CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 22. . . .June 26, 2009
Agent Story: Tales From the Briefcase.
Vancouver, BC: Laura Thomas (www.agentstory.net), 2009.
1 CD, 59 min., $16.99.
Preschool-grade 1 / Ages 3-6.
Review by Harriet Zaidman.
It seems old fashioned and quaint, but children love to hear stories; they absorb a lot while listening as they play. A good way for adults to interact with younger children is to play stories that require physical movement or actions. Some things never go out of style.
Laura Thomas, a professional children's storyteller, has collected stories from her public performances in which she plays Agent Story. Deputizing the children as secret agents at the beginning of the recording, Thomas spins stories that range from pan-Canadian and British Columbia-specific stories, to tales about sports and multiculturalism and others that relate to math, science, social studies and other curricular areas. Her stories create precise images, and, for the most part, they will appeal to young children, likely to the age of 6, rather than 8 as advertised.
The secret agent theme is an idea that likely works better on stage and in costume. It starts out strongly but seems imposed through the rest of the recording. The collection of stories is eclectic and don't relate back to the theme. Thomas could easily abandon it and just tell the stories, which would work best when each is played for specific purposes – such as circle time when it might be interesting to listen to "How Spirit Bear Brought Peace." Kids who are colouring will remember how to say 'please' in different languages if "Ten Ways to Say the Magic Word" is played repeatedly (although I've never heard the Hebrew pronunciation she uses). Children will learn all about the bones in their body if adults do the actions together with them to the accompaniment of "Our Skeletons Are Just Right." Several stories, including "Have a Potlach" and "Scuba Buddies," come from Thomas's West Coast environment.
Two stories that don't work are "Go, Canada," which presumes a child knows that the Winter Olympics will be held in Vancouver in 2010, and "Do a Story Circle," in which the terms 'protagonist,' 'problem' and 'setting' are introduced abruptly and without enough explanation.
The length of the stories range from only a few seconds to seven minutes, but most are two or three minutes long, just right for wiggly children.
This CD could be useful in a variety of settings, from home to daycare to kindergarten. Thomas's strong voice and clear diction, combined with age-appropriate stories, make Agent Story: Tales From the Briefcase a good purchase for caregivers and children alike.
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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