Think back to the good old days...Saturday nights meant The Love Boat and Fantasy Island..."da plane, da plane!" Ooops. Actually, I meant the really old good old days. Not my good old days (really, I can't believe I actually watched those shows). Not my mom's good old days. But my grandmother's good old days...Those days back before television took over. The days when families gathered together around the radio to listen to programs with exciting plots and riveting dialogue that left plenty for your imagination to soar freely with. Back then (according to my grandmother) there was one radio kept in a central and important location of the home, and when it was on (which wasn't all the time), everyone listened T-O-G-E-T-H-E-R.
Isn't that an incredible thought in this day and age? Doing things together. These days it seems everybody is so "plugged in" that when you peek inside the *average* American family's home, you will find dad in one room with his big screen television tuned to whatever sport is currently in season; Mom is perhaps in the kitchen with her smaller set tuned to Food Network hoping for some inspiration from Paula Dean (add some more butter, Mom. That makes everything taste better!). Junior is in his room hooked up to his gaming station, his little brother is in the same room, but disconnected because he's connected to some game on the Internet, and sister is texting and Facebooking friends with her iPhone as fast as her fingers can type. All in the same house, but nobody has any idea what anyone else is up to, even if they are in the same room.
Around here we try to limit that sort of scenario. No, we haven't ditched our television completely. Yet. We have one, hiding in a converted armoire, and we use it for videos and Netflix when mom decides the day is too rainy and cold for outdoor play, or someone is sick, or it's Friday and time for movie and a pizza. Yes, we do have Internet (but not cable), but it is monitored strictly and nobody is allowed to hide in their rooms and be online forever like a hermit (though Tex would like to do that occasionally). I have a phone with 3G (yeah, I know that's not as good as 4G), and my kids use it to call my mom or take pictures with it more than I do. We aren't as "unplugged" as I'd like. I'd prefer to get to the point of a video only once a week (for our movie night), or not at all, and to put greater limits on computer time, but we aren't there yet.
Click here to listen to another old time favorite of ours...Cinnamon Bear
As we transition towards more homey, connected, old-fashioned entertainments, I've added more books on tape and radio shows to our weekly activities, in addition to more reading aloud. Audio stories are great to listen to while I sew with the girls, color with the little ones, or make dinner (instances when I obviously cannot read out loud at the same time). Bubba grew up listening to a favorite Christian radio program, and still has fond memories of all the hours spent in his room with his "friends" Whit and Eugene. Tex likes listening to books on tape while in the car. My little ones love those old "read with me" books that ding when it is time to turn the page.
Click here to listen to The Swamp Robbers, a Sugar Creek Gang story for FREE!
Little did I know that all 36 stories are available on cd for your listening pleasure from Beloved Books, a Christian publisher who strives to supply wholesome, family-friendly listening experiences for your family. That's over 100 hours of listening fun, folks (if you bought them all), dramatically read by Paul Ramseyer with old timey charm and sincerity. That's a lot of family time!
The Sugar Creek Gang series is unabashedly Christian. It is about six young boys (the narrator is 9) who are friends and have a "gang" (using the old definition of the word). Each of the boys (except for the narrator) has a nickname that suits his personality. Dragonfly has huge eyes that seem to see everything and Circus likes to perform acrobatic feats. Poetry likes to...you guessed it...recite poetry. He knows 101 poems and has the perfect one for every situation. Throughout the stories, you learn about each of the boys and hear true-to-life stories of their antics and adventures, intermixed with uncensored Christian testimony on an easy-to-understand level.
We had the opportunity to listen to volume one of the series. One of the story lines includes the conversion of a boy who was formerly their rival, all due to their persistent good witnessing and genuine behavior. While the good choices they make (and sometimes foolish ones) will inspire your children, they will not make your kids feel that their brand of "goodness" is unattainable. The stories are fun, rather than preachy, yet you clearly hear the Gospel message in every tale. Bill, the narrator, carries his small New Testament in his pocket everywhere he goes and prays for his friends, both saved and unsaved. He respects his parents, and is contrite when he makes a mistake. He is grateful for what he has and aware that some kids are not as fortunate as he is, including some kids he knows.
Because the world is not a perfect place and these stories are true-to-life, we encounter some unpleasant events and people in the stories. One of the boys has a father who drinks and his alcoholism is discussed. Another boy who is not in the gang (and is not saved) has a father with the same issue and his story is thoroughly covered in the first set of cds. I liked how realistic the story lines were, but I also liked how everything was handled with one eye towards heaven (prayer) and the other towards the scriptures (the Bible).
The boys recite Bible verses and the importance of learning (even poetry!) is emphasized in every story. I think that is great. I wish I did everything as well as the folks in these stories...they are a good example for your kids of how friends and families should be...but in a very real-to-life way, without any fantasy or impossible scenarios. The boys do normal things like pick berries, swim in the swimming hole, fish, go to school, help with chores, have fights (one big one), search for treasure, tromp through the woods, care for one another, go to church, and pray. The stories remind me of Norman Rockwell prints, which is why I included a lot of Rockwell prints in this review. Don't you just want to jump in and join them at the old swimmin'-fishin' hole? I do. I think that listening to the Sugar Creek Gang stories is sure to have the same effect on your entire family.
We have been enjoying listening to the Sugar Creek Gang stories in the car en-route to church and AWANA (it's a half hour drive each way). That gives us time for one episode, and gives the kids something to think about that is worthwhile when they need to sit and keep still. I appreciated the change of pace from our usual listening fare, and there wasn't one person in our car, ages 3-44 who wasn't on the edge of their (car) seat listening for what was going to happen next.
The only reason I am not rushing out to buy every one of the six available volumes is the price, a hefty $54.95 each (shipping is included). You can save $50 dollars by purchasing all six sets at once, plus get an autobiographical set about the author of the books, Paul Hutchens, for $279, but that does make it a pretty high ticket item. I am used to spending less for cd sets of six, and I am not sure yet how I feel about the price.
I can tell you that the stories are definitely worth your while. You can purchase just the first one on cd, an entertaining two-parter called The Swamp Robber, for $4.95 (with free shipping) to see how you feel about them, or you can listen to it with your kids for free online.
The Sugar Creek Gang cd sets would make an excellent addition to your Christmas Wish List for far away relatives who need a simple item they can order online for the whole family. If not that, perhaps you might decide that instead of large gifts for the kids this year, you will want to invest in a year's worth of family time by purchasing the complete set for everyone's benefit (and giving each child a small, personal gift).
What could be a better gift for your kids than 100 hours of happy memories spent together...in the car, the living room, or on your back deck...or wherever else you like to be that makes you happy. Just time, spent together, listening and laughing. That sounds like a pretty nice gift to me.
If you would like to read more reviews about this product, please visit The Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.
You can also listen to the storyteller, Paul Ramseyer, introduce the Sugar Creek Gang characters and reminisce about the gang here.
See what other find family-friendly Christian products Beloved Books has to offer at their website.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of set one of the Sugar Creek Gang series for the purposes of reviewing this product. No other compensation was received. All opinions are based on our own experiences with this product.