Homemade Story-Time Tapes

Learn how to record a child's favorite story-time tale blank cassette tapes which includes: story selection, sound effects, taping tactics.
By Maggie O'Conner
November/December 1983

Let your childs imagination grow as they enjoy the homemade story-time tapes you made for them.
ILLUSTRATION: S.M. WOOD
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Weave Christmas magic with the sound of your voice and a fairy tale.

Nothing quite compares with the warm, subtle pleasure of sharing aloud a beloved story or poem with a child for story-time. And, if your household is anything like mine, you have probably been assailed night and day with requests to "Read me a story, please?" Well, I don't know about you, but I just couldn't bear to see the disappointed look on my little girl's face when I had to tell her, "Later, honey, I'm in the middle of fixing supper right now." It was so frustrating (for me and for her) to have to send her off for the umpteenth time to explore her treasured book in lonely silence. (It's especially disquieting to me because — having been a professional children's theater director and a vocational storyteller — I know how vitally important the spoken word is to young people . . . particularly tots who haven't yet learned to read.)

If finding enough time to read to your children has been a problem for you, too, and one that you'd like to remedy without neglecting your chores, then take heart: I've found a solution! I simply record my child's favorite stories and poems (as well as other selections I think she'd enjoy) on cassette tapes. So now — when I'm unavailable — my daughter can plug in her earphones, turn on her cassette player, and listen to whatever suits her fancy . . . whenever she likes! Sure, it doesn't replace my reading to her in person, but it's the next best thing. Besides, listening to a rollicking rendition of a good story (such as "The Bremen Town Musicians") is an experience a hundred times more individualized, imagination provoking, and mind-enriching than watching those all-too often mediocre television shows. Story-time tapes also make perfect Christmas gifts and stocking stuffers. The blank cassettes are inexpensive, and the finished products are easy (and fun) to create. On top of everything else, the recorded narratives are a snap for youngsters to use and wonderfully portable, so children can entertain themselves with them on trips.

Making Stories Come to Life

Creating a tape that has the power to rivet your children's attention isn't merely a matter of sitting down and reading any old story into a microphone. Remember, when your offspring hear the recording, you won't be around to give it extra punch . . . so your voice (along with the voices of other folks you may round up to help out), what ever sound effects and/or music you use, and the basic tale itself will have to do al! the work in casting the spell of make believe.

Don't worry, though, making a recording come to life isn't difficult. With a bit of research, preparation, practice, and panache, you ought to be turning out imagination gripping tapes in no time! And, once you start delving into (and transposing) children's literature, you're probably going to discover that making tapes can be as enriching an experience for you as listening to them will be for your young ones.

To Begin With. . .

Finding a story that lends itself to this purpose will take a bit of searching on your part. You may already have some "old favorite" prospects at home. Even so, spend a morning or two at your local library or bookstore: Plant yourself in the children's section and read, read, read. Ask the librarian or salesperson for advice. And look over every prospective story very carefully. After all, if a tale doesn't enchant you at the first reading, chances are it won't fascinate your child, either. On the other hand, if you find one you really like, read it over several times, looking for the following recordable characteristics:

[1] a clear plot with lots of action

[2] natural, succinct dialogue

[3] simple, straightforward characters

[4] an energetic, varied style

[5] plenty of humor!

Forget about abstract stories with ambig­uous turns of plot, hidden and/or overly moralistic themes, and complex motiva­tions. Children (especially those under eight) are direct creatures who take things literally. True, they love fantasies such as James Barrie's Peter Pan or nonsense like Dr. Seuss's The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins . . . but symbolism usually bores them. Therefore, beautifully written and exquisitely illustrated — but elusive — books (Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince or Roberts Vara's Tiger Flower, for instance), which are often found in the chil­dren's sections of bookstores, have more to say to adults than they do to young people.

If you plan to record a story that your youngster can follow with the text, pay at­tention to the illustrations, too. (Children under five can listen longer to a story that they can see, as well as hear.) These pictures should complement and enhance the plot . . . not distract from or overpower it.

Tactics for Taping

Pick a story you enjoy. I know I've said this before, but I can't overemphasize the importance of recording a tale that you like . . . a lot! If it gives you pleasure, you'll infuse your reading of it with immediacy and energy that'll be transmitted to your children when they hear it later.

Never tape alone (if you can help it). Besides the fact that solo taping is less fun than group storytelling, you need other folks around (preferably two) to provide dif­ferent voices and add pizzazz — plus sound effects! — to your tape. So grab some family members (older siblings may be gung ho for the project) or a couple of friends or neigh­bors to join in your taping sessions to add sparkle to your finished piece.

Know your material. Study the text well, and determine how the story is put to­gether. Where are its high and low points? Where is the climax? What are the relation­ships of the characters to one another? Where does each thought begin and end? And where do you want to slow your read­ing down to give emphasis to a crucial point or speed it up to keep the action moving?

Does this sound complicated? It's not, and all the preparation will pay off in a quality tape. Anyway, remember that you're dealing with the likes of Peter Rabbit, so do­ing your homework should take you only half an hour or so.

Be prepared. Assemble everything you need ahead of time . . . such as tapes (I sug­gest you buy only those with 15 to 30 min­utes per side, as longer recordings won't hold most youngsters' attention) . . . sound-effect gear (a piece of sheet metal for thun­der, bells for Santa's sleigh, and so forth) . . . and any musical instruments or records you need. And be sure to pick a time and place for recording that's free from distrac­tions. For example, if your "sound studio" is adjacent to the laundry room, don't try taping when the clothes washer is chugging away . . . unless you want "monster ma­chine" rinse-cycle sounds on your recording.

Choose a page-turning cue. If you want your child to follow a story in a book, you'll need to have a uniform signal (for each story) to let him or her know when to turn a page. A bell, whistle, or buzzer will do . . . but it must be distinctive enough to catch your tad's attention. (Why not pick one that fits the motif of the tale itself?) After you sound the signal, wait a moment before you continue reading . . . so that those little fingers have a chance to flip the page.

Speak clearly and with energy. Read slowly yet naturally, giving emphasis to consonants for clarity . . . without, of course, slipping into a stilted pattern of over-enunciating your words. You'll prob­ably find it worthwhile to make a practice tape to help you figure out recording levels and different voices for various characters. Play around with the text as you work, to see what effects you can produce. Certain words (especially action ones) can be said in a way that implies their meaning . . . such words as slowly, whisper, bored, and sleepily. Finally, as you read, see the scenes, imag­es, and people of the story in your mind's eye. This technique — if you can perfect it — will add a touch of enchantment to your interpretation.

Magic Memorables

Now, you should be able to create a re­cording that'll transport your youngster out of the realm of the everyday into the world of make-believe. Following these tricks of the taping trade may sound like a bit of work, but it's enjoyable work! And — believe me — you and your child will reap the re­wards of story-time tapes for years to come. After all, a good story never wears out. Long after the "latest" Saturday morning cartoon has lost its appeal (and lies for­gotten on the shelf of canceled TV shows), Rumpelstiltskin — and other classics — will still be mesmerizing young folks and old­sters alike!

EDITOR'S NOTE: Don't forget that — if you're game — you can always tell stories, rather than read them.

Need a little help deciding on a story to record? Welly here are a few. . .

Recordable Classics (To Jog Your Memory and Get You Started)

Picture Books

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

Make Way for Ducklings and Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey

Frederick by Leon Lionni

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

All of the Curious George books by H.A. Rey

Horton Hatches the Egg and The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins by Dr. Seuss

Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

Stone Soup by Marcia Brown

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Burton

The Red Balloon by Albert Lamorisse

The Tin Tin books by Herge

Collections of Stories

Grimm's Fairy Tales (including "The Bremen Town Musi­cians", "Rumpelstiltskin", "The Three Spinning Fairies", "Goldilocks", "Little Red Riding Hood", "The Golden Goose", and "Clever Gretel")

Just So Stories and The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

Jack Tales and Grandfather Tales by Richard Chase

Uncle Remus Stories by Joel Chandler Harris (Be certain to find an easy-to-read translation of the original dialect.)

Books

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Peter Pan by James Barrie

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson

Bambi by Felix Salten

Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers

Poetry Collections

Mother Goose

A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson

When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six by A. A. Milne

Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot

Poetry Selections

"The Night Before Christmas" by Clement Clarke Moore

"The Pied Piper of Hamlin" by Robert Browning

"Hiawatha's Childhood" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

"The Creation" by James Weldon Johnson

"Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll

"Raggedy Man" by James Whitcomb Riley

"Ballad of Johnny Appleseed" by Helmer O. Oleson


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