Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Heirloom Audio Productions: Captain Bayley's Heir (Homeschool Review Crew)

Returning readers are well aware by now of our near-obsession with the Adventures of G.A. Henty audio drama series created by Heirloom Audio Productions.  We've been soaking up their newest offering, Captain Bayley's Heir, and exploring the Live the Adventure Club.

Once again, Brian Blessed reprises his role as G. A. Henty.  He has portrayed the author's role of storyteller in each of the audio dramas.  While it wouldn't be impossible to have similar sounding actors voicing Henty across the series, Mr. Blessed has such an iconically distinct voice that really helps to anchor them as one man's tales.  Disney lovers may recognize the voice as also that of Clayton, the nefarious gorilla hunter, from Tarzan.  Recently, the use/purchase of fireworks for the general public has been legalized in New Jersey, and it's not uncommon to hear a few pops on a weekend or holiday in our rural area.  In the past, when we heard gunshots on television or from distant hunters, we would joke, "Clayton," as Tarzan mistakenly called the double-barrel shotgun.  Now, when we hear the firework pops, someone invariably pipes up "Henty!"

John Rhys-Davies, another unmistakeable voice, is also again a participant in the production. Of course, we recognized him from previous Henty productions.  When we watched another DVD program for Matthew's Bible History course, a voice-over reading of historical documents and biblical quotes interspersed itself with the host's presentation.  Matthew looked at me excitedly and said, "Hey!  That's what's-his-name!  The guy from the CDs in the car!"  Suddenly, the formerly "sort of not totally lame" section videos he was watching were enthralling! I'll take it!

With these familiar friends, we entered the world of Henty and set off to "live the adventure" of protagonist Frank as he sailed from England to America, and then transversed the American continent to Sacramento, California during the era of the American Gold Rush.  It's not smooth sailing, by either sea or prairie schooner!  He flees England after being falsely accused of theft, nearly dies on a Mississippi flatboat, and is attacked by a band of Native Americans as he crosses the prairies.  Just getting to California seems like it would be adventure enough, but there's also the whole dilemma of just who is Captain Bayley's heir? I'll leave that adventure for you to discover when you listen!  I will say that, while this isn't a "whodunit" story, it left us with a similar "I did not see that one coming!" feeling. Don't worry -- it was a good "Whoa!"

Heirloom Audio has really outdone themselves with their Live the Adventure Club.  Here you'll find all of the extras that turn a simple listening experience into an entire exploration that rivals Frank's expedition. As I was working on this blog post, Mr. Rhys-Davies voice penetrated the fog I was in, and I looked across the room at Neal, sitting across the room and looking at his phone, and asked him, "WHAT are you watching?"  He looked at me like I was crazy and replied, "uh...Lord of the Rings.  Why?" I laughed, explaining what I heard and that I was writing the skeleton for a post that included the ability to listen to our new audio drama online, and wondered how on earth he had already accessed it!  I definitely love this feature.  In the past, we've been limited to listening to our CDs in the car  With the online option, we can come into the house and keep listening! Other features of the club include:

  • An e-version of the original G. A. Henty novel
  • Study guide with both comprehension and discussion questions plus vocabulary
  • Read-along script with online listening - perfect for those who struggle with unfamiliar accents and dialects
  • "Theater" extras such as the official soundtrack, a "movie poster" with a quote from the hymn Amazing Grace  
  • Expand Your Learning - the opportunity to have further information about the setting of the story
The study guide is what turns the audio drama from something merely entertaining to a true unit study.  Each chapter is broken into three sections: Listening Well (comprehension), Thinking Further (discussion), and Defining Words (vocabulary).  

I like having the comprehension questions to ask the boys; it helps me know they didn't "check out" while listening.  Matthew is usually good about staying focused, but sometimes the language (both the vocabulary and dialect) can be hard for Jude.  This is where I liked having the script for the read-along -- it gave him something visual to anchor to.  Some of the words were easy for the boys; they realized they actually knew some of them already!  Henty uses a rich vocabulary that brings the story to life.  Words like jubilant or saunter could be boiled down to "happy" or "walked" but these specific words bring a strength that their synonyms lack.  With luck, exposure to the words as well as working on them as a word study will help move them from Henty's pages to the boys' writings.   However, the discussion questions are usually my favorite part, especially for making this appropriate for an older student.

Jude or Damien and I talked about the more in-depth ideas - in this case, forgiveness, trust, and honesty - while Matthew got to really delve deeply into critical thinking. As an outsider, it was easy to see the whole picture and why he ran, but what kind of appearance does it give to the people in the story when Frank fled England? What happens when you fail to see the other side of a person's story, or accept that they have a valid opinion that may not match yours.  Given the current political climate, it seems that Heirloom Audio has excellent timing, but I think these ideas point to the timelessness of Henty's writings, and perhaps life itself.  The theme of the story is amazing grace. While one can grasp the idea just from the production, adding this to your study helps guide you to a deeper understanding of just what grace - given and received - is about.

However, as much as I love the study guide and the music (I adore the hymn and have a playlist with about twelve different recordings), it was the "Expand Your Learning" sections that I enjoyed the most.  I am a huge fan of history,  and I try to stress to my kids that you must study history in its context as well as be looking back.  You can't always judge history by today's knowledge, because then you lose the point of why people were heroes, or perhaps why they were miscast as villains.  For example, if you study the history of witch hunts in the 17th century, many of the catalysts for a  "trials" seem absurd. It's straightforward to say "Of course a mother not dying here makes sense, the midwife washed her hands!"  But back then, there was almost zero understanding of germ theory, so coupled with the idea that a man educated in medical arts could know less than a housewife, it would appear that a surviving patient was the result of some sort of hocus-pocus. It doesn't make what happened right, but it makes the people understandable. 

Here we have people who stuck gold and then struck out, along with the names Wells and Fargo that endure into today's banks (and yes, are emblazoned on a Philadelphia arena).  In middle school, Matthew was part of the cast of The Music Man and became is well aware of what the "Wells-Fargo Wagon is a-comin'.." meant.  Now, looking further at the origin of the company and era, Matthew is learning that, pardon the mixed up expression, there are two sides to every gold nugget.  Henty was a Victorian-era writer and war correspondent, and this viewpoint inevitably comes through in his writing.  Heirloom Audio Productions is careful to not alter the stories for today's listeners, but that can sometimes lead to the appearance of condoning ideas that may not be right.  While Henty's stories are strong on building solid character and values, discovering them in context of when Henty lived or when the story takes place helps demonstrate ideas that should be enduring and those that society has evolved to see differently.

If we were Roger or Ebert, we'd give Heirloom Audio Productions another two thumbs up.   They consistently produce exceptional audio dramas that bring Henty's adventures to life.  We're happily adding Captain Bayley's Heir to our audio library, and are eagerly awaiting their next offering.

To read more reviews of Captain Baley's Heir, click on the banner below. To read our reviews of Heirloom Audio Productions' other offerings, click on their titles.

In the Reign of Terror (French Revolution)
The Cat of Bubastes (Ancient Egypt)
Beric the Briton (Roman Empire)
The Dragon and the Raven (Viking Invasions)
With Lee in Virginia (American Civil War)
In Freedom's Cause (Wars of Scottish Independence)
Under Drake's Flag (Spanish Inquisition/Early Western Colonization)

Captain Bayley's Heir {Heirloom Audio Productions Reviews}

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