There's a story behind that bug

STORYTELLING - September 2004


Naomi Leithold


When I taught preschool, a loud shriek, followed by running footsteps, often indicated there was an insect sighting. On the other hand, the same creature could elicit, "Teacher, look at this," and a string of questions. Whether your children are screamers or budding entomologists, the following stories of creeping, crawling creatures are sure to entertain.

THE ITSY BITSY SPIDER, written and illustrated by Iza Trapani, narrated by Valerie Stephens, sung by Iza Trapani and friends, Charlesbridge Publishing, 2004, $9.95 for paperback book and CD, eight minutes; ages 3-7.

Youngsters faced with a new task to master can become easily frustrated. Trapani's delightful rhyming verse maintains the pattern of the original song and is sure to inspire them with the adventures of a tiny spider who doesn't give up. A spider who continues to climb after she is rained out is old news, but Trapani breaths new life into this nursery rhyme by presenting Itsy Bitsy with additional challenges. She proves her resilience as she continues to climb several different surfaces after she is faced with various obstacles, such as slippery dew on a maple tree. (I especially like that Itsy Bitsy was identified as female. Strong characters in nursery rhymes are rarely of this gender.)

This CD and book set provide children with a wonderfully rich, integrated and interactive listening adventure. The recording provides listeners with both music and spoken word. Youngsters are sure to join Trapani and the chorus of children as they sing the original ditty. The instrumental interludes between pages help maintain the flow of the rhyme and combine well with Stephens' emotive and expressive narration. Youngsters are bound to find her gentle, commanding voice pleasant to listen to. The experience is made complete by Trapani's whimsical, three dimensional illustrations.

"The Itsy Bitsy Spider" can be purchased at both major and independent bookstores by calling (800) 225-3214 or online at

THE ADVENTURES OF BILLY BUTTERFLY, written, narrated and sung by R.B. Lehnert (except for voice of Daddy Longlegs, which is performed by Clement Lightbourne), illustrated by Marc Khayam Garcia, Robert France Productions, 2003, $12.95 for CD, $19.95 for CD with paperback book, 17 minutes; ages 7 and under.

Colorful, graceful butterflies aren't in the same category as creeping, crawling creatures, but caterpillars definitely are. This cute rhyming story follows Billy as he confronts numerous obstacles on his journey to fulfill his dream of becoming a butterfly.

Young children will be instantly drawn in by Lehnert's lively, friendly narration backed by upbeat music. This multi-textured whimsical story is sure to maintain their interests with realistic sound effects, colorful cartoon-like illustrations and peppy songs that are woven into the text. (The songs are also repeated after the story is read.) All of these elements easily add up to a fun listening experience.

"The Adventures of Billy Butterfly" can be purchased online at or by calling (888) 321-SONG.

ANIMAL TALES, retold and narrated by Naomi Adler, Barefoot Books, 2001, $19.99 for two enhanced CDs with eight-page illustrated booklet of story summaries by Amanda Hall, one hour, 20 minutes; ages 8 and up.

This audio book contains stories from the United States, India, China, Germany, Thailand, Kenya, Canada, Brazil and Australia. Most of the folktales are of the "How and Why" genre. They attempt to explain how and why an animal developed his unique characteristics. In "Grandmother Spider," an American tale is about the quest for light "at a time when the earth was dark," a possum's squinting in response to light is explained by his exposure to blinding light on his search.

I liked that the small eight-legged crawler, most likely to elicit screams of terror, is lifted to hero status. She ingeniously captures light in a vessel with a lid. Up to that point, all the other animals can't figure out how to keep the light from escaping.

The other tales feature a wide variety of animals and how they interact with each other and the environment. The personification of the animals will make it easy for children to relate to these stories of selfless deeds, greed and cleverness.

Adler's captivating, emotive voice brings the nine tales to life. Her wide range of character voices will fascinate listeners and help them to imagine the creature she is portraying. This enjoyable recording is a perfect choice for a long car ride.

"Animal Tales" can be purchased online at or by calling (866) 417-2369.



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


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