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Recording Review

A Story a Day
By Eva Grayzel
Reviewed by Alan Irvine

A Story a Day features Eva Grayzel's adaptations of several traditional folktales, accompanied by a number of original songs. The material is apparently drawn from Grayzel's school programs, and so is primarily aimed at an elementary school audience, though adults will enjoy the stories, too. The stories are all adaptations of traditional folktales from various cultures: King Solomon and the Bee, The Stonecutter (Japan,) The Rare Diamond (Hasidic,) Mama Anansi's Talented Children (Ashanti,) Up Above or Down Below (Native American.)

Grayzel is an energetic and delightful storyteller. She has a wonderful voice, which she uses to great effect, both in conjuring different characters and evoking the emotional tenor of the story. She clearly enjoys telling her stories, and it is easy to see how she must communicate the fun of stories to school audiences, for she clearly communicates it through the recording.

Her adaptations of the stories work well for the most part. She has shaped the stories to fit her voice and style, and she has a clear idea of what she wants the story to communicate. I sometimes found the moral of the story presented a little too strong, but that is a matter of taste, since I prefer stories that let me decide for myself, and of purpose, one of Grayzel's goals for the stories is to present/teach values/morals. Grayzel also favors casting the stories into rhyme, which works most of the time, but here and there the rhymes became jarring — too awkward, too sing-song, calling attention to themselves and away from the story. Fortunately, only here and there, and never for long. The only really jarring note in her adaptations comes when she changes Anansi into a woman. At least, I assume Mama Anansi is Grayzel's idea, since every story I have heard about Anansi (including several versions of the tale she tells here) has Anansi as very clearly a man. Although I can see why Grayzel wanted this story to be about a Mama instead of a Papa - she gets a different parent-children dynamic and a softer feel to the story than she would with a male Anansi - performing a sex-change on so well known a figure as Anansi was probably not the best way to accomplish this; it is too jarring for anyone familiar with the character. It would have been better to take Anansi out of the story and put in a new Mama. (And, indeed, I have heard versions of this tale that are not about Anansi, although they are still about a father and his children.) Now, to be fair, children probably will not notice or care, and they are the main audience for the story.

Children are not the only audience for this recording, however. It is also designed with teachers, and perhaps parents, in mind. Along with the CD itself, Grayzel has also put together an extensive booklet of supporting material. For each story she suggests values the story can highlight, topics for further discussion, and various exercises or assignments that teachers can make use of, so that the stories become the starting place for a lot of classroom activity. Not being a teacher, I hesitate to comment on how useful Grayzel's suggested activities would be in the classroom, but I would think that there should be at least one or two in each list that would work with any class. Grayzel has certainly put time and effort into thinking through how to make these stories useful to teachers. That effort particularly shows with the material accompanying King Solomon and the Bee. Here, she provides the complete text of her story, reworked as a play with parts for a large number of students, along with detailed stage directions and costume suggestions.

The final element of the recording is the music. Here I have mixed reactions. I do not like the songs very much; they are too cute and feel too stagy. Pierre Bohemond's instrumental music often sounds like cheap keyboards when it is by itself in the foreground. But, when the music drops to the background, when it is used to underscore the text, provide a mood or a cue while Grayzel is speaking, then it works with excellent effect, enhancing the story and filling in just the right touches.

All in all, I enjoyed this recording. The strengths greatly outweigh the occasional bumps. And the main audience for the tape probably will not even notice most of the things that jar an adult storyteller. The biggest strength of the recording is Grayzel herself, her energy, and her voice. She has marvelous command of her material and her tellings. I would particularly like to hear what she can do with other sorts of material as well.

—posted in April, 2003


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