It’s been about two years since I have read House of the Scorpion (written by Nancy Farmer) with my ELL classes. It’s a big book, and I never would have thought of using it, but about 4 or 5 years ago one of my classes insisted that we read it. They loved it. Even though it deals with complex subjects like cloning and communism and opium production, there is enough Mexican culture and references for Latino students to make a personal connection. A couple of students said it was the best book they had ever read. And those were kids that did NOT like to read. In the past, I have checked out the book on CD at the Cobb County Public Library to “read” to the students. They also have to look at the words in the book – model of correct pronunciation and intonation, of course.
The book is read by Robert Ramirez, who is one of my favorite professional narrators. He speaks slowly and clearly, and does a mean Scottish accent for Tam Lin. I had also ordered the book on cassettes, but with multiple classes, a CD is easier to use. The book is 380 pages long, and the narration takes 12 and 1/2 hours. So, meticulous planner that I am, I divide up the book into manageable chunks to listen to each day. It can take from 14 days (for the really motivated) to a month to read. If you want them to do any kind of reflection or work on the book, it may take longer.
Just before the holidays, I came across a copy of the book on CD on Amazon.com. It had been almost impossible to find outside of the lending library, so I snapped it up. I set it aside until this week. Monday was a Work Day, and after I spent hours straightening up and sweeping out my classroom, I decided to open up the package. To my surprise, it was a different version, with a different narrator – a man by the name of Raul Esparza. I also noted that the running time was supposed to be approximately 10 hours long. What??? I checked to make sure it was unabridged. It was.
How can that be?
I started listening to it on the way home in the car and noticed some differences. The biggest one is that Raul reads and speaks faster than Robert. But so fast that he can shave 2 and 1/2 hours off of the listening time? Whoa. He also has a different approach to the phrasing and to the expression of the characters. I guess that’s the professional’s call. Yes, his Scottish accent is also good – and I like that he gave Tom a vaguely Texas accent. Still, I was not convinced that changing readers in mid-stream was what I wanted to do. I was contemplating going back to the library for Robert on CD.
Instead, I decided to try an experiment. I would play the Robert Ramirez version for my first period class, and record the time it took to read Chapters 1 thru 3. Then, I would play the Raul Esparza version for my more advanced second period class – and time that. How very scientific, huh? I also was going to take into consideration whether I might need to use the slower version for my lower (really, they’re intermediate) listeners. The results? It took Robert 43 minutes to read from page 2 to page 21 – we didn’t even finish Chapter 3. It only took Raul 43 minutes to read from page 2 to page 24 – finishing Chapter 3. I took a poll of my students, and they swear that they can understand what he is saying. I will keep monitoring them though, and will see if I need to slow down later. For now, we will go with Raul.
I still love you, Robert – and I will always have my students listen to your version of “La Guera” in Gary Soto’s book of short stories (Petty Crimes).