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Psalm 78
. . . we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. .
so the next generation would know them . . . and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Academy is Listening

Recently Hope, Sydney, and I were shopping at a bookstore. We couldn’t find the book we were looking for, but did find a few that we weren’t looking for! Talking about it later, Hope said, “Mom, It is like what Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler says, ‘The search proves more profitable than the goal.’”

“Who says that?”

“Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.”

Hope and Sydney love this book. Last Christmas Grandma and Grandpa Edwards gave them the audio CDs of “The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” and recently they’ve been playing it often. In fact, at the bookstore they spotted the paperback book and begged me for copies. “Mom, we really want to follow along when we listen!”

Audiobooks have been an important part of our family life since about five or six years ago when Sydney and Hope were still preschoolers. We were having trouble getting them to settle into bed at night in the summertime, when the evenings are light until well past their bedtime. A friend suggested playing a story for them. I think they’ve been listening to audio books nearly every night since then (although recently we had to make a rule that they can’t listen to a story on school nights because as they’ve matured they just put off sleep to listen).

We started with stories like Frog and Toad and The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher. These short stories are easy to listen to and have some background music to keep things interesting. But, remembering something I read in The Well-Trained Mind about getting kids listening to stories without a lot of sound effects, I started them on “Little House” audio CDs. All of the Little House books are now available on audio CD and over the years we’ve collected nearly all of them. The kids listen over and over and over. I think they probably have much of the books memorized.

Although we often check out library audio books, our favorites generally find their way into our collection on Christmas and birthdays. Lane started listening to Cherry Jones read Farmer Boy when he was two or three, just as Toby is listening now to the ‘Manzo Christmas chapter, as he calls it. Lane’s favorite chapter for weeks and weeks was “Filling the Ice House.” After three-year-old Lane listened to Farmer Boy repeatedly, the kids received Charlotte’s Web and The Trumpet of the Swan for Christmas. I’m especially fond of these audio CDs because they are read by E. B. White himself. At the beginning of the Charlotte’s Web recording E. B. White says,
“This is a story of the barn. I wrote it for children and to amuse myself. It is called Charlotte’s Web and I will read it to you.”
His voice is rich and deep and it is lovely to hear his stories told just as he must have heard them in his head when he composed them. (If you, like me, love to read Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style just for fun, you’ll be thrilled to know your children are listening to a master writer perform his own work.)

We’ve now amassed a collection of long and wonderful recordings: Anne of Green Gables, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Peter Pan, Paddle to the Sea, and Focus on the Family Radio Theater’s Little Women, The Secret Garden, and The Chronicles of Narnia. (We also have the unabridged reading of the Narnia books, which Sydney was blessed to buy at the AWANA store!) Focus on the Family radio theater uses a cast to re-tell the story, so for purists looking for the unabridged book you might look elsewhere, but I don’t mind this once in a while. I usually order these audio CDs from Also, try downloading mp3s from 

Our kids amaze me with their ability to learn from listening. They far outperform me in this area. I believe (and this is completely unscientific) that their brains actually developed stronger in this area because they’ve grown up listening to rich language through these quality books, starting even before they could talk. Even Toby (he’s almost three at this writing) can pick out phrases from things he’s heard and repeat them, as he does with a funny line from Farmer Boy, “Hi! Leave that be! Where’s my pants?”

Toby wasn’t talking much last year around his two-year-old birthday and I was worried about it. One day during his afternoon “book time” I sat with him as Frog and Toad played on the boys’ CD player. As Arnold Lobel read his story about “The Button,” Toby suddenly said the next word that Lobel would say before he said it! It was just a fraction of a second ahead of Lobel, but I took great comfort knowing that he was soaking up all that wonderful language.

A few years ago, we read in school that spiders have eight legs. Sydney interrupted me,
“Mom, I know what the seven sections of a spider’s legs are called: the coax, the trochanter, the femur, the patella, the tibia, the metatarsus, and the tarsus.” I looked at her dumbfounded. 
“Where on earth did you hear that?”
“It’s in Charlotte’s Web.”

Or, there’s Lane, saying, “What’s Montana-banana-banana?” quoting from The Trumpet of the Swan. Not long ago the city of Boston entered our conversation and Lane interrupted, “Louis went there!” He’s picked up phrases like “topsy-turvy-pell-mell” from Farmer Boy or lines like Grandpa Joe’s reaction to Augustus Gloop getting stuck, “He’s blocked the ‘ole pipe!” from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

As preschoolers, all our children spent at least an hour in the afternoon having “book time” in which they listened to an audio CD and were allowed to look at books in their beds. Toby still does this. We also allow them to listen to stories at bedtime (except for Hope and Sydney on school nights). In their free time they often play their audio CDs just because they chose to do so. Recently I found them on a quiet Saturday afternoon holed up in the boys' bedrooms listening to Barrie’s Peter Pan

We have some of the books loaded on the iPod and play it through our stereo at mealtimes. We did this recently with Your Story Hour episodes about Charles Lindbergh, the Wright Brothers, and the Thanksgiving stories. I also have poetry loaded on the iPod and make playlists with our Latin and Grammar jingles to play during school or as we have breakfast.

Sharon, this was probably more than you bargained for when you asked about our listening list! Thanks for indulging me in one of my favorite subjects!


Sharon said...

Wow, that was a wonderful response for me! Thanks so much and I will have to check out Amazon as a CD source for birthday presents I think.

~ Sharon

Mrs. Edwards said...

Over the top, I suppose, but I have trouble being concise!

Do you have an Australian Amazon or do they ship from America to you? Probably a horribly ethnocentric question, so forgive me in advance.

Twyska said...

Thanks for posting this too--I love your detailed posts. I enjoy your reading lists too and have gotten some ideas for Joanna. Please post books that Lane enjoys as well. Caleb is a great reader, but I have to work harder at finding things he wants to sit and read.

Mrs. Edwards said...

Lane is reading but still reads slowly aloud when he reads to me. Right now we are working on some Nate the Great books, which he really loves because he plans to be a detective when he grows up. :)

Finding books to encourage Hope and Sydney to read comes easily for me, I guess because I'm a girl and grew up reading the same sorts of books they love. However, there are some good books out there for boys, too, I just have to work a little harder to identify them. I'll keep you posted on what catches on with Lane.

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