Monday, June 1, 2009

Keep it clean!

This weekend, I finally got a chance to listen to the two Odyssey Award Honor picture books, I'm Dirty and Martina the Beautiful Cockroach. I'm Dirty, by Kate and Jim McMullan, is the story of backhoe who loves his work, and is narrated with great panache by Steve Buscemi. You gotta tip your hat to an actor who can take the simple script of a picture book and invest it with humor, character and utter commitment. No talking down, no souped-up voices; this audiobook is a treasure to listen to.

S[n]ide comment: Wouldn't it be great if instead of listening to Scott Simon and Daniel Pinkwater ruin children's picture books on NPR with their gushing overreading, they'd just play a decent audiobook by Weston Woods (the producer of I'm Dirty) or Recorded Books? [Or is that just the children's librarian in me talking?]

In addition to Buscemi's sly, self-knowing backhoe, this audiobook is accompanied by clanking machinery and other assorted loud noises designed to amuse the young listener. They don't ever overwhelm the narration and add atmosphere to the reading. When you've finished, you feel the same satisfaction that the backhoe does at a job well-done.

The audiobook includes a short conversation with the McMullans, who briefly relate how they chose their subject (a move from Manhattan to the Hamptons led to their introduction to its backhoe culture ... huh?), and the process they use to animate the machine. Evidently, the backhoe operators of the Hamptons weren't too willing to take time off to talk to them about their machines, but Kate tells an amusing story of ruining some groceries that had to sit in the car while she took her chance to talk to an operator before he took his machine to work.

Of the three "truck" books that the McMullans have created, I'm Stinky remains my favorite, but this audio version makes I'm Dirty pretty fun too. I'm Stinky is narrated by Andy Richter, which means I might have check it out and give it a listen as well.

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