lives in New York City. He is an Audie Award winning narrator with numerous other awards under his belt, such as Top Voice, Best Audio Book, Earphones Awards, and Publisher’s Weekly’s Listen Up Award. As his follower on Twitter, I can attest to his love of the craft. He frequently hosts seminars for those interested in the world of narration. He and his partner, Jo Anna Perrin, run Abbreviated Audio, a website dedicated to audiobooks. I’ve published a couple of reviews for them and the site frequently featuring Johnny’s humor. He is a funny, funny man. I was so very fortunate to have met him while in New York City. What I remember most was how he made me laugh until I cried at the Tantor Audio party over my brief glimpse of Neil Gaiman. I’m laughing again just writing about it. Oh, before I forget, Johnny has a fondness for cookies.
Johnny is the narrator behind the Richard Castle books inspired by ABC’s Castle. He recently recorded Buddy: How a Rooster Made Me a Family Man by Brian McGory, which sounds tailor-made for him. Johnny has been recognized for excellence in narrating children’s books. If you have young baseball fans in your house, you should check out the Baseball Card Adventures series written by Dan Gutman. I sure I would have loved them growing up. If you’re a history buff, check out Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas and James Madison: A Son of Virginia and a Founder of the Nation by Jeff Broadwater. Last but not least, I can personally recommend You Lost Me There by Rosecrans Baldwin, which he narrated with the lovely Jo Anna. I simply had to interview them after reading it.
lives in New York City. She works with commercial and documentary voice over and film looping in addition to narrating audiobooks. She is an amazing photographer and has worked freelance for AudioFile Magazine for the past three years. Her pictures of Dion Graham in the issue that announced that he was awarded the Golden Voice were fantastic. I have really enjoyed working with Jo Anna over the past year on audiobook reviews for Abbreviated Audio. She is a gracious editor and oh how I wish I could hire her to help me on Literate Housewife. Meeting her in New York was also a delight. We laughed together, we ate together, and I enjoyed watching her and Johnny in action. They complement each other to perfection.
Jo Anna received a Booklist Highly Recommended for her work on In Zanesville by Jo Ann Beard, which was also one of eMusic’s Best (audio) Books of 2011. Many of Jo Anna’s titles are non-fiction. If I Die Before I Wake: A Memoir of Drinking and Recovery by Barb Rogers looks very interesting. She also has Barbarians of Wealth: Protecting Yourself from Today’s Financial Attilas by Sandy Franks and Sara Nunnally coming out next year. It is a book that both opened her eyes and made her angry. In the world of fiction, there is You Lost Me There. Jo Anna has another interesting fiction title coming out next year entitled Scream Queen by Edo Van Belkom, a take off on low-budget Hollywood horror movies.
I am pleased to present an audio production that Johnny Heller wrote and then performed with Jo Anna Perrin especially for Baby, It’s Cold Outside! Far be it from me to give anything away, but listening to this will give you a taste of what it’s like to spend time with them. I’d say “The Best Gift for Christmas” is certainly just that. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
But that’s not all! Now that you’ve laughed at “The Best Gift for Christmas,” sit back and enjoy what Jo Anna was inspired to write about Christmas remembrances. What I love about this the most is how she picks up on how young, imaginative minds can grab hold of an idea and remain faithful to it without counting the cost. Enjoy!
I have many fond memories of the Christmas season, replete with a multitude of family moments and rituals that led up to the holiday itself. Understandably, these snap-shots drift around in my mind, cloaking me in nostalgia and enjoyably shadowing me throughout the month of December.
This special season with its wonders–the bonhomie of man and woman, the getting together with family and friends, stranger’s shouting “Merry Christmas,” eggnog and mistletoe, carols and caroling, lights and decorations–are food for the soul. The army of vendors who multiply like a covert colony each year, selling trees on the streets of New York, unleash the perfume of a winter forest that wafts across the stress of the city and up through hospitable windows above. The pleasure of finding the right gift for someone, giving some much needed gifts to those less fortunate, and so on. From the corny to the iconic, the sweet to the ridiculous, I am a fool for it all. It’s also the saddest time, as I remember those from Christmas past who are not in Christmas present, and I make a mental note to be most thankful for those who are with me in Christmas present and looking forward, to Christmas yet to come. Which of course reminds me of good old Charlie’s A Christmas Carol, which I reread and rewatch each year. Luckily I don’t need the three ghosts of Christmas. I am fortunate enough to realize that I am indeed, fortunate.
One of my earliest Christmas memories centers around a giant red and black, lighted Plasticine Santa, laden down with gifts, sitting in his sleigh and being borne, semi-aloft by his brightly shining reindeer. This object of my young affection, I was a toddler at the time, resided upon the roof of my neighbor’s house. In my young mind, and because it was a heavy snow-filled season that first year of the arrival of this curious Santa, it ingrained in my mind the idea that the North Pole, a magical place, was actually just on and over that neighbor’s house. His roof was, in fact, a North Pole portal.
I could see this magical object, from the window seat of my parent’s bedroom, and according to them, spent every day of that Christmas season, and more than a few seasons thereafter, trying to catch Santa stirring. You see I was also of the mind, that in order to keep the entrance to his workshop from prying eyes, one had to catch a glimpse at just the right moment. He appeared to be motionless and frozen, but that was an illusion; a ruse for the uninitiated. We in the know, knew. If you watched long enough, much like the hands on the face of our Grandfather clock, he and his reindeer would move. It was an issue of patience. According to my family, I was found often, asleep in the window, curled up with my face pressed against the glass.
My fondest Christmas-time memory surrounds, rather appropriately, a book being read to me by my mother. Her favorite Christmas book was an old Children’s book, a large, dog-eared but beautifully illustrated volume with many the religious bent, but done in a delightful pop-up book fashion. It was called The Littlest Angel and written by Charles Tazewell. Every year, my mother would read this story to us just before bedtime on Christmas Eve, and I and my older brother would sit enraptured, hot cocoa at hand. Whether the lack of sleep thereafter had to do with the anticipation of Santa’s arrival, or the edge from the cocoa, I will let the reader decide.
I now know that the original story was written by Mr. Tazewell in 1946, right after the end of the war. It was a bittersweet time of the world pulling itself back up by its bootstraps and many people found the reality of the loss of sons, brothers, husbands, especially over the holiday season, hard to bear. Perhaps this story was a simple lesson to allow some solace in the face of their grief. It has a Christian design; but to only understand that would be to miss the point of the sweetness of the story. Its adult lessons of loss, fear, hope and redemption do exist on the larger levels, but gratefully, that is understood only in the province of adulthood. Its humor, and tender rendering of childhood innocence is what is instantly grasped by children, and what has caused the story to endure for nearly 70 years.
I remember the essence of the story, and if you know it, forgive me if my memory strays from the verbatim of the printed page. It has been a few Christmases since I last read it.
It is a tale about a mischievous tow-headed little boy angel, the youngest of all the angels in heaven, recently arrived through the pearly gates. He doesn’t fit in with the older angels–he can’t sing well enough for the choir, he is late for dinner because he ‘s always out playing, he continually forgets to use his wings when flying and will trip and fall, head over halo. In short, he misbehaved constantly and was the object of much concern and consternation to the adult angels. Brought before the elder angel in charge, he confides he’s simply homesick and misses the treasures he saved in a box under his bed. The wise old angel procures the box from earth, and soon after, happy at last, the little angel begins to thrive.
The angels soon hear of the birth of a special child far-away in the town of Bethlehem. Heaven is all abuzz with anticipation. While all the adult angels are busy fashioning priceless gold and jewel-like ornaments, and sonorous sonatas as gifts, this poor little guy is much saddened. He can think of nothing in his power to present as a gift. Finally he decides that what is most precious to him, the little box of treasures—rocks, marbles, a bird’s nest–should be his gift, it being so prized by him. As he brings his gift, he panics thinking the small shiny box is not worthy, woefully unaware that the gesture weighed by his love for these treasures, is priceless. His humble heartfelt gift is declared the finest of all the gifts presented to the newborn, and it is returned to the sky as the star that leads the way to Bethlehem.
Now here is where one of my earliest memories and one of my fondest memories, intertwine.
One time, after my mother read this book on a very clear but cold Christmas Eve, I went to my perch on the window seat, and while I didn’t notice any movement on Santa’s part, which I found irksome, it being Christmas Eve–I mean really, shouldn’t he have been in action by now? I did notice something else. Just above the place that I had designated as the North Pole, I saw an unusually bright twinkling star. Now, I was convinced that here too, above my erstwhile neighbor’s roof, was also heaven.
This was many years ago, probably more than I’d like to think, and I’m sure that Plasticine Santa and his merry reindeer, have sadly been relegated to the dust heap of time. Yet when I remember these things, I can feel them in my heart with such fullness, and see them in my mind with such clarity, that even now throughout the year, but especially at this season, I remember to look up at the night sky.
The suburban landscape has morphed into an urban one, so I direct my gaze above the concrete peaks of my city landscape. There are no Plasticine Santas, but on a clear night you can glimpse a starry, starry night. Often when I do, these two tangled memories affect me, and I look, rather I see, with the eyes of that once tiny child.
Wishing you and yours the merriest of holiday blessings and cheer, and always remember to use your wings…you don’t want to trip head over halo.
Jo Anna Perrin