Amanda

A Wonderfully Wacky World

9 mins read

The Stories Podcast: A Bedtime Show for Kids of All Ages is fantastic. 

It’s probably one of the best shows I’ve encountered—in fact, if I had to rate it, five out of five stars would be a no-brainer! 

My daughter, Ellis, typically wants to listen to stories about pirates, werewolves and zombies, and kids doing crazy things. Mostly, though, she wants to hear about pirates. So one night, as we were looking up podcasts to listen to, I typed in “kids’ pirate adventures.” Ellis saw the dragon cover art of the Stories Podcast and pointed to it… “That one, dad!” 

Now, I dread podcasts with terrible sound, and both Ellis and I look for a higher-quality listening experience, so I thought to myself, “Here we go—another low-quality basement recording.” Boy, was I wrong! I was so shocked… in an instant, I was pleasantly surprised by the professional sound, and I was entertained right from the start. 

The Stories Podcast is sponsored by Disney and other major companies, and even when host Amanda Weldon does an ad spot before telling the story, I’m captivated by the ad! I’m totally intrigued, immersed, and transported by the storylines and everything she does, because it matches the ethos of my own podcast and my family mission. It’s all very purposeful and full of passion. 

You can tell immediately that Amanda is a highly trained actress. She’s incredibly animated, vibrant, and passionate. Her personality and high standard of performance hook you and draw you in.

It turns out my suspicions were right. Amanda grew up doing musical theater and completed an undergraduate degree in it. 

Peeling back the curtain to explain what it takes to be entertaining, she explained, “When people can’t see your face, you have to do a lot more with your voice. You have to amp up the animation a lot when there is no visual component.” 

Amanda gives each story her all. “It’s a good thing no one can see how silly I look sometimes. During some recordings, I knock the mic because I’m gesticulating too wildly, and then I have to do the line again.” 

It’s easy to see how that might happen. There’s nothing lukewarm about these stories. Some are wacky, while others are even a little scary. One thing’s for sure: they are all exciting and well-written by Daniel Hinds, who writes his own original stories or adapts classic tales like Aesop’s Fables. He and Amanda fine-tune the scripts together before she performs them. 

It’s ironic that this podcast got started when, like me, Dan was looking for shows that he and his daughter could enjoy together. He recalls, “When my daughter was younger, I used to listen to a lot of story shows and books on tape. We would listen to the same Disney soundtracks over and over again. I thought, surely there must be podcasts for kids, but there weren’t any at the time. There were a couple shows that were kid-friendly, but there wasn’t much that was truly geared toward kids.”

Dan had always been a writer. The former Amazon ad exec was used to the world of advertising copy and had written fiction, so he figured he could take a crack at a kids’ podcast. “Luckily I had my sister and Amanda on board with me. They are not only therapists who work with kids, but trained performers, too.” 

Dan’s huge library of folklore and mythology books comes in handy, as he’s constantly reading and researching topics interesting to kids and good for them to listen to. The focus is on telling stories with a strong emotional component, and Amanda’s background as a mental health therapist ensures the show is relevant to the current social environment.

“Part of my job, particularly when we’re adapting stories that are very old, is to update them—reducing some of the blood and gore of classic fairytales, for example, and making sure the stories we tell are free from any unintentionally negative messaging. We also ensure they’re appropriate for kids, both on the surface and deeper level. We really try to hit the social and emotional points that are important for children. We tell stories with strong female protagonists, for example, and we have boys that exhibit their feelings and don’t try to be macho,” Amanda says.

One of Amanda’s favorite childhood memories is of a long road trip she and her family used to take every year to visit her dad’s side of the family. “We would listen to books on tape together and laugh and tell jokes about them. That was always a special opportunity for us to bond. Sharing those stories together as a family was really important. 

“Our objective for the podcast has always been to create material that helps families to connect—fun stories kids and their families can listen to together.”

With tons of episodes to choose from, no one is forced to listen to the same stories over and over again. And best of all, Dan likes to delve into different genres. 

“We try for a mix. Some stories have action, some are sweeter; sometimes, we’ll do superheroes or dinosaurs, or dogs or cats, or mermaids. There’s a broad range to appeal to every kid, whether they’re a little older or a little younger.”

Dan and Amanda are pleased to find that their stories have entered into children’s imaginary play. In fact, their stories play a crucial role in helping me teach my daughter how to tap into her imagination and see the stories playing out in her mind’s eye.

The landscape has changed since the Stories Podcast launched in November 2014, when there weren’t a lot of offerings for kids. “Now, there are a lot more people making really awesome content for kids. We’re part of an advocacy group called Kids Listen (kidslisten.org), which is a really great community of shows for kids and a good resource for parents.”

Their advice for emerging podcasters is: “You have to be passionate about your idea. It took a long time to build this podcast. We didn’t make any money for three years, but now, we’re one of the biggest kids’ shows out there, up there with the NPR shows. There’s a lot of value in just continuing to do it.”

The Stories Podcast stands out, though, with original stories crafted around vital themes like managing conflict. Dan and Amanda are working toward doing more of those types of stories in the future, with the help of collaborators who bring diverse viewpoints.

This is a podcast everyone should listen to. Kids and their parents will love it for years to come!

 

December 2020 Issue

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