When my children were eight and five, they used to love listening to a couple of Barefoot Books
CDs in the car and as they settled down to sleep – ‘Tales of Wisdom & Wonder’ narrated by Hugh Lupton and ‘Grandmothers’ Stories’ narrated by Olympia Dukakis.
Coming from Barefoot Books, these were charming multicultural tales suffused with wry observations on the world – the monkey who asked God to give him more misery, thinking that ‘misery’ meant honey; the blind man who was always one step ahead of his sighted companion who was trying to cheat him; the animals who helped two children escape a witch who wanted to eat them; the beautiful crone who drew a raven and a basket on her cell wall and had them come to life and carry her away.
There is a great deal of outstanding entertainment around for children nowadays, especially on TV and DVD and in computer games, which parents often candidly resent but which set the bar very high for more traditional literature-based competitors to jump over. However, speaking as a parent, it is always a delight when something I would regard as more wholesome than constant Japanese-based cartoon battling succeeds in entrancing my children as well.
George Polley’s ‘Grandfather & The Raven’ tales remind me a great deal of the Barefoot Books stories. Their starting point is a meeting between a talking (as they do) raven and an oldish man which leads to their teaming up to help and instruct the people around them. Their author is an American who chooses to live in Japan and they are suffused with a gentle knowingness and humour accompanied by a sharp disapproval of unprovoked violence (violent dogs, violent people, war). There is also a cannily and wryly portrayed running description of the relationship between the old man and his wife which serves to add welcome dabs of wasabi to the concoction.
According to George, these tales sprang from nowhere and told themselves, which I well believe as they are both freely flowing and naturally quirky, and clearly not targeted at a neatly-defined market segment nor containing artificial story-enhancer additives.
Some more cautious adults may baulk slightly at reading to a small child the tale of the angry man who beats his wife because he feels misunderstood and that of the ravens who literally have the shit scared out of them but, for me, such occasional departures from safe storytelling are the nutty bits in the organic wholemeal bread and I am sure that many a grandparent will as much enjoy reading these stories for themselves as retelling them at bedtime to younger folk.
It would be good to be able to hear them on audio CD too.
To explore the book further (or even buy it), click here