How had I not heard of Heirloom Audio Productions before!? (If you don't know about them, and if you or your family enjoy audio dramas, then be sure to read on because you do not want to miss this one!) If you know us well or have been following my blog, you're probably aware that we are avid fans of good audio books and particularly adore radio theatre, audio adventures, and audio dramas. We are always seeking more options and were experiencing a lull in between great books, so when I heard we would be receiving a copy of The Dragon and The Raven from Heirloom Audio Productions to review, I couldn't wait to get it and start listening.
The Dragon and The Raven is a Christian historical fiction audio drama based on the book by author G.A. Henty. It tells a story of young Edmund, who enlists in the service of King Alfred and their fight against the invading Danes, despite terrible odds, to save Wessex and thereby preserve England. It's a fascinating tale of doubt, faith, courage, perseverance, and the power of God's love, even for an enemy.
Since it is an audio drama, and a good one at that, it is more than just a single narrator reading a book to you. Instead, it's a fantastic adventure that draws you in with a combination of different characters speaking with drama and passion, a nicely composed original musical score, and a wide array of sound/special effects that help you feel immersed in the story. The skilled cast consists of many people, including well-known voices and stars such as John Rhys-Davies, Helen George, Brian Blessed, Sylvester McCoy, John Bell, and Katherine Kellgren.
Our experience with it...
Audio books can be a great tool for homeschoolers! There are many ways we use them in our home to maximize our use of time, entertain, and educate. I like to read aloud to the kids as well, but having someone else reading a story - or better yet, a dramatized adventure to listen to - infuses more variety and sometimes even excitement into our routine. We've played audio books when the girls are tasked with a chore like folding laundry or cleaning their room, during a meal or snacks when I'm busy with other tasks, or while they are doing other skill builders and games like knitting, puzzles, or building with blocks. They are great for traveling and waiting rooms at a doctor's office as well! And I must admit that I always keep an audio book on hand in the car for times when the girls begin to whine or argue... it really helps change the mood and keep the peace!
Since we do a lot of driving to various activities, events, and extra-curriculars, we often have some story playing along the way. When our copy of The Dragon and The Raven arrived in the mail, we opened it immediately and brought it with us on our next car ride the next day. I figured that since the girls are 5 and 8, they might benefit from listening to it more than one time, so we'd start with the car and then listen again at home if we wanted to delve into it further and expand our study of the Middle Ages, King Alfred, the Danes, and more. Within minutes, Big Sis was enthralled and I enjoyed listening as well. It is not our ultimate favorite audio drama, but it comes in second for Big Sis (and we have listened to many, many of them) and she said she loved it. In fact, when we arrived at our destination, she was rather disappointed that we had to pause the story.
The company's website states that The Dragon and The Raven would be good for children as young as 4, but while I agree that little kids would likely enjoy the sounds and story, there is a lot that I think would be above their understanding. (Luckily, there is a downloadable study guide available that may help, which I'll get to in a moment.) My 5 year old, Lil' Sis, definitely wanted to hear more of the story, but her understanding was limited and there were a few things I had to explain. Additionally, I think it's important to be clear that this audio drama does involve battle and death (to be expected, of course, considering the theme of the story!), which some young children might not be ready for, and the sound effects make it even more dramatic and emotional for young listeners. I turned down the volume significantly at these points because my youngest daughter gets easily distressed when she sees or hears others upset (she cried watching Care Bears!). However, it did help a bit that, when a person in the story died, they often said they "fell" in battle versus using more descriptive or vividly disturbing vocabulary, which I appreciated.
Heirloom Audio goes above and beyond the basic production of a good audio adventure drama and offers a lot of bonuses as well! We received access to a study guide, soundtrack MP3, an ebook of G.A. Henty's original The Dragon and The Raven, a bold and well-illustrated printable poster with an inspirational verse from Proverbs, an e-newsletter, promotion poster, and a neat 50-minute behind-the-scenes documentary. How cool is that? The number and kind of bonuses you receive vary according to the type of product you purchase from them, but they are all a nice addition.
The study guide was probably our favorite bonus (though we like the inspirational poster as well). It did a lot to enhance our experience because it helped Big Sis and I get a better grasp of everything that was happening in the story and dig deeper into understanding what it was all about. The study guide breaks the audio into about 4-10 minute chunks and then offers listening points, discussion questions, and vocabulary terms for each section. The "Listening Well" questions are meant to bring attention to what a child hears and remembers. We used these to also give a heads up on things to listen for, giving my daughter a purpose in listening the second time around. The "Thinking Further" questions are points of family or student discussion and can also be used as a springboard for further research and discovery, as well as giving even more depth or background to what the child is hearing. And finally, the "Defining Words" section is simply a list of vocabulary terms that might be helpful to have a child look up (or a parent explain). Other things included in the study guide are a recipe for "Alfred Cakes", a reading list with ideas for those who want to know more about Alfred the Great, and some brief related Bible studies and historical notes.
Overall, we really liked The Dragon and The Raven and look forward to listening to other products from Heirloom Audio Productions. I would definitely recommend looking into it if you're looking for an action adventure audio drama with a Christian focus. (To be sure, this is not just for homeschoolers either. It could make a great gift for family and friends too.) If you want to know more, head on over to their website or click on the banner below to read more reviews from other homeschool families.
Or find them on social media:
Heirloom Audio on Facebook, The Dragon and The Raven on Facebook, The Extraordinary Adventures of G.A. Henty on Facebook, Heirloom Stories on Twitter (@HeirloomStories), Heirloom Audio on Google+, and Heirloom Audio on Instagram (@HeirloomAudioOfficial).
I'm a homeschooling mom of three, enjoying our time in Hawaii and hoping to share some of that experience with you, including ideas, reviews, resources, and information.