Tapes for travelling -- We review a selection of the best material for kids to listen in the car

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Tapes for travelling

Back when the thirtysomething generation was more like fivesomething, parents preparing for a long trip in the car made slightly more plans than Ike did before D day. Of course he only wanted to occupy France, not the children in the backseat. But today’s moms and dads have something their predecessors never dreamed of: the audiocassette. If the performance is good, kids will become so quiet and attentive that parents will find themselves checking to make sure they didn’t leave them at Stuckey’s. The following travel tapes were played on a recent 1,200-mile road trip. The listeners were Dad, 43; Mom, 41; and their two boys, who are 5 and 2.

Travellin’ with Ella Jenkins
In the more than 30 years Jenkins has been recording kids’ music, her audience has grown steadily. The reason is simple: simple lyrics, simple music, and simple language. Children like Jenkins because she enunciates clearly and uses words they understand. Here, she takes a multilingual, multicultural journey that begins with a quick lesson in how to say hello in 14 languages. Then it’s on to Hawaii, Australia, Switzerland, India, and a Yiddish-speaking home in Chicago. It’s all but impossible to resist her invitation to join in. (When weary families pass your car, enviously eyeing your kids, do what we did: Look across and say ”nee how ma” — Mandarin for ”good day.”) A+

Take Me With You!
Peter Alsop combines inventive lyrics with memorable music in these 14 songs. Each is about a subject close to children’s hearts, such as the title song (about the fear of being left alone) and ”Let ‘Em Laugh” (about making mistakes while learning a skill). Alsop has an exhilarating voice, and the kids who accompany him strike just the right chord: polished but not professional. A

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These 13 tunes are appealing, thanks to Joe Scruggs’ mellow voice and the understated accompaniment. Scruggs knows what kids are thinking about: He sings one song (”Goo Goo Ga Ga”) about meeting up with a witch, a troll, and an alligator on a dark night and another about what might lurk under a child’s bed. By mixing the right doses of mock horror and humor, Scruggs keeps young children mesmerized without frightening them. A

Travelin’ Magic
This collection of 10 songs performed by Joanie Bartels includes familiar tunes like ”Surrey With the Fringe on Top,” ”Car Car,” and ”On the Road Again.” She has a crystal-pure voice, and the accompaniment is simple and straightforward- an irresistible combination. (Our 2-year-old still insists on a daily dose of ”Car Car,” even though our vacation ended last month.) A

Family Vacation
The cassette cover photo shows Rosenshontz (Gary Rosen and Bill Shontz) in a VW convertible packed for the beach. Yet of the dozen songs on this tape, exactly one, the title number, has any connection to travel. Like most of the pieces, though, ”Family Vacation” shows off their considerable talents as clever lyricists and skilled musicians. A couple of selections, like ”Crazy for Dinosaurs,” are too busy with noise, especially in the confines of a car rolling down the interstate with the air conditioner blowing full blast. B+

Can We Go Now? When Judith Steinbergh and Victor Cockburn are performing separately, their pleasing voices radiate warmth. They’re witty writers, too (”Don’t Blame Me,” sung by a child accused of causing various household disasters, is bright and silly). The problem arises when they sing together — they’re out of sync, and the result is audibly disconcerting. Also, someone needs to tell them that in their song about dinosaurs, it was a climatic, not climactic, change that may have done in the creatures. Sheesh. C

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