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Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

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In a perfect world, Ray Charles would not be just America’s most beloved blues artist, cola spokesman, and sitcom theme-song singer; he would anchor the evening news, too. Charles is as soothing as Dan Rather is alarming. He’s Uncle Walter, with soul. Uh-huh!

Charles turns his charm and his rich, warm voice to Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, 1989’s hit alphabet book. There’s not much to the 20-minute tape: several readings of the book and some whimsical word games from writer John Archambault. But you’ll buy it for the readings by Charles.

The story: The 26 letters of the alphabet, anthropomorphized into children, climb up a coconut tree (in alphabetical order, of course). Then ”Oh, no! Chicka chicka…BOOM! BOOM!” They all fall down, ”Skit skat skoodle doot. Flip flop flee.” They get up, battered but unbowed, from ”skinned-knee D” to ”loose-tooth T.”

Charles recites as though he’s got a perpetual grin on his face, and adds enough falsetto at alarming moments to let a kid know it’s all in fun. You’ll have to turn the pages quickly to keep up with this tape, which doesn’t allow time for the kind of meandering the story inspires.”Is X a girl or a boy?” my 3-year-old al-ways wonders. ”A girl,” I say, with no idea why. A-