Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Entertaining Christian Audio Drama with Under Drake's Flag {A TOS Review}

Recently, I have been interested in having the children listen to more radio dramas. My husband grew up listening to old episodes of different Radio Theater productions and my older children used to listen to some fun dramas on our Christian radio station. I really do think the younger children have been missing out. I love that children have to use their imaginations when listening to radio theater productions, just as they do when reading books. Needless to say, we were all thrilled when I was given the opportunity to review Under Drake's Flag from Heirloom Audio Productions through the Schoolhouse Review Crew.

I have to admit, I had never heard of G.A. Henty before, though I did remember learning about Sir Francis Drake. How well do you know your history? Do you remember learning about Sir Francis Drake? Do you remember what he is known for? Though the tale told here is fiction and based on the book by G.A. Henty, Sir Francis Drake and his journeys are not. It is an adventure-filled story suitable for ages 6 and up, though Hannah (age 4 years old) also seems to be enjoying it.

We received the 2-CD set that comes with a study guide along with the prayer of Sir Francis Drake printed on the case, found underneath the study guide. Additionally, we were given access to the longer, more comprehensive PDF version of the guide. I will be talking about these guides toward the end of the review. First I would like to focus on the program itself. 
The narrator of this story is someone playing the part of G.A. Henty himself, though he goes by the name of Mr. George. He is relating this story to two boys named Ned and Gerald who are supposed to be working on an essay about Sir Francis Drake, though Ned would much rather be at a cricket match. Coincidentally, his story is focused on two young men who also go by the names Ned and Gerald. 
At the start of Mr. George's tale, Ned Hawkshaw lives in a small fishing village in England with his mother. It is the late 1500s and he, along with many other men in the village, dream of sailing the seas with Captain Francis Drake. After Ned saves an old man who was about to perish due to a shipwreck during a fierce storm, he finds himself face to face with the famous captain himself, who extends a future invitation to join him on his journeys. Though Ned is ecstatic to hear this news, we see his selfless character shine through as he decides to stay with his mother. However, to his surprise, when the letter does come from Captain Drake, his mother allows him to go with her blessing, giving him his inheritance of his father's baselard dagger, which he was to receive when he became a man. 
Thus starts his "swashbuckling" adventure. Over the course of two hours we "watch" as Ned and Gerald grow from innocent little boys who duck and cover when their ship is saluted from shore, to men who refuse to renounce their Christian faith even in the darkest of times. Along the way, our two heroes learn about the rigors of sailing on a real-life "pirate" ship.  They swab the deck, practice saying "aye, sir!" and spend two days adrift at sea without food or water because one of their "mates" let them loose.  They take part in battles against the Spanish armada, find themselves shipwrecked, and having to survive in the jungle. As they find themselves in each new situation, they put into practice the lessons they learned from Captain Drake, and that is what this story is realty about.
Captain Drake lived his life by the "Holy Scriptures."  He fully believed in "Love thine enemy."  He repeatedly showed mercy to his enemies if they surrendered.  Before battle, he reminds all of his men, "Harm no one who is unarmed and NEVER lay a hand on any woman."  The first time Ned and Gerald hear this speech it is used as the basis for a conversation about some of what being a follower of Christ is all about.  These instructions are repeated many times throughout the story as a subtle, but brilliantly thought out, reminder of one of this radio theater drama's key plots.
The other is staying true to yourself and your beliefs no matter what the cost and trusting that God can deliver you.  This point is a little over the heads of the younger listeners, but it's okay if they don't grasp it now and I wouldn't beat them over the head with it.  Trust me, they are getting it at least a little bit.  
When Ned sees someone drowning, he doesn't think "Is she English or Spanish?"  He jumps in and tries to save her. When his captain is hurt, he leaves untold riches behind to tend to him and help get him to safety. When he is getting ready to lead his troops into battle, he gives the same speech he heard Captain Drake give many times before.  And when Ned and Gerald are arrested for heresy, they both stand firm on the rock that is their belief and refuse to submit to the false teachings even after torture and the threat of death.
Back in the day (wow I feel old now) people used to listen to radio theater programs all the time and after using this wonderful 2 disc set, I can see why.  The chance to bring a story to life, but still being able to use ones imagination is wonderful. And this story is wonderfully brought to life with all the different elements. The score is first rate with wonderful orchestration to set the mood. The music does not overshadow the dialogue, which is full of emotion, and the sound effects are wonderful. While listening to the CD, I felt like I was right in the midst of the action. 
The majority of the times that we listened to Under Drake's Flag, we were driving in the van, headed on one of our outings that seems to take forever because of living in such a rural community. The children would ask for us to put the CD in while in the van, they even asked for me to bring it into the house for them to listen to during rest time.

This has definitely become one of our favorite stories to listen to, full of action and adventure. Amelia has even said that she wished it was a movie to watch. I can understand her thought process, seeing as they are used to being able to see the story, but this is why I want them to be exposed to more radio dramas, so they can realize they don't always need a movie or television show to be entertained. In fact, I was thrilled to find out that there is a new adventure slated to be released toward the end of the year titled "In Freedom's Cause."
A quick warning to parents of young children, there may be some scenes that are a bit intense, which is another reason I am glad this is not a movie. I think it would be harder for my girls to sit and watch a person battling with a shark, some of the battle scenes, and the scenes about the inquisition. So, use your discretion as to whether you feel your child, even at 6 years old, is ready for such topics.
I would be remiss not to mention the study guides that come with this CD set. At first, I didn't think we would be using it as the children are quite young. However, the day I brought the CD's into the house to be listened to during rest time, I decided to ask the children some of the questions to see how much they have been retaining. I was quite pleased by their responses, though they did get tired of me pausing the disc after every scene. After several times of doing this, I decided they had impressed me enough that I could just let them listen. 
The study guide that comes with the CD set is smaller, made to fit  in the CD case, with fewer questions and vocabulary words, though all three parts are present as they are on the longer PDF study guide we also received. The three parts are: Listening Well (the questions I asked the children, the answers to which can be found by listening to the story), Thinking Further (these questions I left for a later time, as they are meant to help the listener delve deeper, draw conclusions, and even speculate), and Defining Words (a list of some vocabulary words heard in the scene that can be looked up and studied if desired). I love that both have the appearance of antique paper, discolored and worn at the edges. You know, those little details that make the product special.
Here's a look at the Study Guide that comes in the CD case:

And here's a look at the PDF version:

In addition to the study guide questions to help fully understand the story, there are Bible Studies at the end of the guides. It appears that the same questions are asked, and Scripture are shared. Personally, I think the larger guide is laid out in a more study-able fashion, but that is personal preference.

Here is a little bit from the girls about the audio drama.
Tabitha: I like how he met Donna Anna. And I also like the part when Ned and Gerald save the Spanish sailors. They are brave and very good at swimming. 
Amelia: I like the part where Donna Anna saw someone she knew. The CD is cool because it is with two boys named Ned and Gerald who doesn't do any wrong to any man.
All in all, I am loving Under Drake's Flag and I know the girls are enjoying it as well. It is a tale full of godly, Biblical principles, so hard to find these days. Definitely a product I highly recommend.
This 2-CD set is available for $29.95. 
You can also check out Under Drake's Flag on Facebook.
Don't forget to check out what my fellow Crew Mates think of Under Drake's Flag:
Under Drake's Flag Reviews
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