My friend Nancy Barlow ( a former reader at WRBH) says her nieces and nephews used to affectionately call riding around town with her “being in Aunt Nan’s car jail”. In Nancy’s car, the passengers didn’t get to pick their own music to listen to, and fiddling with the tuner was strictly off limits–they were forced to listen to whatever Nancy’s favorite CD or radio station was at the time, and any complaints were cheerfully ignored. I was reminded of Nancy’s rules recently, while driving to work. It was 9:04, the new nonfiction book had just begun, and I was enjoying Ray Lang’s expressive voice reading the prologue to Monte Reel’s enticingly titled book: Between Man and Beast: An Unlikely Explorer, the Evolution Debate, and the African Adventure That Took the Victorian World by Storm. Suddenly, I was struck by a memory I’d long forgotten, of listening to WRBH’s Book Off the Shelf program while waiting in the carpool line and becoming captivated by another book set in Africa, Ben Okri’s The Famished Road. Since my carpool group was a mixed bunch of assorted ages and sexes (with two of the six belonging to me) I usually popped a music CD in the player so that we could all get home without too many arguments or shouting matches. On that day, though, I really wanted to hear what was going to happen to Azaro, the young boy in the book who had one foot in his homeland of Africa and one foot in the spirit world of the dead. So I left the radio on to WRBH.
This did not go over well at first. ‘Urrgh, what IS this??” they all began grousing at once, offering helpful suggestions for their preferred music choices. (No one suggested the soundtrack to Les Miserable, an option I had provided the week before that had caused poor little pre-K student Ainsley Mumford to burst into tears at the unbearable sadness of Fantine’s I DREAMED A DREAM.) I then bribed them by saying we’d get slushees at the Circle K if they just kept quiet so I could listen to this story. That calmed them down somewhat.
Then Azaro began trying to light a lantern and a little ghost girl kept blowing out the match. The carpenter he was trying to light the lantern for began swearing he would flog him, and threatened to crack his head open with a hammer. Then Madame Koto came into the room, drunk on palm wine. That got these children’s attention. Violence and liquor and ghosts? Awesome. If I had only known how thrilling this segment of the book was going to be, I could have saved myself the $7.50 on Slushees from the Circle K.
“Is this a Goosebumps book?” said a puzzled Jesse Haycraft. “Is the little girl really dead?” asked Miles. “Can we listen to this tomorrow?” they all wanted to know.
“No, yes, and yes,” was my answer. My radio car jail was more like a radio car theme park populated with bizarrely interesting and dangerous Disney characters. We all were deeply disappointed when the book ended and we had to go home and do homework and chores.
Give the new nonfiction book a listen if you’re driving around from 9-10 am or 9-10 pm. Then treat yourself to a slushee (or a glass of palm wine when you get home.) Being in a car jail has never been so entertaining.