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Tortoises and hares and pretzel vendors and contrabassoons and cellos are all playing together in one place? Just what could this mean? It is a delightful story adaptation brought to life with the sounds of an orchestra. This story brought back wonderful memories of the old cartoons like Bugs Bunny with the orchestra sound effects. The developers of Stories in Music™, Bonnie Ward Simon and Stephen Simon, take that idea to its fullest benefits with dramatized narration and full orchestral sound affects to enhance the story and encourage better listening skills and appreciation of music.

Each audio cd begins with the story narrated with the orchestral sound effects. The story is followed by narration telling about the story, its history, type of literary story such as a fable, and the purposes of the story type. The cd also includes the original song played separately to allow children to learn the song for singing and performance. The music is included with words once to help teach the song and another instrumental version is at the end of the cd to allow for student performance. It is a great way to get the students involved with the story and experiencing music. Another important feature of the cd is a narration explaining how the composer used music to help tell the story. Music samples of various instruments are played such as a contrabassoon with its low, droning sound and how its sound was used to create a particular sound effect or represent a character such as the tortoise with its slow movements. The story is played again after this narration encouraging the students to listen carefully for the sound effects explained. This is a delightful way to explore how music affects us and can be used in so many ways such as story narration. It also encourages active listening skills to recognize these instruments and how they are played to add to the story.

Each audio cd set has a booklet with full color pictures of orchestra instruments, information about music and music reading, and information related to the story theme. In Tortoise and the Hare, there is information and pictures explaining the difference between turtles and tortoises, and rabbits and hares. There are crossword puzzles and word jumbles and other fun things to do that reinforce the information taught in the booklet and on the cd. There is also words and music to a fun original song written and included as part of the story.

The accessibility for various special needs students here could be limited, but learning disabled, autistic spectrum disorder, and hearing blind students will certainly benefit. The little booklet is short enough to read to a hearing blind or even be brailled. Hard of Hearing, Deaf, and DeafBlind students may also benefit with a little modification and role play. Tell the story in print and ASL using a speaker large enough for the student to feel some of the subtle vibrations of the music. Role play the sound effect use such as running and walking in the Tortoise and the Hare. Simulate other effects such as crowd noise and other story action. Experience with actual orchestra instruments would be excellent allowing the student to place his hand on the instrument or near the sound hole to feel the vibrations. Allow the students to create their own sound effects with available instruments or handmade ones, too. Drums or pots could be used to beat out a running or walking pattern. These activities can reinforce the connection between story elements and music for these students.

The web site, http://www.maestroclassics.com, has additional learning activities that can be used for many students to reinforce the concepts and skills presented with these wonderful stories. Each cd set is $16.98 or 3 for $45.00 with a code. You can purchase many stories, such as Casey at Bat and The Story of Swan Lake, with more in production. Explore music with your child with these delightful stories. The blessings will last a lifetime.

Stories in Music™ authors provided a cd and booklet set to be tested for this review. The opinion expressed in this review is my own.

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Reading opens new worlds for all of us, but many times we can’t seem to get our children hooked. We try to find things to help them read better and enjoy it more. Sometimes it just takes finding something they like. Hank the Cowdog series of books and audio books written by John Erikson and published by Maverick Books might just be the hook you are looking for. This little dog and all his misadventures will slide and woof his way into your child’s heart with quite possibly the love of reading right along with him.

Hank is a dog if you hadn’t quite guessed it. He is a cowdog to be exact. Hank lives on a ranch and has taken up the position of head dog. If you ask his owners, you might think that Hank has a little over inflated sense of self, but read Hank’s stories, and you find he is a valuable pup. He gets himself into lots of trouble, but he always saves the day. Any child can learn to love reading in these lovable stories. The audio tapes and cds bring the stories to life with good quality and the songs are delightful adding more charm. Regardless to reading ability, your child will find a way to enjoy this world of Hank’s. There is also a website with a virtual world to explore that provides a memory game, math skills fun and practice, and silly fun with a Hank the Cowdog theme. That is just another plus. The books, audio tapes/cds come in packages from large to small beginning at $19.99 with individual paperbacks for $4.24 and hardbacks for $12.49.

The Hank the Cowdog Tornado game is a cute game similar to Parcheesi in play with a tornado spinner instead of dice and Hank the Cowdog characters for game pieces.  It is a game suitable for play by most children. It can be tactilely made easily with a few different shaped and textured bumps and the use of a brailled six-sided dice, so the blind and DeafBlind can play, too. That is a game that I can always back. Game play teaches so many skills for children of all ages and abilities.

Bring the world of Hank the Cowdog to your child. Reading can be full of giggles and gasps. Check it out at http://www.hankthecowdog.com.

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