September 27, 2008 @ 4:32 pm | Filed under: Audio
A sweet reader named Jennifer writes:
I wanted to ask if you had any recommendations for the best Jim Weiss story CDs for littler ones (and/or O’Callahan—you’ve mentioned him a couple times I think?). We checked out Weiss’s Just So Stories from our library, and my oldest is loving it (as am I!), but many of the others look like they might be a bit past her comprehension right now, and certainly past her younger sisters’. Their attention for this one is spotty. We’ll be driving 10 hours next month to my best friends’ weddings, and I’d like some story CDs for the car. I’m just not sure what would best hold my girls’ attention! As I said, my oldest is 4.5, then my twins are 3, and the baby is nearly 18 months, but of course she wouldn’t really be listening anyway.
Unfortunately, Jennifer wrote me in July, so I’m responding way too late to be of help with that road trip. Sorry about that, Jennifer—I hope the weddings were fun and the drive went well!
As Jennifer had observed in my archives, we are huuuuge Jim Weiss fans here in the Bonny Glen. We even got to hang out with Jim and his wonderful wife Randi a couple of times at homeschooling conventions and once at their home in Virginia. But we were fans long before we met the Weisses in person: I remember buying our first Jim Weiss story CDs back in New York, when Jane was a wee thing. The night we had dinner at their house, my girls were utterly starstruck because Jim was a superstar in their universe. Listening to them chatter in the backseat all the way home, I was overcome with a fit of giggles—they sounded just like my high-school friend Caryn and I must have sounded when we used to gush about Duran Duran.
(If I’d been invited to dinner at John Taylor’s house in 1985, I might not have survived to tell the tale.)
Anyway. The best Jim Weiss for very small children would be, I’d say:
• Uncle Wiggly
• Tell Me a Story (that one’s a folk and fairy tale collection—includes stories like The Little Red Hen and Rumplestiltskin)
• the one with The Twelve Dancing Princesses, what’s it called? :::::hollers to children:::: Ah, yes: Best Loved Stories in Song and Dance
• and the Stone Soup one, um, Fairytale Favorites, I think is the name.
I can think of others (my girls loved the Shakespeare CD from the time they were tiny), but a list that goes on forever isn’t of much use to anyone, so I’ll stop with these.
We actually haven’t heard some of Jim’s most recent CDs, sob—that’s what we get for moving out of Virginia. Jim and Randi were kind enough to let my kids raid their shelves when we visited, and gracious enough to be pleased with a stack of my books in return.
As for Jay O’Callahan, whom Jennifer mentions in her email: we are mighty fond of him as well! Although we’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Jay in person. I first encountered his work the summer before my sophomore year in college, when I was a camp counselor at a theater camp in Missoula, Montana. One of the girls brought an O’Callahan story tape with her and I remember the girls—this was the high-school bunk, not the younger set I was in charge of—laughing their heads off over a story about two children who encounter the King of the Raisins in a strange underworld. Half-remembered phrases from the story were still haunting me almost twenty years later when I began this blog. I posted a plea with a vague description of the story—
The raisins are amiable enough despite their aversion to the strange wiggling things at the end of the children’s arms—
“What you got there, worms?”
“No, they’re fingers! See?”
(Sound of raisins screaming.) “Ahhhh! Horrible, horrible! But I like you anyway.”
And a short while later, the marvelous Lesley Austin of Small Meadow Press chimed in with the answer I’d been seeking so many years: the storyteller we were looking for was named Jay O’Callahan. I Googled accordingly, and there he was. The Raisins story is on his Little Heroes CD. To this day it remains a family favorite. Sing it with me: Raisins, raisins, all we are is raisins; big one, small ones, short ones, tall ones…
Particularly Cool Stuff My Kids and I Have Learned a Ton From or Just Plain Had a Good Time With:
Settlers of Catan, the board game. Jane got this for Christmas last year. We’ve been obsessed ever since. Except when our friends hijack it and keep it for weeks because it is that great a game.
Signing Time DVDs. Catchy songs, immensely useful vocabulary in American Sign Language. I trumpet these wherever I go. We talk about Rachel like she’s one of the family.
Prismacolor colored pencils. Indispensable. I was amused to see that Jane mentioned them in the first line of her “I Am From” poem. She’s right; they have helped color the picture of her life.
Uncle Josh’s Outline Map CD-Rom. Because maps are cool, and maps you can color (with Prismacolor pencils, hey!) are even cooler. The kids are constantly asking me to print out a map of somewhere or other. You can find other outline maps available online (for free), but I like Josh’s for clarity. And once when I had a problem opening a particular map (it’s a PDF file), I called the help number and it was Uncle Josh himself, a most amiable gentleman, who quickly solved my problem.
The Global Puzzle. Big! Very big! Will take over your dinner table! (So clear off that laundry.)
Set. It may annoy you that your eight-year-old will be quicker at spotting the patterns in this card game than you will. There’s a free daily online version as well.
Quiddler. Like Scrabble, only with cards. This, too, can be played online.
Babble. Like Boggle, only online and free.
Chronology, the game. Like Trivial Pursuit, only with history.
Speaking of online games: the BBC History Game site is awfully fun.
And Jane was fairly addicted to Absurd Math for a while there. Need more free math puzzles? Nick’s got a bunch.
A Case of Red Herrings and Mind Benders. Logic and problem-solving puzzles: a fun way to pass the time on long car trips or in waiting rooms.
Zoombinis Logical Journey computer game and sequels. Stretch your brain trying to get the little Zoombinis to a village where they can bounce in peace.
Oregon Trail. The game that launched a massive wagon trail rabbit trail for my kids a couple of years ago—and they still aren’t tired of the game. (Now there’s a Wii version, too!)
Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots : Gardening Together with Children. Plant a sunflower house! Up-end a Giant Bucket of Potatoes and dig through the dirt for your rewards! Grow lettuce in rainboots! Boots! With lettuce growing in them!
Wild Goose Science Kits. Fun experiments with a low mess factor. Note to self: remember the Wild Goose Crime Kit come Christmastime. (Sadly, these are no longer available. Wild Science offers similar kits.)
A microscope. Sonlight sells a nifty set of prepared slides with paramecium and other fun stuff for the kids to peer at.
If the scope sparks an interest in dissection, there’s a way to do it online with no actual innards involved: Froguts! The site has a couple of free demos to occupy you while you save up for the full version. (Which I haven’t seen yet, but it does look cool.) HT: Karen Edmisten.
Klutz Books. Over the years, we’ve explored: knitting, embroidery, origami, magic, Sculpey, paper collage, paper dolls, beadlings, and foam shapes. Look under any piece of furniture in my house and you will find remnants of all of the above.
Which reminds me: Sculpey polymer clay. Is it possible to get through a day without some? My children think not.
Usborne’s calligraphy book and a set of markers.
But while I’m on Usborne, my kids also love and use at least weekly: Usborne Science Experiments Volumes 1, 2, and 3.
Muse magazine. The highlight of Jane’s month. From the publishers of Cricket. We also like Odyssey, Click, and Ask.
Classical Kids CDs. Beanie’s favorite is Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery.
Refrigerator poetry magnets. I gave Scott the Shakespearean set a couple of Christmases ago. Note to self: You are not as brilliant as you think! You were an English major, for Pete’s sake, with a minor in drama. Thou knowest full well old William was a bawdy fellow. If you don’t want your little ones writing poems about codpieces, stick to the basic version. But oh how I enjoy the messages Scott leaves for me to find and then pretends he doesn’t know who wrote them:
And of course of course of course, Jim Weiss story CDs. I rave about these every chance I get because they have added such riches to my children’s imaginations. For years, they have listened to Jim’s stories after lights-out. Greek myths, Sherlock Holmes, Shakespeare, folk and fairy tales, the Arabian Nights, the Jungle Book: of such stuff are dreams woven.
Check out my Giant List of Book Recommendations too!