In Praise of Audio Books

At my house, we are very big fans of children’s audio books. It started, I think, when my daughter was not even two. I took a stack of her favorite board books to my family’s house for Christmas and had each of my siblings and parents record themselves reading one. Her eyes would light up whenever she heard a beloved relative reading a beloved book – it was audio perfection!

Later, when she was closer to 2 1/2, I bought Blueberries for Sal on a whim at Audible. We had read the book many times by that point, so the words were already very familiar to her and she was able to listen and follow along.  After that success we started exploring the collection of book+cd packs at our library. In the beginning I would simply look for picture books that we had already read aloud at home (like those by Kevin Henkes, read by Laura Hamilton), because I found at her age that if the stories were familiar she could listen to them independently. As she got more and more hooked on audio books we branched out and found new favorites, such as All Pigs Are Beautiful and Dogger.

Fast forward a few years and audio books remain an important part of our family culture. They’re great for road trips, rest time, dinner prep, and sick days. And plain old regular days, too! Sometimes I get my daughter the audio version after we’ve particularly loved a chapter book read aloud so she can enjoy it again on her own, but other times she listens to a book without any intro.

I try to add to our owned collection from time to time (they make great gifts!) but we also make use of our library’s offerings. There are some great resources in this post  if you’re interested in figuring out how to find good deals.

Here are some of our favorites:

I’ve gotten more into audio listening in recent years, too.  Here are some books and podcasts that I enjoy:
I’d love to hear what your family’s favorite podcasts and audio books are, so if you have some I haven’t listed above please comment and share them!

The Big Picture Story Bible… Now with Audio CDs!

If you’ve been reading here for a while or have perused our archives you already know how much we love The Big Picture Story Bible.  If you aren’t familiar with this wonderful children’s Bible, please go read Sarah’s review of it from last summer.

If you don’t already have a copy of The Big Picture Story Bible, now’s the time to get one because as of October 2010 the book comes with two audio CDs of the author reading the unabridged text!  I have the older edition, but a friend of mine who has the newer edition let me borrow the CDs and we (my toddler and I) have been listening to them for the past few days.  My almost-two-year-old is still a bit young to follow the storyline, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised that she actually has been able to follow along a little bit.  Slightly older kids whose parents have read them the book will, I imagine, be delighted to have the CDs.   There’s a chime to indicate when to turn the page so they can follow along with the book, but they work just as well without the book.  They’d be especially nice for long car trips or as bedtime listening!

The CDs are a straightforward reading, not dramatized, but I think they’re great.  I’m one of those people who loves making connections with the authors of books that I love, so the fact that it’s David Helm reading the text is sort of thrilling for me.  The only thing I don’t particularly like is the frequent chime to indicate a page turn, but I was able to tune it out after a while and I do appreciate that it allows older kids to follow along with the book.

The new edition has an image of a CD in the upper righthand corner, so make sure it’s there if you’re ordering online.  Unfortunately, the audio CDs aren’t currently available on their own.  Hopefully the kind folks at Crossway will realize that those of us who already have the book would love the option of being able to purchase (or download) the audio without having to buy a second book!

PS  Happy Valentine’s Day!  We had bread machine cinnamon rolls for breakfast and are going to try our hands at heart shaped-soft pretzels for an afternoon treat.  How are you celebrating?

Wise Words

Wise Words:
Family Stories That Bring the Proverbs to Life
Peter Leithart
Canon Press, 2003 (3rd edition)

Before I jump into today’s book, let me first note that today marks our 20th book review here at Aslan’s Library – and our first review of a chapter book!  Sarah and I are delighted to be edging our way into middle grade and young adult books and we hope that we’ll do more reviews for older kids in the months to come.  If you have any to recommend, please let us know!   And now, without further delay, today’s review…

Fables are a literary form that people seem to either love or hate.  I, for one, have harbored a fondness toward Aesop and the like since childhood, but I have several friends (not to name any names, but one of them might be my co-blogger) who could easily do without them.  Those who dislike fables likely do so because they feel they’re too, well, obvious: fables are, by definition, short stories that illustrate a moral lesson and end with a succinct nugget of wisdom.  Their message is blatantly clear, and some readers would rather a story’s message be a bit more nuanced.

If you find yourself in the camp of the Fable Wary Folks, I’d still encourage you to give Wise Words, by college professor Peter Leithart, a chance.  If you do, you’ll find that the cast of characters from Proverbs have come to life! Wisdom, Folly, Wickedness, Loyalty, Envy, and other virtues/vices are typified in short stories about kings and queens, servants and commonfolk, princes and an occasional talking animal.

On the one hand, yes, the tales are very straightforward in their message.  But there is a great deal of depth to them as well, because each one borrows from a variety of biblical stories and characters.   The result is that the stories not only “bring the Proverbs to life” but also illuminate many of the themes that are found throughout Scripture.   They are thought-provoking depictions of how the path of foolishness compares to the path of wisdom (a la Proverbs) but there are also glimpses of Jacob and Esau, David, Adam and Eve, and many others.  Hats off to Leithart for pulling this off seamlessly when others would surely butcher a similar attempt.

I should warn you that the stories are not all sunshine and rainbows – or political correctness.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but you may want to preview the book before sharing it with your children.  For starters, some stories contain scenes involving violence or death.  And while most of the stories are wonderful and well worth the price of the book, there are perhaps 3 out of the 18 chapters that I do not care for and would probably skip when reading the book to others.

If you’re like me, Proverbs is a difficult book to read.  Every verse or two you have to switch gears, and if you’re not in the habit of reading slowly and meditating as you go it’s going to be difficult to fully grasp their message.  Wise Words is a great way to introduce children to Proverbs because, as an “imaginative commentary,” it does some of that hard work for you.  Try it as a read aloud (each story takes about 15 minutes) or check out the audio version that’s also available because my sense is that this is a book that shines the most when shared with others.