Sounds Bring 'Rainforest' Tale to Life

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Not for Deadheads only: "Panther Dream, A Story of the African Rainforest," an ecological children's recording by Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir and his sister, artist Wendy Weir, is more than celebrity-driven sloganeering. The unusual audio cassette/book package from Disney's Hyperion Books for Children combines Weir's quiet telling of a Buri farm boy's rain forest adventure with a symphony of nature sounds and instrumentals--including Weir on guitar and synthesizer--complemented by artist Wendy Weir's pleasant, representational watercolors.

The result is a gentle illumination of nature's variety and an easy-to-relate-to glimpse into another culture.

The Weirs' story--which, according to press material, is based on the lives of Buri farmers and Mbuti Pygmies in central Zaire--centers on Lokuli, child of a Buri farm village. When a food shortage threatens his people, Lokuli decides to hunt for meat in the rain forest, disobeying his father--the villagers believe the forest is inhabited by evil spirits.

Remarkably rich, you-are-there sound gives the simple story dimension; the listener shares Lokuli's sense of discovery as cicadas, monkeys and birds whir, chatter, howl and screech, a lumbering elephant noisily feeds, a tree branch, hit by lightning, snaps and rain pelts down. In the dark, a pangolin snuffles for ants.

Through it all, Lokuli is observed by and shares thoughts with a mysterious black panther. The panther--or is it a panther spirit?--guides Lokuli to a fresh duiker kill, enough to feed the village, and underscores the lesson of conservation.

Weir sometimes blurs his word endings and rushes a pause here and there, but his understated, natural delivery serves the story well; the adventure and the immediacy of the real-life sound effects provide the drama. The cassette's adult-geared, instrumental flip side is New Age-flavored, a blending of Weir on guitar with percussion and rain forest sounds. Wendy Weir's book of full-page illustrations follows the action and includes maps, a key to the illustrations--including animal and plant names--and a glossary of words.

The environmentally correct recycled packaging informs purchasers that the Weirs will use proceeds from the book and tape sales to fund "rain forest reforestation and education projects in Africa" and that the Walt Disney Co. agreed to plant a tree for every tree used in the book's printing.

"Panther Dream: A Story of the African Rainforest." Hyperion Books for Children. Book/audio cassette package, $19.95. Join the Party: In recognition of the upcoming presidential election, children may express their own political ideas in "Kids for President," a program sponsored by Child's Play Touring Theatre in Chicago.

The theater invites children to write a story, poem, play, campaign speech or song based on one or more of the following themes: "If I were the President I would . . . ," "If I could change the world, I would . . . ," "My advice to a new civilization (if beings from another planet needed help running things)," "I'm proud to be President because . . . ," and "What will the world be like when I am 35?"

Future politicians may also come up with their own ideas based on the presidential theme. Some of the works will be incorporated into the company's "Kids for President" stage production set to tour nationally next fall.

Neatness counts, as does originality; drawings or artwork are encouraged, and all works must include name, address and phone number. Send to Child's Play Touring Theatre, 2650 W. Beldon, Chicago, Ill. 60647. Information: (312) 235-8911. The deadline for submissions is May 15.

Ghostly Grins: The acclaimed Children's Theatre Company of Minneapolis is touring nationally with its production of Oscar Wilde's comic tale "The Canterville Ghost." Local stops will include UCLA's Wadsworth Theatre on Jan. 18, Irvine Barclay Theatre on Jan. 25 and Claremont's Bridges Auditorium on Jan. 27-28.

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