In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Audio on the road

Dear Annie,

I hope you all are feeling more settled in your house, into the routines of school, and well-partied from Isabel's fifth birthday.  What a lot has been happening!

You sent me a lovely query from your friends Eunice and Ryan about audio books on a car trip, a topic near and dear to my personal and professional hearts.

Ryan is taking two boys, in first and third grade, "on an epic southwest road trip (Yosemite, Mammoth, Death Valley, Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, Yellowstone, Tahoe). "  Says Eunice:
There's a lot of car time coming up for Ryan and the boys. I tried convincing him that an audio download of Harry Potter would be the perfect fit, but Ryan is dead set on sticking with only "western" themed children's books.
As a family, we spent large amounts of time listening to audio books, both on long road trips, and going from place to place in town.  They're a fantastic way to enjoy a trip while still being able to look out the windows.

With audio books, even more than when a parent reads, delivery trumps content.  A good or average book read by an average (or bad) reader won't hold anyone's attention.  As we used to counsel our children in college: pick the elective course by the professor, someone who can excite you about a topic you didn't know you wanted to know about.  Going for the topic alone -- with professors or audio books -- can condemn you to boredom.  I think that's Eunice's motivation with the Harry Potter suggestion.  They're fantastic audio, but I'd suggest waiting a couple of years for the kids to get more out of them, and to avoid the really scary bits.

So I've come up with a list which includes some western themes, some vaguely western themes (does Portland, Oregon count?), books about trips and quests, and just good books.

I'll start with Jim Weiss, who's a storyteller.  His recordings sound like someone who's telling a story -- a little chattier -- not like someone who's reading you a book.  Lizzie was hooked on his King Arthur recording for years.  He's got a few western themes:
American Tall Tales: Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, "Fastest Draw in the West."
His Gone West includes Lewis and Clark, the Oregon Trail, and Indian wars.
A CD called Tales from Cultures Far and Near has what's described as a funny Lakota Sioux legend, then other stories from around the world.

Robin Williams' Pecos Bill
The best storytelling audios ever, in my opinion, are the Rabbit Ears recordings.  They paired famous actors and actresses reading with background by major musical talent.  So you've got:
Robin Williams reading Pecos Bill with music by Ry Cooder,
Keith Carradine telling the story of Annie Oakley with music by Los Lobos,
Jonathan Winters doing Paul Bunyan with Leo Kottke.
There are lots more: check out the Rabbit Ears site.

All of these storytelling recordings, although entertaining, are not as long as book audios.  Most of them are 30 to 60 minutes.  Most books will run you much longer.

On themes of the west and wildlife and a great story, you can't go wrong with
The Trumpet of the Swan
, written and read by E.B. White. He has a wonderful old Mainer voice.  The story of Louis, the mute trumpeter swan, starts in western Canada, spends a good deal of time in Montana, and eventually makes it cross country to the Boston Public Garden.  It's full of nature and boy/swan friendship, and just great storytelling.

On to Portland, Oregon and two wildly different genres.  Beverly Cleary, as you know, is one of my favorite authors.  Stockard Channing did an excellent job of recording the Ramona books: they follow a younger sister from her pre-school days through fourth grade.  I don't know how these guys feel about books whose central characters are female (sigh), but I'd recommend two different Ramona books with boys as major secondary characters.  Cleary writes very empathetically about the experience of whatever age she's describing.  Ramona the Pest, about her kindergarten year, includes a rivalry with Howie, the boy next door.  And in Ramona Quimby, Age 8 she has a constant teasing friendship with the boy she refers to as "Yard Ape."  That book also features Ramona throwing up in school, and breaking a raw egg on her head.

Cleary also did a series about a boy named Henry Huggins.  Those books feel a little more dated than the Ramonas, but they're still entertaining.  The reader isn't up to Channing's high quality.  The first book, Henry Huggins, includes the story of Henry finding Ribsy, a stray dog, and coming very close to losing him again.  Great for dog loving kids.

And one other Portland book:
, by Colin Meloy (lead singer of the Decembrists), read by Amanda Plummer.  I'm surprised I haven't blogged about this book.  It's a Narnia-like fantasy: two kids enter a magical forest in Portland, trying to find a baby who's been stolen by crows.  They enter into a world of talking animals, bandits, and shifting alliances.  It's an intricate and well-written tale which will last for many hours.  I haven't heard the audio, but we get good reviews of it from customers.

I'll end with two great completely different books about travel/quests.  We know how much we all like Where the Mountain Meets the MoonThe recording, I'm told, is also excellent.  It's about running away from home and going on a quest to find the Man in the Moon.  Will entertain in a car for quite a while.

I've saved the weirdest for last:  Jim Copp's and Ed Brown's  children's stories, recorded mostly in the 1960s.  We came upon them by chance, following up on a brief mention of them in The Atlantic, of all places.  Lunatic, hilarious, wacky and weird are words which come up in descriptions of them.  The recording we loved -- and the whole family can still quote from -- is A Journey to San Francisco with the Glups.  Think of it as The Stupids Go on a Road Trip.  The Glups are a completely clueless family, traveling with their cow Bossy from Maine to San Francisco to claim an inheritance.  There are songs and great sound effects and many different accents -- and of course some mooing. 

So there's an array of audio.  I envy those three guys the trip.   How about a guest blog when they get back about what they listened to?



1 comment:

  1. Deborah - your recommendations exceeded our wildest expectations. We're not familiar with Jim Weiss or the Rabbit Ears recordings, but they sound absolutely perfect for this road trip. The longer books are intriguing as well, and since we live in the San Francisco Bay Area, "A Journey to San Francisco with The Gulps" could be perfect for the last leg home. I just might need to listen to these recordings myself on my commute to work so I can talk to the boys about the stories when they return from their three-week adventure! And yes to doing a guest blog - it's the least we could do to return the favor. :)