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The first thing you notice when you pop in a Growler is the sound. Dynamic, shapely, nonstop sound. Growlers--"sophisticated audio for kids"--deliver the best in children's listening: wildly imaginative stories, smartly crafted social lessons, and flawless, enthralling sound. The Growler Tapes and Growler Radio are developed and distributed by TNG/Earthling Inc., a New York group that birthed the idea when they found existing kids' audio limited and flat--nothing but "books on tape or celebrities reading classics." You won't find Growler plots or characters in any accompanying book or video. As the Growler folks say, "Audio can be more powerful without visuals. When no pictures are provided, and the soundscape is elegantly crafted, your imagination creates the sets, the characters, and all the action.... Growler stories teach kids to see with their ears."
The Growler Tapes come in four episodes, up to twenty-five minutes each: I. Cutting the Cord (not that cord), about losing things in the dark, and recycling; II. A Sign from the Sky, about sleeping under the stars and getting lost; III. Square Bubbles, a science-heavy episode dealing with dishwater; and IV. Quarter Past Twenty, on real and fantasy wonders of the night sky. The original Growler series targets kids ages four to ten. The closer to ten, the more they'll appreciate the stories. Growlers pack a whole lot of sophisticated technical effects and silly voices, a little much for the attention spans of preschoolers. The story lines are unpredictable, un-Disney, and sure to raise questions. It takes great concentration to stick with Growlers, and often more than one listening to retain characters, setting, and plot. The ideal setting: a nighttime road trip when there's little to do but relax and listen hard.
Growler Radio programs have been made available for teachers by the New York City Board of Education via WNYE (91.5 FM) as a classroom supplement (11:30 a.m. Mondays and Wednesdays, if you're headed that way). Lucky for us Midwesterners, Growler Radio episodes 1 through 21 can be purchased on tape. This series targets kids ages six and up. Programs last a full thirty minutes, and the characters and story lines are more complex than in the Growler Tapes.
Both series craft lively mysteries and adventures in which the Huhus reign, questioning and defying laws of nature right and left in their blippy, sci-fi voices. Human-sounding kid characters impose logic and order. For example:
I Am Not A Pig--Episode 1
Why is the Huhu Authority gathering and burning all reported Swine Laurel bushes? This plant only comes out once every ten thousand moons, but when it does, it's always a magical disaster! And if you don't have the antidote, you're going to need exceptionally good luck!
What was it that the ancient Huhus intentionally sealed under all those rocks, and why has Growlerville been quarantined? Sometimes it's better to leave things buried the way your ancestors intended. Unless you're prepared to suffer the consequences of contamination.
Dry Water--Episode 6
Messing with natural forces almost always creates unexpected side effects. Dr. Growler convinced the Huhu Authority to let him extract the wetness factor from the water in the stream. It makes the water feel good, taste good, and doesn't harm the environment. So what's the problem?
The Ring of Truth--Episode 18
They think they've discovered one of Oldold's secret magic sources, a sealed mine holding an encrusted clay called Scratch. With it, you can easily make duplicates of anything. It's so much fun you could forget there's a flaw. Warning: Oldold once referred to it as "a menace disguised as a blessing."
Like any good series, audio or otherwise, Growlers have a distinct feel. It might take a tape or two at your insistence for your kids to catch on. But be subversive. Get them when they're captive in the car. Give it a few tries and watch in the rear-view mirror as they sink into the pleasure that comes from knowing a unique and high-quality creative work. Bet their friends won't have heard of Growlers (yet). Bet once they get into the Huhus, they'll want to share the stories with other imaginative, curious kids.
Once Growlers win over your household, make sure you still get to listen now and then. You'll want to talk about the moral questions that underlie each story. Plus, you'll marvel at Growlers' technical feats--especially the dead-on sense of space and place that the tapes create, particularly when the listener uses good headphones. You'll also appreciate how much Growler Fred sounds like Governor Ventura. (Not in his former livelihood, actually, but at his press-conference best.) You'll like the price, too--all tapes are six dollars each (only five dollars apiece when you order ten or more). Call 1-800-GROWLER for a free catalog, or visit www.growler.com for Growler history, games, comments from parents and educators, and ordering information.
Ann Rosenquist Fee is a frequent reviewer of books for Minnesota Parent.