Living Technology and Media: Book Media

By Alison Hendricks

As with anything requiring time of a mother with young children, it must be worth the time. As with anything requiring the mind of a Mason educated child, it must be worthy of rumination. We live in an age that has progressed to the point that production is cheap, careful examination is expensive and so, we find ourselves overwhelmed with masses of second- or third- (or fourth-) rate media. Twaddle, indeed. It is a daunting task to flip through the stack of DVDs at the local public library. Enter a few words in google and you are slammed with millions of hits; “search overload” as another search engine claims. But for the Mason educator, you can’t simply make a click, push play, hand over an Mp3 player and hope for the best. It must be of value!

I can begin to enumerate a few ideas, tools and titles here, but my honest opinion is that the best way to begin using living media is to preview it during your lesson planning time. Carve out a few minutes and read reviews, scrub a book, and watch a youtube. It is worth it to know what is being laid before your child. One of the most valuable aspects of the internet is the ability to get the opinions of many without having to read the tome yourself. Reviews can expose problems with a translation, morality issues or find value you might have missed yourself. Use these and if something is very important to you, write a few reviews, too! Help out your fellow learner/educator. I will walk through a few ways to use technology and media in a CM home, but I am no expert and certain things my husband and I have eschewed completely and therefore I have no real experience to share. Social networking is one of these aspects and I can give no advice in this area (although I have an opinion or two!). We also carefully limit television with our children, and what we do have them watch may surprise you.

Let’s begin with book media, shall we?

Some delightful things to which my family has been introduced in the past year are Playaways. We dearly love these nifty gadgets and they can be a Mason mom’s best friend. They are essentially pre-loaded Mp3 players that can be checked out from your local library. They come in a DVD shaped box and are about the size of a box of tictacs. Depending on the library, you will need to supply your own headphones and/or AA battery. While there is some twaddle among the pack, it seems as though our local libraries have made the point to order the best first, possibly because Playaways are pricey. The Playaways that I have checked out have been unabridged, with great vocal talent and it is fun to check out the actual book along with it so the child can read along. They are available for young children as well as older. These are also fantastic in the car for those learners who get carsick while reading.

My eight-year-old is already asking for a Kindle for his next birthday. The Kindle is the amazon.com version of an eReader or electronic book. My husband bought me one several months ago when the price dropped drastically. He thought that digital books might curb my bibliophilia that threatens to overtake our home, and maybe it has. People ask me all the time if I LOVE my Kindle and I answer, “No, but I do like it.” It is convenient having several books at my disposal in a device that fits into my diaper bag or purse. I like that if I’m folding clothes, I can click “text-to-talk” and the thing reads to me. I like that if I want a book right now, many of those books are available and will be in my hands in a matter of less than one minute…no trip to the bookstore needed. I like the fact that many Kindle editions of books are much cheaper than their paper-and-ink counterparts, or even free! I like that I can type a note right in my book and come back to click on it later. But, I don’t love trying to flip back to re-read that little snippet that keeps running through my head. I don’t love trying to type with my thumbs on a keyboard that is more difficult to use than texting on a phone. I don’t love the voice on the text-to-talk feature…at all. I don’t love that it is only black and white and I don’t love that on my particular Kindle, there is no backlight, so I still must have a light on to read. So, my eight-year-old just might get my Kindle for his ninth birthday if mommy can talk daddy into getting me an iPad! One more note about book media: while I will cover the i’s in another installment (you know….iPod, iPad, iPhone, iHome), it is worth noting that there is a free Kindle app available and it is very nice to be able to pick up reading where I left off right on my iPhone when I don’t even have my Kindle available.

If you are going to have a portable device for reading purposes, you should know about Project Gutenberg. You can download 33,000 books for free from this gem of a site. Since Mason moms are typically looking for classics and Gutenberg books are those that are in the public domain, this site is your cup of tea.

Gutenberg’s acoustical counterpart is LibriVox. This is a site full of free audiobooks from the public domain. This is a great place to load up that iPod each week with living books that you desperately want to read to your child, but can’t find the time. A word of caution, though, these are read-alouds from volunteers and some of the recordings and voices leave a lot to be desired. I once was cleaning up the kitchen and wondered, what is that irritating drone? Following the sound, I came to my sons’ room and found them listening to Rikki Tikki Tavi from a Librivox recording.*(see comments) Their mouths were slack and foreheads wrinkled. I asked them if they enjoyed that person’s voice and they said, “No mom, but it’s a good story!” Poor kids. I turned it off and read it to them myself. However, the price is right and some readers are a delight to the ears if you can ignore the fact that at the beginning of every chapter the reader announces, “This is a Librivox recording. All Librivox recordings are in the public domain. For more information or to volunteer please visit librivox.org.”

For more current audiobooks and eBooks, many libraries are now featuring Library2Go. This site works essentially like your library with your downloads disappearing from your device when the checkout period is over. I have not personally used this tool, because it seems to be too new as to have what I specifically need when I go looking. However, if you are browsing for book suggestions, you might just find this to be a nice way to read that bestseller without having to brave cold weather to get to the library.

Coming Soon: Part III: The i’s Have It!

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6 thoughts on “Living Technology and Media: Book Media

  1. Andria says:

    Thanks Allison. I’m glad to know about LibriVox. I have been looking for a good/cheep way to download some classics on my children’s new mp3’s they got for Christmas!

  2. I need to apologize for a mistake that I made in this post. I criticized the Librivox recording of Rikki Tikki Tavi and it was brought to my attention that someone disagreed with my assessment of the selection. I went back to Librivox and listened again to the recording and it is not the “irritating drone” voice that I remember. I no longer have either Rikki Tikki Tavi or the “irritating drone” in my playlist and therefore can’t recall the selection I found offensive. I am sorry to Mr. Mark Butler (the reader) for not researching more carefully; he has a pleasant and voice and serves justice to the characters. However, I do stand by my original take on Librivox…it CAN be wonderful, but you and your children might find particular recordings less to your liking. -Alison Hendricks

  3. Timothy says:

    Re: Librivox

    If you download through Internet Archiuve rather than the Librivox catalog, you can rate our readings, and see what ratings other recorders have given. This tends to mean that if there’s a fault in a file, someone will have posted about it.

    Just beware, though, there are trolls who go through giving one-star reviews. Mostly they seems ot think:

    * people without American accents should not volunteer to read free books. They tends to think that people with Indian or Eastern European accents are hard to listen to.
    * people who sound American shouldn’t read English books. They tend to think that hearing classic English characters read with American accents is some sort of affront.

    Such fools aside, I find the ratings at Archive.org really helpful when picking out books, although I haven’t picked any out for children.

    Also note: if you see a Gutenberg book you like, you can suggest to Librivoxians we might like to record it. I recorded my last long book (On War, by Clausewitz) that way: someone suggested it in the forum and I volunteered.
    See if you can get that sort of service from a paid provider, eh?

    • Thanks for the great tip Timothy! These homeschooling moms read aloud a lot and it would be great if we could volunteer to do some readings. However, I know that my readings would be punctuated by lots of little voices asking questions and making comments! My southern twang might be a bit off-putting, as well. But, I would love to encourage others to be volunteer readers for librivox. Can you tell us the youngest readers allowed?

  4. Cori says:

    Our youngest contributor at LibriVox, as far as I know, was 4 (one-line in one of the Oz books, I think.) As long as they have parental consent, we’re quite happy to accept readings from anyone under the age of 13 (and once they’re over that age, they can record for us as they like.) And, just for interest, the youngest LV admin, that I know of, was 15.

    Some good examples of younger readers include the solo here: http://librivox.org/my-fathers-dragon-by-ruth-stiles-gannett/ and the duet here http://librivox.org/the-velveteen-rabbit-duet-by-margery-williams/ though there are lots of others too!

    As for southern twangs, the more the merrier. To my Brit ear, US Southern is a very pleasant accent to listen to and makes even very familiar stories sound different and exciting. (e.g. Laurie Anne’s version of http://librivox.org/the-hound-of-the-baskervilles-by-arthur-conan-doyle/ )

  5. Seth Jones says:

    If you’re worried about the quality of a Librivox recording before you download it, try using http://www.freelistens.blogspot.com . I review free audiobooks from Librivox and other sources and mention the good and bad things about the narrators and audio quality.

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