One of my fondest memories as a mom is sitting on the ground, with a boy in my lap, reading through an endless supply of board books. Before they could speak, my kids would toddle over, book in hand, and just start backing up into my lap. There was always time for another story or six. Bedtime with my youngest still involves several chapters of whatever Captain Underpants title we are on. We’ve gone through many of the books 2 or 3 times. I love reading to kids. Turns out, it’s sometimes even more satisfying listening with them.
I recently shared a blissful half hour with my youngest, listening to The Black Lagoon audiobooks. My first grader came home from school tired and quiet, about to show signs of strep. Nick wanted us to play quietly in his room. This is very unusual behavior—he usually comes off the bus with energy to spare, loud and full of aspirations for a friend to come over. On this particular afternoon we snuggled up, mom as comfy chair, and listened to The Gym Teacher from the Black Lagoon.
The Gym Teacher from the Black Lagoon is just one in a series by Mike Thayler. He’s written over twenty of them—each book takes place inside an elementary school, where a boy with a very active imagination is worrying about a new teacher or staff member at his school. Could be his teacher, the librarian, the cafeteria lady, or in this case, the gym teacher.
The Gym Teacher from the Black Lagoon is narrated by Joey Stack, who sounds around 12 years old. He does a great job capturing the voice of the main character, who’s heard quite a bit about his new gym teacher who is transferring from the junior high. None of it is good—the older kids say Mr. Green is big, mean, rarely seen. One of his fitness tests is climbing a rope to the ceiling, and if you don’t make it he lights the rope on fire. It was great fun listening to a young narrator and the sound effects—spooky noises, music to build suspense, kids screaming in the background—really bring the story to life.
We listened to The Librarian from the Black Lagoon (narrated by Alexander Gould, best known for voicing Nemo in Finding Nemo) and The Teacher from the Black Lagoon (narrated by Jonathan Lipnicki) right afterwards. Each audio is around 7 minutes long. I’m not sure why only three of the books in a 20+ series are in audio. I thought they were wonderful!
I’m also greatly disappointed that none of the Captain Underpants titles have been made into audio. Granted, it would be hard to narrate the mini-cartoons that begin each book. And certainly impossible to recreate Dav Pilkey’s “Flip-O-Rama” pictures. But the stories are hilarious. They simply beg to be read aloud.
Listening to The Black Lagoon books that afternoon was just what we both needed. Sitting together and listening to the stories offered both of us comfort and distraction. That half hour has been replayed over and over in my mind. How good it felt sitting on his carpeted floor, Nick leaning back on me like a beach chair. When I close my eyes I can still hear Joey Stack’s voice, and feel the weight of my youngest child, in my lap once more.
The Gym Teacher from the Black Lagoon, by Weston Woods Studios.