“Mom, that’s not Nagaina’s voice!
That’s how Nag sounds.” Mary quickly caught my lapse in focus as I read “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” from The Jungle Book to our girls for the umpteenth time. When they were young, it was a regular tradition for me to sit in the doorjamb by their bedroom, to catch the hall light, while our girls were tucked in bed following all the other nighttime rituals. Even though we had many books we enjoyed reading together, the captivating story about the mongoose in India, “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,” was one our girls nearly memorized.
Part of the experience was coming up with a different voice for each character. A low growly voice for Nag, the male cobra villain, was differentiated from my attempt to sound like his wicked wife, Nagaina, to whom I gave a high-pitched raspy voice. Yes, I was nearly hoarse on the occasions when I read multiple chapters in one sitting!
Eventually, I started recording the books that I read aloud frequently. At the end of the story, I would then “interview” each daughter about her favorite parts of the book. Now that we have these recording sessions archived on CDs, it’s quite entertaining for me to hear their young voices reciting their most memorable parts.
Emily Ravenel, my late great-aunt, used to tell me that books are wonderful friends to be treasured and enjoyed time and again. I could not agree more. For those of you with young children or grandchildren, why not add to this love of literature by starting to read some of your favorites aloud? And by all means, don’t be bashful about recording them. While you might not like the way your voice sounds recorded, I assure you that your young audience will greatly appreciate your gift.
From our list of family favorites, here is a sampling of books sure to entertain. Don’t forget to come up with a creative voice for each character; however, fair warning that you will be caught by an astute listener if you mistakenly use the wrong voice!
This delightful short story is in the anthology The Jungle Book written by Rudyard Kipling in 1894. As a mongoose, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi befriends an English family living in India as well as all the other little animals in the garden. Living up to the mongoose reputation for attacking snakes, Rikki takes particular pride in protecting the young son, Teddy, from the aggressive garden cobras, Nag and Nagaina. Kipling’s vivid descriptions of the ongoing struggles between Rikki and the cobras are spellbinding.
This story was so loved by our daughters that Margaret even dressed up as a mongoose for Halloween in the fourth grade. It was not a success as she ended up having to wear a sign around her neck to let people know that she was a mongoose, and then much to her horror, most people responded, “What’s that?”
The Wednesday Witch
Witch Hilda has her strongest powers on Wednesday. That happens to be the day when Mary Jane, at home alone for the afternoon, sneaks and opens a bottle of her mother’s perfume called “Mischief.” Flying around the city on her magic vacuum cleaner, Hilda catches a whiff of the perfume and heads to Mary Jane’s house. Mary Jane refuses to open the door to this strange visitor, but Hilda accidentally leaves her black (talking) cat, Cinders, on the front stoop.
In returning the next day to retrieve her, Hilda begins a series of mishaps with comical and entertaining mismanaged powers, involving a pair of magic scissors that cause things to shrink without being cut and a bewitched pair of roller skates made to fly. Reading this book, written by Ruth Chew in 1969, will make you wish for special powers and a flying vacuum cleaner.
The Adventures of a Brownie
Originally published in 1872, this book is now out of print, but old copies can be found online. Written by English novelist and poet Dinah Mulock, The Adventures of a Brownie chronicles the life of this little elf-like man, about a foot tall, who lives in the basement of an English family᾿s country home. With great vivacity, Mulock weaves the magic of “Brownie” into the lives of the six children by such antics as turning a cold stone into a hot cake while ice skating or by teasing the cat by morphing himself into different animals.
To the delight of the children, he also humorously makes life difficult for the mean, lazy cook and the gruff, strict gardener. His pranks and his love for the children make his adventures truly endearing. After reading this to Helen several times when she was 4, she started looking for Brownie in our basement!
The Princess and the Goblin
Also published in 1872, The Princess and the Goblin was written by George MacDonald. C. S. Lewis referred to him as his “master” and was inspired by him in writing The Chronicles of Narnia. MacDonald’s fantasy novel centers around Princess Irene, who lives in a castle in the middle of a mountainous kingdom ruled by her father. She is safe to play outside in her exotic surroundings provided she is back in the castle before dark when the goblins come out. This story is enchanting with a magical, secret great-great-grandmother who lives in the castle tower and a miner boy who learns the mystery for staying safe from the goblins.