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Produced and directed by Barbara Nichol
Toronto, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation,
1993. 3 vols., $9.98 per volume
(audiocassette), $14.98 per volume (compact
disc). Volume I: 56 min., ISBN 1-895933-08-0
(audiocassette)  The Town That Floated Away/
Sandra Birdsell &  The Baker's Daughter/Jack
Hodgin s; Volume II. 56 min., ISBN 1-895933-10-2
(audiocassette)  The Yellow Canaries/
JudithThompson &  The StorytelIer/Alberto
Manguel; Volume III: 51 min., ISBN 1-895933-12-9
(audiocassette)  The Witch in the Downstairs
Back Bedroom/
Audrey Thomas &  The Ghost
of Bagamoyo/
M.G. Vassanji. Distributed
by BMG Kidz Canada Inc., 151 John St.,
Suite 309, Toronto, Ont. M5V 2T2

Reviewed by Valerie Nielsen

Volume 22 Number 3
1994 May / June

The Child's Play Collection features six original plays by six of Canada's most acclaimed authors, produced and directed by Barbara Nichol, Juno Award winner and author of the picture-book  Beethoven Lives Upstairs.

The plays, first broadcast on CBC's "Morningside" in 1992 and on CBC's "Arts Tonight" in 1993, are fully produced with actors and sound effects, as well as original music composed, arranged and produced by Claire Lawrence. Introduced by Gillie Fenwick, whose voice is a sort of cross between Vincent Price and Peter Ustinov, each play is accompanied by La wrence's appealing music, which sets the mood and tone beautif ully.

Unfortunately, the quality of the writing and of the acting in the collection is uneven. Sandra Birdsell's play,  The Town That Floated Away, a memoir of ten-year-old Virginia Potts who is left behind when the river washes her town away, is downright silly. It has a confused story-line, stereotypical characters, and humour that misses the mark. My seven-year-old critic listened to all the plays avidly, but did not get to the end of this one.

Jack Hodgins' play,  The Baker's Daughter, deals with an over-indulgent father and his imperialistic daughter. Although both funny and satisfying; in the fairy-tale tradition, the prodution is marred by some stiff acting and unnatural dialogue.  The Yellow Canaries by Judith Thompson is a science fiction fantasy piece wonderfully narrated by the author as the story-teller Mum. Well-delineated characters and a strong story-line characterize this play set on the shores of the St. Lawrence, in which a young boy from a doomed planet and an Irish immigrant girl meet.

Alberto Manguel's m elange of classic tales,  The Storyteller, three "bedtime" stories told in decidedly unsoothing tones by a somewhat sinister librarian/babysitter named Mrs. Cartophilus (convincingly portrayed by Frances Hyland), is far and away the best of the six plays.

Keeping the genre balance is a piece of realis tic drama by Audrey Thomas dealing with a ten-year-old boy and his friend who cook up a money-making scheme by pretending his ailing grandmother is a witch. The dialogue and acting are very natural in this play, although the voice of the narrator appears to belong to a junior high character, rather than to the grade 5 student it is meant to portray.

The final play in the series is M.G. Vassanji's  Ghost of Bagam oyo, the story of a ghost from Dar es Salaam who might or might not have taken up residence with a family in Toronto. As a ghost story it is not spooky enough to satisfy children in the upper elementary age level who are fairly sophisticated readers or TV watchers. As well, it suffers from a decidedly anti-climactic ending. Nevertheless, my grade 2 critic gave it a ten out o f ten and wanted to listen to it again.

Language arts teachers who wish to give students models of well-produced radio dramas or of different genres of children's writing might find this series useful. It might also be useful for elementary teachers as an aid in developing listening ski lls or stimulating artistic expression.

Optional Purchase

Grades 2 to 7 / Ages 7 to 12

Valerie Nielsen is a teacher-librarian at Acadia Junior High School in Winnipeg, Manitoba

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