was more likely to be found in our world, learning how to juggle and gathering techniques for producing cartoon renditions of objects in his environment.

Choosing recordings that will engage a wide range of interests can be challenging. Here are my recommendations for CDs and tapes that will please a diverse audience.

PENGUIN COMES HOME, by Louise O. Young, narrated by Randye Kave, illustrated by Larry Elmore, Trudy Corp., 2004, $19.95 for hardcover book with audiocassette, $8.95 for paperback book with audiocassette, five minutes; ages 4-8.

This informative story is part of the Amazing Animal Adventure series, books that entertain children while educating them about wildlife and exotic habitats. Through authentic sound effects of the howling wind and emperor penguins swimming underwater, children are transported to Antarctica. Elmore’s life-like animal pictures, set against the icy background of the region, complete the scene. (Young children, whose only experience with seals is limited to the adorable mammals entertaining zoo visitors, might be frightened by the picture of this animal in pursuit of a penguin lunch.)

Kave’s clear, straightforward narration guides listeners through a mother’s search for food and her long journey back to feed her hungry chick. At the end of the story, facts about the emperor penguin, along with a four-page pictorial glossary of Antarctic wildlife, put this fictitious story, based on fact, into perspective. The audio book format allows children to independently "read" the text that is above their reading level (the second side of the cassette includes page turning signals).

"Penguin Comes Home" can be purchased by calling (800) 228-7839 or online at

GOLDILOCKS AND COMPANY: TRADITIONAL TALES AND OLD FAVORITES, told by Alan Irvine, 2003, $15 for CD, 65 minutes; ages 5-8.

Irvine began to tell these stories after his daughter, Elizabeth, was born. After many retellings, she helped shape the tales and infuse them with humor. The stories included on this CD are: "Goldilocks," "The Three Little Pigs," "The Three Billy Goats Gruff," "The Bremen Town Musicians," "Cinderella," "How the Animals Got Their Coats" (an African folktale) and "Jabuti and the Jaguar" (a Central American folktale).

This is a CD well suited to the child who never tires of hearing the classic stories. Simple modifications, such as turning "The Three Little Pigs" and "The Three Billy Goats Gruff" into gender-equal tales (the sibling groups include both brothers and sisters), update these old tales.

Irvine’s friendly, conversational style will gently invite listeners into the familiar stories and his energetic delivery is guaranteed to maintain their attention. His unique character voices (even his voice for Papa Bear, who has been portrayed by countless tellers, was out of the ordinary), clever use of pacing to effectively convey emotion and vivid descriptions are sure to entertain young listeners.

"Goldilocks and Company: Traditional Tales and Old Favorites" can be purchased by calling (412) 521-6406 or online at

ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY AND OTHER STORIES AND POEMS, by Judith Viorst, performed by Blythe Danner, music composed and conducted by Don Hechman, Harper Collins Publishers, 2004, $13.95 for CD, one hour; ages 5-9.

Other stories included on this recording are: "Alexander Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday," "Rosie and Michael," "Mama Says There Ain’t Zombies, Ghosts, Vampires, Creatures, Demons, Monsters, Fiends, Goblins or Things" and "The Tenth Good Thing About Barney." There are also numerous poems including: "If I Were in Charge of the World" and "Some Things Don’t Make Any Sense," a great CD for the realist.

All of these selections reflect Viorst’s uncanny ability to see the world through a child’s eyes. Youngsters will happily agree with the character in the poem "If I Were in Charge of the World" who wants chocolate sundaes with whipped cream and nuts to be declared a vegetable. On the more serious side, she sensitively deals with a child grieving the death of a pet in "The Tenth Good Thing about Barney."

Danner’s expressive, emotive narration and realistic, child-like voices brings the characters to life. Even though children may have heard these stories before, her eloquent, vibrant delivery makes them more powerful. Both children and adults will enjoy this pairing of Viorst’s clever, insightful writing with Danner’s exuberant narration.

"Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and Other Stories and Poems" can be purchased at major book stores and online retailers.

Naomi Leithold is an award-winning storyteller and early childhood educator. She lives in Skokie and has two boys, ages 14 and 17. Her Web site,, features story starters and other resources for young storytellers.

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