Picks and Pans Review: The Mind-Stretching World of Children's Radio
Radio for children is like Dr. Johnson's dog that walks on his hind legs: The wonder is not that it is done well, but that it is done at all. National Public Radio is beaming 13 half-hour segments of Children's Radio Theatre to most of its outlets across the country this winter. Even if the quality is spotty, some of it is charming, and the idea of radio drama for children bears supporting. Several of the plays are written by kids themselves, all are performed by professional grown-ups and some, predictably, come off better than others. The Sky Is Falling Revue, based on the feathered alarmist Henny Penny's search for rock stardom, is raucous and harum-scarum; the kids will need a double dose of Mister Rogers afterward. But some of Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories are rendered with gentleness and sophistication, and the Tiger Tales deal with some ethical problems in a 5-year-old's way, though with a more adult vocabulary. Perhaps the most endearing of the series is The Witch's Tale, the story of Hansel and Gretel retold from the witch's point of view. Hansel and Gretel are as nasty as a street gang, the much-maligned narrator tells us, and she herself is no real witch. "If I were," she pleads, "I'd make myself look like Farrah Fawcett-Majors." The argument teaches children circumspection, but it also induces them to use that nearly forgotten faculty, the mind's eye. Children's Radio Theatre, which has won five awards for this series, could use a little help coordinating vocabulary and interests for children of different ages. Still, it's wonderful to have a way of entertaining children indoors in winter without parking them in front of the television set. Filling in the visual void is a real mind-stretching exercise for kids, which is what being a kid is all about. See local public radio listings for specific dates.
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