Guest blogger Wesley Adams is an Executive Editor for Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group—he shares his story of introducing one iPad-obsessed second grader to the simple joys of James Herriot’s Treasury for Children.
This audio collection of some of the most kid friendly of James Herriot’s farm vet stories gave me a perfect way to introduce one of my own of my little farm animals—my iPad-obsessed Brooklyn second grader—to these amusing memoirs about Yorkshire countrymen and villagers and their barn animals and pets (often one in the same).
Trusting in the simple power of these tales as well as the voice-acting talents of reader Jim Dale, I tried an experiment the other night. When my son was curled up on the couch with his iPad, dispatching bad guys in Assasin’s Creed, I cued up the story of Mrs. Pickering and her Christmas Day kitten. Then I sat down next to my boy and gave him one ear bud while I used the other. After I pressed Play, he complained that I was bugging him but I said he could keep playing on his device as long as he listened.
Soon, as Herriot’s tale unspooled about the wild mother cat named Debbie, who liked to take a break from her rough outdoor life by showing up mysteriously every few days for a quiet hour in front of Mrs. P’s fireplace, the bad guys on the iPad were forgotten and getting away with murder. Herriot’s story had its claws in my son and he had been carried away to fictional Darrowby. By the end, the iPad had been turned off and he said the five magic words: “Can we hear another one?”
I grew up with these stories, which I first read as a middle schooler in a well-worn Bantam paperback of All Creatures Great and Small found on my parents’ shelves (list price $1.95!). A story or two by Herriot became my comfort reading before bed at night, and made me want to become a country vet myself some day. My fantasy of pulling on some Wellingtons and a well-worn Harris tweed sportcoat to go out in the sleet to help birth a calf or save a litter of piglets was only further inspired by the many Saturday evenings I sat in the family room watching episodes of the BBC TV series on our local PBS station. My affection for the stories has lasted down through the years and it not coincidence that my son shares a name with the spirited young vet named Calum, who joins Herriot and Siegfried’s practice at Skeldale House late in one of the later books.
The stories are heavy on dialogue and it’s magical to hear Jim Dale’s effortless ability to bring so many different voices to life as he jumps back and forth in all the conversations (a gift Dale became so famous for with the Harry Potter audiobooks). And the voices and cheerful narration of these stories is everything—the stories are all about the people James meets on his rounds and rely on his incisive ability to capture so much of their personalities through snippets of their speech.
The cheerful rumor I have always believed about Alf Wight, the real-life Yorkshire vet behind the James Herriot pseudonym, is that he tapped out his books at night, after a hard day’s work among the animals, on a little typewriter in front of the telly, surrounded by his wife and kids. Crafted amid all this family hubub, the stories have a unique ability to cut through the noise of everyday life and capture the attention of kids and grownups alike. As this mesmerizing audiobook makes clear, Herriot’s stories are perfect for creating a special sharing moment with the skittish little animals in anyone’s family room.
October 3, 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of James Herriot’s birth! Learn more about James Herriot’s classics on audio, and join in the celebration on social using #Herriot100.