Friday, July 31, 2009

Time out!

Did I mention that it's hot?

OK, it's actually much cooler today, although my (un-air-conditioned) apartment hasn't had all the hot, stale air blown out. That's partially because of the massive construction project that's going on outside my front door ... oh, now I've strayed seriously off topic.

Last night's listen was number 2 of Roscoe Riley Rules: Never Swipe a Bully's Bear by Katherine Applegate. Roscoe Riley is a first grader who spends a lot of time in the time-out chair. Over the course of each beginning reader novel he tells us how he got there. In this installment, Roscoe has tucked his beloved stuffed pig, Hamilton, into his backpack to take to school, even though older brother Max has told him that only babies do that. Settling his backpack into his cubby, Roscoe whispers to Hamilton, but is overheard by the class bully, Wyatt. When Roscoe gets home that afternoon, he discovers that Hamilton is missing. Certain that Wyatt has pilfered his pig, Roscoe retaliates by stealing Wyatt's stuffed friend, Bobo the bear, when he spots Bobo in Wyatt's backpack. Life lessons ensue (the principal brings his stuffed animal friend to school). Roscoe is an engaging young hero and his adventures are definitely a cut above the usual beginning reader stories.

But, oh goodness, this level of storytelling is a trial to listen to. Short sentences, a lot of "s/he saids," and full-second pauses between each sentence don't make for much narrative flow. I believe they serve a terrific function for readers puzzling out a story, but for those of us a little more skilled they can be pretty darn dull.

Roscoe Riley, though, has scored with his narrator, Jared Goldsmith. Who may possibly be an actual child. And if he isn't, he's doing an outstanding job of impersonating one. (If he is, of course, he's a pretty amazing voice actor for his age.) Goldsmith not only reads in an authentically sounding elementary school kid's voice (there's even a pleasant-sounding, Winthrop-Paroo-type lisp), he's got the rhythms of that age group down as well: the feeling of the run-on sentence, seemingly erratic volume changes, and a generally loud-ish declaiming style of speaking. His diction is clearly understandable, and he even attempts some character creation using slightly different voices. His technique and delivery are so appropriate for this story, I found it quite engaging to listen to.

I've got a few more beginning reader titles to work through over the next few weeks, here's hoping they are all as good as Roscoe Riley Rules.

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