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October 5, 2010

Roundup: Storytelling CDs

It’s sometimes a little surprising to me that in the era of 3D television, spoken-word audio still hangs on. Clearly car trips have something to do with it, at least where kids’ products are involved (though in-car DVD players are even encroaching there). But even at home, my five-year-old sometimes decides he wants to listen to a story rather than watch something. The power of storytelling remains strong, I guess.

Audiobooks—generally chapter books read by a well-known actor—make up a large part of the selection, of course. But there are also a number of “storyteller” CDs out there, read by their own writers, who are usually professional performers of one kind or another. Dash seems to gravitate toward these even more, listening to them over and over, memorizing both the stories themselves and the way the storytellers choose to tell them.

>His favorite is probably Tales of Wisdom and Wonder, a book-and-CD combo of folk tales from various cultures interpreted and read by British storyteller Hugh Lupton (who sounds uncannily like John Oliver of The Daily Show). Lupton’s reading style has a measured pace that savors the words and style of each story, and Dash is rapt as he listens, especially to “The Peddler of Swaffham,” an English tale of magical dreams that he adores.

Another in high rotation is Tell Me Another Scary Story...but Not Too Scary!, a picture book written by the great Carl Reiner that’s accompanied by a CD on which the author reads his own story. Reiner has been a master of audio his whole career, as anyone who’s ever heard his work on the 2,000-Year-Old Man albums knows, and he has kid listeners in the palm of his hand here. It’s a basic story--a first-person narrative of a Hollywood kid who’s befriended by a neighbor who makes props for scary movies, and then must save the day when something terrible happens to his new friend. Reiner’s delivery is full of expression and dramatic pauses that fill kids’s faces with delight. And I have to say, there’s something especially gratifying about seeing a master entertainer succeed with his third or fourth generation of audience. As the title suggests, this is Reiner’s second such outing; we’re clearly going to have to go back and get the first one.

We also recently came across a new contender. I wasn’t familiar with Bill Harley, but that just shows my ignorance; the two-time Grammy winner and NPR contributor has been enthralling kids with his enthusiastic blend of music and old-time storytelling for years now. His latest recorded release, The Best Candy in the Whole World, contains a set of stories about acts of kindness, most adapted from folk tales, with two composed by the artist himself. Harley’s style is quintessentially American, and his work is a throwback to folksy storytelling my parents’ generation would have listened to as kids. Dash, who had never heard anything like it, was immediately transfixed.

My son’s enjoyment of this somewhat underappreciated medium has me looking for more options, too, so I’ll continue to pass along whatever I find. (If readers have any suggestions, definitely send them my way via the comments!)

[Cover image courtesy of Bill Harley]


  1. Myles, try any of the Jim Weiss recordings. We've loved these for years.

  2. Check out the Mr Gum stories. We got Mr Gum and the Goblins on cd from the library and there never seemed to be a time my son would agree to let me return it. Andy Stanton, the author and reader,used to be a stand-up comedian(maybe still is?) and he is EXCELLENT. It's funny, I had bought his first book a few years ago and my son was so-so about it, which was fine by me as I just found it irritating. BUT, I ate my words when I sat downstairs having a peaceful cup of tea and heard my sons laughing and laughing upstairs as they listened to him on cd.