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An Open Book: May the Fourth Be Bookish

Carolyn Astfalk has a first Wednesday of the month book review linkup!

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Ugh.  I know, I know.  That post title is pathetic, but I’m running on fumes here.  What kind of fumes? The kind that broke me enough to give in to… audiobooks.  Audiobooks have been around longer than books, actually, because hello? Storytelling around the fire while digesting the freshly roasted mammoth meat?

I, however, just never got into audiobooks, because:

  1. I can get to the end of the story so much faster in my head.  Why would I wait around for someone else to read it for me?
  2. All my time available for audiobook listening, if I could get past that first issue, is spent in the car with kids, and you can’t listen to grown-up audiobooks if you have little pitchers and their big, giant ears in the backseat.

Why did it never occur to me that it’s not just contemporary pulp on audiobook but literary classics as well?

So that library trip when I stumbled upon this on our weekly trip to the library:

The Adventures of Odysseus by Hugh Lupton & Daniel Morden, Illustrated by Cristina Balit

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This was my very first audiobook, and since it wasn’t packaged as an audiobook, I was cleverly tricked into picking it up.  I didn’t even see the CDs in the front and back of the gorgeously illustrated covers until we were in the car and headed for our next task.  The Odyssey was one of my favorite reading assignments from college, and I was pretty sure there wasn’t anything completely untoward for both shifts of kid to hear (I’m more comfortable with kids learning of the horrors of war than the seduction of the flesh, frankly).  I was not disappointed in this version: there’s nothing immodest, and the retelling of the tale does not skip over the violent parts (Polyphemus and Scylla aren’t tidied up, for instance).  The narrators never use syrupy voices-for-the-kiddies.  I loved hearing Second Shift cheer when Odysseus sent the arrow through the axe handles.  All in all, I highly recommend this version.  Everyone can listen to the story while those who aren’t driving and can’t even read yet can appreciate the gorgeous, stylized illustrations.

Once we’d enjoyed that, I tried thinking back to literary classics I’d tried to get First Shift to read but which they’d eschewed because they prefer non-fiction so blastedly strongly.  The first one that came to mind was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

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I’ve struggled to get my older kids to read fiction, because their interests are limited, and they don’t see the point in fiction.  Even if they never, ever enjoy fiction (sniffle!), fiction-reading is still a part of learning how to be human–seeing how characters face conflict and deal with it, for good or ill.  Then there’s the ability to follow along with literary allusions without getting lost.  Both of those tasks can be conquered adequately (perhaps not well, but adequately) through audiobooks–force-fed to unwilling brains while on long car rides.  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is one of those books that my kids just did not want to read but that we enjoyed listening to (maybe not as much as the next one, but more on that in a bit).  Narrator Jim Dale handled the ridiculousness with the exact right amount of wryness but still kept it whimsical.  I enjoyed this version immensely, moreso than I ever enjoyed the text version or any movie version (Sorry, Mr. Carroll).

Lastly, a book I read only once in my college years: Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery.

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The story, as always, is wonderful: the tale of an unwanted orphan who finds family in the most unlikely pair of brother and sister Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert.  The example of a flighty but well-meaning girl who gets into particularly feminine adventures, who in turn learns from each hilarious mistake she makes, is a precious example I really wanted to share with my three young ladies.  Hearing the story now as a parent myself was that much more poignant than it had been when I was a childless college student, struggling to pass her own exams and such.  I love how much of a family story this is, with appeal across the ages.

As for this production in particular, the editing in this one could use some smoothing out, and I think the narrator went a little too far on the wry side and not far enough on the wonderment side.  That said, we had a great time listening to this one.  Second Shift loved it as much as I did; as Cordelia Chase would say, “Overidentify much?”

Adding audiobooks to our homeschooling has already been such a boon.  First Shift has phenomenal reading skills, but they shy away from personal stories; Second Shift loves fiction but struggles mightily with reading.  Audiobooks have given us the opportunity to share literature with each other, discuss it, talk about conflict and description and language.  I can’t believe I’ve let us miss out on this rich resource for so long.

In the time I’ve had to read books rather than listen to them, I’ve started in on From Grief to GraceFrom Grief to Grace coming out next month by Jeannie Ewing.

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I’ve also read another Chime Travelers book by Lisa Hendey, but that one won’t be out until Christmas, so look for a review in, say, November.

Do you have reluctant readers?  How do you tackle their challenges?  Do you use audiobooks?  What are some of your favorites?  And don’t forget to link up with Carolyn!