Monday, August 31, 2009

It's good for you

I worked this weekend. I spent about three hours reading the Beverly Cleary Children's Choice Award nominees for the upcoming year (I'll booktalk these books at least 50 times this school year) and three hours listening to these two nonfiction titles in the Library of American Lives and Times: Betsy Ross: The American Flag and Life in a Young America by Ryan Randolph and Patrick Henry: Voice of the Revolution by Amy and John Kukla. Please don't make me listen to another one.

Nonfiction series for children can be so sincere and so very dull to get through. (Nonfiction series can also be outstanding [Scientists in the Field anyone?]). Do they have to be dull? I don't think so, but the constraints of a series title -- all the facts, no controversy, no deviations to an interesting nugget -- seem to conspire against them.

I learned a few things in listening to these books. I appreciated the chapter devoted to whether or not Betsy Ross did indeed design the first American flag at the behest of George Washington. (Based on what I heard, I think her relatives were hoping for their 15 minutes of fame and made up the story.) She kept her business open during the duration of the American Revolution, and buried two husbands. I learned a little bit about early Quakers, and the Free Quakers (those who chose to fight in the Revolution). But, despite my inclination to champion women and -- in particular -- champion crafty women in history, Ross just really wasn't a trailblazer. So why does she merit a volume in this Library? Simple, gotta have some women in the collection (see previous paragraph.)

Now Patrick Henry (Give me liberty or give me death!) did play an important role in our nation's founding. Since I really knew nothing about him, beyond that speech, I was interested to learn that he had been influential in the development of the Bill of Rights -- and his opposition to the Federalists, led by his fellow Virginian, James Madison. He also voiced an abhorrence of slavery -- while being a slaveholder, but worried about "the general inconvenience of living without them." Now this is interesting -- wouldn't it have been great if the biography had delved a little further into this.

The books' readers did a good job, considering how little they had to work with. Suzy Myers and Benjamin Becker (whoever they are) do the honors. They keep the stories moving along, and -- where possible -- infuse a little bit of drama in the proceedings. In Henry's biography, Becker does that aural quote indicator: He pauses -- often in the middle of a sentence -- and then reads in a different (often deeper) voice. I find this distracting and artificial. Both readers had to struggle with a timeline of events at the end of their biography, which they rattle off quickly and with little inflection. It is extremely difficult for this listener to retain her attention. However, at least she knew it would soon be over.

The production credits for these books say that Audible is the publisher. I don't know much about Audible (beyond that it is an online retailer of downloadable audio), since I really haven't had much trouble getting hold of audiobooks for the last four years, but I am really curious about how marketable these titles are. Do school or public libraries purchase them (they aren't available through my library's OverDrive service)? Obviously, Brilliance Audio (owned by Audible) thinks there's a market for the CDs. Hmmm ...

My homework is finished.

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