Tuesday, September 1, 2009


I think the people who write beginning readers are the most underappreciated talent in the authorial world. Having been a victim of Dick and Jane myself, I am in utter admiration of authors who can make these books original and entertaining. Jennifer Richard Jacobson's Andy Shane books meet this standard. Andy Shane is a quiet boy who lives with his grandmother and tries really hard to be a good friend (a summary which sounds much more stickily sweet than Andy actually is) and in Andy Shane and the Pumpkin Trick he comes through with affection and intelligence.

Even though bossy Dolores Starbuckle occasionally frustrates Andy to no end, it is Andy who comes up with the plan to foil the neighborhood hooligans who keep smashing Dolores' Halloween pumpkins.

In addition to being hard to write these books, it's no mean trick to read them aloud either. Rachael Lillis does a fine job. She reads slowly, as is appropriate for a read-along, but her pace isn't deliberate. She varies the narrative nicely. She does interesting and appropriate character voices for Andy, Dolores and Andy's Granny Webb.

The audiobook is full of sound effects that relate to the story's text. There is the sound of batter being whipped or a hole being dug, among others. These add texture to the story, but in this case it almost seems like overkill. Several of the effects are not immediately obvious, and this pulled my focus away from the story. What is the sound, for example, that accompanies the part of the book that describes hanging strings that will hold donuts in the air during Dolores' party? I listened twice through and still can't tell you.

I'm not a big fruit person -- I will consume only an extremely limited palette of fruit (most particularly, no berries in any form) -- so I think of read-along audiobooks as fruit. You have to have them -- they are a very useful tool in the process of learning to read -- but they are never going to be great. Still, some are a whole lot better than others, so on my fruit scale, Andy Shane is a peach (yum!).

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