Maeve Visser Knoth: Audio Books Worth Memorizing

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Friday, September 29, 2006

Audio Books Worth Memorizing

A friend asked me this week about listening to audio books as a family. She mentioned that for the moment her family is listening to Tom Sawyer but that if they are going to purchase any more books on CD, they want to make sure that they are worth listening to again and again. She figures her boys will know large portions of the books by heart after a couple of years. So...what is worth listening to again and again?

First, I have to confess that we don't listen to many audio books. We read aloud almost daily and we all spend a good amount of time reading alone. When we take long car rides, I usually read aloud and my husband drives (unless we are driving into the Sierra mountains in which case we all try to keep our stomachs still). When I read aloud, I try to choose books that sound good. Not all the books I love are as lovely to listen to as they are to read. Which writers have a storyteller's ear for the sound of words? Which writers put together sentences that roll off the tongue? Those are the writers that I want to listen to. I long to hear Richard Peck, Margaret Mahy and Brian Jacques read aloud. I want to hear E.B. White. So here are my examples for the beginning of a family audio book collection:

Charlotte's Web by E. B. White. There are few books for children that are so beautifully written. Every sentence, every paragraph, ever chapter is a joy to read and a joy to hear. You will miss the beautiful drawings by Garth Williams so I encourage you to have a copy of the book handy but listen closely to the ways in which E.B. White uses sentence structure and voice to convey meaning.

Redwall by Brian Jacques. This British animal fantasy has great characters, lots of adventure and enough battle scenes to get your young listeners up and waving their toy swords and sticks about. Each of the different species of animal has a different speech pattern and the audio version of this book does a marvelous job giving voice to these many animals. Few parents will ahve the skills to try so many dialects. Take a seat on the rug with your kids and enjoy the audio reasing instead of struggling.

Margaret Mahy has an ear for storytelling and uses wonderfully wacky and sometimes invented language to tell her stories. Her fantasies are particularly well-suited as audio books. Try either The Birthday Burglar and a Very Wicked Headmistress or The Pirates Mixed-up Voyage. Both are extremely silly and over-the-top. Both will have children and adults laughing aloud and both have enough ghosts, pirates and bumbling villains to satisfy all ages. If The Great Piratical Rumbustification every becomes available again, snatch that up too.

It is hard to choose one title by Richard Peck since he has such a great storytelling voice. Try listening to Long Way From Chicago. Richard Peck gives his characters very distinct voices and uses wonderful expressions. When I am reading it aloud I can't help but give my voice a little bit of a rural Illinois accent. The audio version makes this middle grade novel accessible to younger siblings and appealing to parents as well.


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