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
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...