Jane Yolen, narrator,
Once Upon a Bedtime Story
(Fabulous Records, 1999)

Jane Yolen narrates 11 folk and fairy tales from her 1997 collection Once Upon a Bedtime Story. While one always runs a risk when an author decides to lend her or his voice to an audio recording -- after all, there's a reason why some of them are writers -- in this case, there is nothing to worry about. Yolen's voice is exactly what you want and expect it to be: rich, warm and expressive. She strikes exactly the right pitch for each tale, and her narration is mesmerizing.

Part of the success of the CD lies in her material. The stories are mostly well known tales such as "The Three Little Pigs," "The Tortoise and the Hare," The Shoemaker and the Elves," "The Princess and the Pea," "The Three Bears" and "Stone Soup." But Yolen injects a freshness into them, with internal rhymes and lively, thoughtful twists. These are gentler versions of the tales -- the pigs don't get eaten and the wolf survives, for example, but Yolen sacrifices neither the spirit nor the sense of the stories. (The liner notes assure us that "No Big Bad Wolves were harmed in the making of these recordings.")

Yolen also includes "Talk," an Ashanti tale from Africa, "The Lion and the Mouse," an Aesop's fable, "The North Wind's Presents," a folk tale from Norway, and "The Monkey and the Crocodile," from India. The inclusion of these stories provides diversity and extends the range of the collection. All the tales are simple and accessible, but interesting and appealing to all ages.

The presentation of the stories matches their high quality. Yolen never condescends to her listeners. She changes her voice for different characters, and makes good choices. This is something that is easy to overdo or do poorly, but Yolen hits the right note every time, whether as the farmer in "Talk," the tortoise, or the Billy Goats Gruff -- not to mention the troll! The stories are further enhanced with musical intros by Yolen's son, Adam Stemple. Sometimes the selections are amusing, such as the zippy bluegrass leading into "The Tortoise and the Hare," and sometimes the music is written to capture the essence of the story's origin. The passages allow a welcome transition from one story to the next. Finally, sound effects by The Fe-Fi-Fo-Fummers round out the narratives perfectly.

In spite of the title, I believe firmly that nothing beats a live reading at bedtime, but this CD is perfectly suited for those much needed quiet times during the day. Your children will be enthralled -- and so will you.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

Buy Once Upon a Bedtime Story from Amazon.com.

Visit Jane Yolen's Web site.