Tell Me a Story

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A Sense of Theft read by Lori Ada Jaroslow
Zena is a poor woman on trial for committing a most extraordinary crime. Zena is accused of inhaling the marvelous scents of her neighbor Mordecai’s breads, cookies, and cakes, and the greedy baker wants her to pay him. To everyone’s amazement, the judge agrees that Zena must pay, but the form of payment the judge demands results in true justice.

Some folklore scholars attribute this story to tales about Ooka Tadasuke, a Japanese samurai of the 17th century, an incorruptible judge who became a legendary figure for his imaginative legal decisions. Others attribute the form of the tale to stories of renowned Turkish trickster hero, Nasreddin Hodja. Our version is set in an imaginary Jewish shtetl somewhere in Eastern Europe.
Anansi and Turtle’s Feast read by Rick Hall
Anansi, the famous spider god, refuses to share his meal with hungry Turtle, despite his land’s custom of generosity and hospitality, especially during the holidays. Turtle is disappointed by Anansi’s greed, but he literally turns the tables on the spider and manages to outwit folklore’s most famous trickster.

Anansi stories originated with the Ashanti tribe of Ghana in West Africa, but like the trickster spider god himself, Anansi tales traveled to the Caribbean and eventually migrated into the southern US. Depending upon where he lives, Anansi is known as Ananse, Aunt Nancy, Kwaku Anansi, Ti Malice, YiYi, Nansi, Compse Anansi and even Mr. Jones. But wherever he’s found, Anansi always has tricks up his many sleeves.
The Selkie Bride read by Lauren Tom
One evening a Scottish fisherman falls in love with a selkie (seal) woman he discovers onshore in her human form. When the fisherman hides the selkie’s sealskin, she has only one choice. She agrees to marry the fisherman, and for many years they live a happy life together on land. But like all selkies, she forever longs for the sea, and ultimately the selkie bride finds her way back to her true home.

The seal-folk of Scotland and Ireland, variously known as selkies, selchies, silkies and roanes often swim out of the mists of the seas and into folktales. This retelling was inspired by many versions of this tale, but especially by John Sayles’s film The Secret of the Roan Inish based on the The Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry, a novel by Rosalie Fry and the ballad The Great Silkie of Sule Skerrie by Joan Baez and Judy Collins.
Searching for Fear read by Poppy Champlin
Young Gregory, a fearless raccoon who cannot even imagine what being frightened feels like, sets out on the journey to find out. Along the way Gregory encounters wily and wicked coyotes, undersea monsters, and graveyard ghosts, but none of this scares the brave fellow. It’s only when the forest animals decide that Gregory must be their king that he learns what it feels like to be afraid.

The origins of this story are Turkish, from Turkish Marchen translated by Andrew Lang in his story The Boy Who Found Fear At Last, originally published in The Olive Fairy Book in 1907. Our Gregory’s story is set in a mythical forest somewhere in North America, wherever fearless raccoons roam.
The Clever Girl read by Charlayne Woodard
A farmer’s daughter, Hannah, responds with dazzling wit to riddles posed by the town’s magistrate and so wins justice in her father’s court case. Hannah also wins the magistrate’s love and admiration, but when she questions his judgment, he sends her back to her father’s house. The twists continue when, to everyone’s delight, Hannah’s intelligence once again changes the magistrate’s mind.

The tale is adapted from the well-known Czechoslovakian folktale Clever Manka and owes some of its spirit to the equally clever Molly Whuppie of British folklore as well as to some of the spirited feminist tales offered by such clever writers as Angela Carter, Maeve Binchy and Alison Lurie.
Two Frogs from Japan read by Jack McGee
One frog from the ancient capital city of Kyoto and another frog from a swamp in coastal Osaka, in a burst of adventurous spirit, decide to climb the mountain that separates their two cities. They wish to see what’s on the other side, for they’ve heard tales. Both frogs are amazed and surprised by what they discover.

The version of this tale, in jazz-inspired form, is adapted from an original Japanese folktale (from Japanese Marchen, folklore), translated and recorded in Andrew Lang’s The Violet Fairy Book originally published in 1901.
Rabbit on the Moon read by William Thomas, Jr.
Disguised as a poor Brahmin, Buddha visits earth to test the generosity of forest animals. When Rabbit offers to sacrifice himself, Buddha removes his disguise and instructs Rabbit that he must not give too much. To keep Rabbit safe, Buddha takes him to the moon, where careful moon gazers will see him to this day.

The story is from India, based on an ancient Jataka tale, a canon of sacred Buddhist literature dating from between 300 B.C. and 400 A.D. Composed of more than 500 tales, the Jataka Tales are considered by most scholars to contain the moral teachings of the Buddha.
The Boatman’s Howling Daughter read by Kathleen Wilhoite
Sal Fink’s seven pet bear cubs follow her wherever she goes, but one day while the cubs are sleeping, a band of pirates kidnap Sal. The pirates are seeking ransom from Sal’s famous father, the keelboat man, Mike Fink. Sal proves she’s as wily as any man or woman around when she manages to escape all on her own.

An American tall tale hero, Mike Fink originally was an actual keelboat man in the early 1800s, known for his daring deeds on the rivers and his tendency to brag. Mike’s exploits and those of his family were mostly recorded in pre-Civil War broadside ballads, and Sal tales appear in the Davy Crockett Almanack of the 1840s. Sal’s wild howl is as memorable and American as that of the poet Allen Ginsberg.

I originally bought a copy of Tell Me a Story for my daughter (a teenager at the time) to listen to and perhaps play the CD for a couple of kids she babysat.  But I decided to play it first for myself because I loved Laura Hall's work on Whose Line Is It Anyway and I wanted to give it the okay for babysitting material for toddlers.

I was blown away, not just by the production value, but by the stories and acting.  I did not expect to be drawn in myself, but I was.  So I handed it to my daughter, expecting to get the eye-rolling 'oh, please' look that an adult usually gets when an adult suggests to a teenager, "You should listen to this.  It's pretty good."  Fortunately, she was on her way to a sitting gig and took it with her...said it might be a distraction for the young-uns.

When she got home from from the job that evening, she thanked me.  She said that she popped it into the CD player after snacks and sat down to listen with the kids.  She said, "From the first few words, they just watched the CD player like they were watching a movie and one of them closed his eyes except between the stories.  It was pretty cool.  And, okay, I guess I should tell you I liked it, too."

Well, there you go -- three generations impressed in one day with one CD.  Can't beat that.  I bought the other CDs as soon as they were released and I am still amazed at how the people responsible for these gems have been able to rekindle the art of story-telling -- creating little movies for the mind."   

Herman Bennett, singer/songwriter, Austin, Texas