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Great storytelling recordings, super-cheap!

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Back in two thousand ought and three, I posted an entry about the fractured-fairy-tale stories of Maynard Moose, funny-voiced moose alter ego of a storyteller named Willy Claflin.

At the time, I had only heard two albums of Maynard Moose stories. A month ago, I finally got around to ordering most of the rest of Claflin's albums.

And they're mostly great.

So this entry will first describe the albums in general terms, then briefly discuss each of them individually, then give information about how to order them.

For those of you who don't have time to read this whole entry, I have to start by mentioning a key point about ordering: some of the recordings are available on iTunes at really ridiculously low prices, a couple dollars apiece for full-length albums of wonderful and funny stories. More about the various purchasing options below, but if you're in a hurry and you want to cut to the chase, just go buy the Maynard Moose albums from the iTunes Store.

What's on the albums

Many of the stories are Maynard Moose stories. As I noted last time, there are such classic Mother Moose Tales as “Rapunzel and the Seven Dwarfs,” “The Uglified Ducky,” and “Sleeping Beastly,” all intended to “preserve traditional moose values.” Maynard has a great silly voice, and he often uses mangled words that remind me of Pogo. He rather defies description; I recommend going and listening to a free sample, the story “Ants and Grasshopper.” (2 min audio) It's not my favorite, but I do like it and it gives you a sense of what the Maynard Moose stories are like. There are four Maynard Moose CDs, and I'll talk more about those below.

But Claflin does a bunch of other material, too. In particular, there are three CDs of his performances at the National Storytelling Festival in recent years; those performances include a couple of Maynard Moose pieces and a couple of Rocky Raccoon pieces (another persona, but one I find unfortunately a little grating and annoying), but their focus is primarily on stories about his own past (though I have no idea how true they are), especially about his childhood and about living the hippie life in Maine in the early 1970s. And most of those stories—told in his own voice, without the help of Maynard—are awesome and very funny. (They're also aimed more at grownups than the Maynard Moose stories are, though I think most of the grownup stories don't contain anything especially unsuitable for kids to hear; they just may not be as interesting to kids.)

He also has two albums of music—one of his own material, one of traditional songs. I've found those kind of mixed so far. I love his song “Just One More Story,” but that's on one of the storytelling albums; my second-favorite is probably “In the Beginning,” which you can listen to for free by following that link.

Which albums to get?

It's hard for me to recommend specific albums, because my favorite material is spread fairly evenly across the albums. I suppose I would recommend the following as a starter set:

  • Maynard Moose Tales, especially “Rapunzel and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Cinderella and the Three Bears,” and “Handsome and Gristle.” I have it on good authority that even some kids who are unfamiliar with the original folktales being parodied love these. And you can buy this for $2; see below.
  • The George Washington Method for Blues Ukulele: Live from the National Storytelling Festival, Volume II, especially “Who Has Seen the Mind?” (Note that this album is not, in fact, an instructional recording about how to play ukulele.)

The second Maynard Moose album (Sleeping Beastly) contains only five stories, and I don't like three of them. But kids might like them more, and I'd say the album is worth it if only for “Sleeping Beastly” and “The Little Moose Who Couldn't Go to Sleep,” which together comprise almost half the length of the album.

The fourth mostly-Maynard album, The Wolf Under the Bed, is a mix of Maynard Moose and other kinds of stories. It doesn't appeal to me as much, except for “I Hate Music!”, about childhood music lessons. If I had to pick one of the non-music albums to skip, it would be this one.

But I rather like the third mostly-Maynard album, The Uglified Ducky, especially a rendition of “The Three Little Pigs” as told by an alien named Socklops, in his own language.

The other two mostly-non-Maynard National Storytelling Festival albums are also worth hearing, especially “Truck Crash Christmas, 1972” and “Daydreamer Seeks Benefactor” (and the aforementioned lovely song “Just One More Story”) from the first album, and “Emerson's Chevrolet” and “The Wolf Who Cried Sheep” (a Maynard story) from the third album.

Unfortunately (for my tastes), Claflin has an occasional penchant for making little digs against political correctness, and there are a couple of his stories that kind of irritate me on those grounds and on gender-relations grounds. But that's only in a few stories; most of the stories, both Maynard and non-, are marvelous and funny and very much worth listening to.

Where to get the recordings?

For the non-Maynard albums—the National Storytelling Festival ones and the music ones—the only option I know of is ordering directly from Claflin's website (follow the “Visit the Store” link at the upper right). (Unfortunately, the video clips on his site are mostly of my least-favorites of his stories; I don't recommend watching those.) You can also order two picture books of specific Maynard stories, and all of the Maynard albums.

So I ordered almost all of the albums directly from Claflin. I don't know for sure, but I suspect that he gets more money from the sales if you do it that way; and since I was ordering the non-Maynard albums from him, I figured I might as well order the Maynard ones as well.

But for the Maynard albums, you also have other options.

For one thing, you can order from the website of the publisher, August House. Search their site for Claflin as author, and you'll find the Maynard CDs and the picture book of The Uglified Ducky.

But if you want instant gratification at a significantly lower price, you can stop by Audible, where the Maynard albums are being sold as audiobooks. Audible seems to think that some of them are abridged, but the publisher assures me that that's not true, and the album lengths match the Audible lengths. You can get them for free or discounted if you sign up for an Audible account, or if you already have an account you can buy the recordings for $5-$8 apiece, a third to half the price of the physical CDs.

But wait, there's more! If instead of buying through Audible, you go to the iTunes Store, you can download all the Maynard albums for $2 to $4 apiece! These, too are unabridged; my understanding is that they come from Audible.

I was kind of flabbergasted that they would be selling the complete albums—an hour or so of fine storytelling on each one—for the cost of a song or two. So I asked Claflin about the pricing; he said to talk with the publishers. I asked the publishers, and they said that it was an unfortunate artifact of the way they'd originally set things up, and that switching to a more reasonable pricing model at this point would involve so much time and effort that they would lose money.

So you can legitimately buy these albums for a couple dollars apiece, and if you're not sold yet on Maynard Moose, then that's what I recommend you do. Buy and download the first one, Maynard Moose Tales, for $2; listen to it; play it for your kids.

And if you like it, then you can buy the others for similarly cheap; or you can buy the physical CDs from Claflin's site or the August House site, which I'm pretty sure results in significantly more money going to Claflin and his publishers.

Whatever you end up doing, I hope you like these albums.

Big thanks to Josh S, who introduced us to the first couple of albums lo these many years ago in college.

(Um, and just in case people who don't know me happen across this entry at some point: I have no affiliation at all with Claflin or with August House, except as an entertained and satisfied customer/audience member.)

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