"They put out the first small, sturdy and inexpensive cassette players," he says. "Parents who were looking for positive ways to fill their kids' spare time bought those and simultaneously created a tremendous demand for good cassettes."
Fortunately, a great many performers were willing to dedicate their talents to creating worthwhile materials for young people and companies to produce and market them. Cassettes continue to gain in popularity because they are almost indestructible and quite portable, but phonograph disks have better fidelity, and their uniform packaging makes storage easier. There's also more room for lyrics, text and notes.
Book and toy stores, moreso than record dealers, will be competing for your holiday dollars with enticing displays of lavishly packaged LPs and cassettes. Here are a few suggestions to help you get more than just a pretty cover:
* Make sure you read the cover. It should tell you whether something is abridged, full-length or dramatized. Are there sound effects or background music? Who's backing up the featured artist?
* Familiarize yourself with the respected companies. Ask at your favorite record store or borrow albums from the public library and compare.
* Look for the performers and authors you already like.
* Some albums have "ALA (American Library Association) Notable" or ''Parents' Choice Awards" designations. That means a few specialists thought highly of them; perhaps you'll agree.
The following list is a cross-section of seasonal and non-holiday recordings for all ages. If your merchant doesn't have them, call a company or distributor directly and have your selections sent straight to your home or that special niece in Nebraska.
FOR AGES 3-8:
Arthur's Christmas Cookies. Lillian Hoban (paperback and cassette, Listening Library, $5.98). Making presents can be frustrating, but Arthur turns his "failures" into very special gifts. One of an excellent series.
Children's Greatest Hits. Tom Glazer (LP, CMS, distributed by Kimbo, two voumes, $8.98 each). Songs you remember and your children should learn: ''Jimmy Crack Corn," "Little White Duck," "Bus Song," "Down by the Station," "The Fox," "Puff the Magic Dragon" and more.
Christmas Stories From the Picture Book Parade. (Cassette and LP, Weston Woods, $9). Six classic holiday tales just for listening or to be enjoyed with books that are available in stores and libraries. Includes "Holy Night" and ''Clown of God."
Merry Christmas, Strega Nona. Tomi de Paola (cassette and hard-cover book, Listening Library, $20.95). A marvelous new Strega Nona story with the perfect narrator and background music, and a bonus of Tom Glazer's singing of six favorite carols.
Munsch: Murmel Murmel Murmel. (Cassette and LP, Kids Records, distributed by Educational Record Center, $8.95). Outrageous stories that invite participation and brighten everyday events with irresistible fantasy. Thomas' struggle with his snowsuit is unforgettable.
Peter and the Wolf. Narrated by Dudley Moore, performed by John Williams and the Boston Pops (LP, Phillips, $11.98). A hilarious adaptation of Prokofiev's childhood classic. Not for purists.
Perez & Martina. Read by Pura Belpre (English/Spanish cassette and LP, CMS, $8.98). A refined cockroach, her gallant mouse suitor and a sticky Christmas pudding are the rich ingredients of this classic Puerto Rican tale.
Raffi's Christmas Album. (Cassette and LP, Shoreline, distributed by Kimbo, $9.50). Accompanied by everything from a kazoo to a tuba, the charismatic singer offers sparkling arrangements of "Frosty the Snowman," "Jingle Bells," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and more.
Santa Claus, Forever. Caroline Haywood (cassette and hard-cover book, Random House, $18.47). Santa decides not to retire when he meets his slick, profit-motivated replacement.
Tailor of Gloucester. Beatrix Potter, read by Claire Bloom (cassette and LP, Caedmon, $8.95). The creator of Peter Rabbit gives us this Christmas Faery Story, a tale of kindness repaid, rich in atmosphere and memorable detail.
Thomas Moore: Sleepy Time. (LP, distributed by Educational Record Center, $9.95). The artist's classical training and black musical tradition give intensity and warmth to "Hush, Little Baby," "Kum Bah Yah," ''Shenandoah" and "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."
FOR AGES 7-11:
Abiyoyo. Pete Seeger (cassette and LP, Folkways, $9.95). Unforgettable story-songs of great whaling ships, tricksters and a slobbering giant, stories that work at bedtime, and five favorite lullabies in the folk tradition.
Amahl and the Night Visitors. Gian Carlo Menotti (cassette and LP, RCA Victor, $9.95). In this children's opera, a woman, in order to help her starving son, steals from the Three Wise Men gold intended for the Christ child. Her repentance earns forgiveness and a miracle.
Chronicles of Narnia: Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Ian Richardson (cassette and LP, Caedmon, $8.98). In this abridged version of the work by C.S. Lewis, a magic wardrobe leads four children to a mystical land to share the conflict between a witch and a mighty lion.
Little Heroes. Jay O'Callahan (cassette, Artana Records, $9). The message is that you don't have to be big to be a hero, and "Michael the Grasshopper" is delightful proof.
My Christmas Is Best. Oscar Brand (cassette and LP, Caedmon, $8.98). Stories, songs and narration to introduce children to customs and songs around the world.
New Kid on the Block. Jack Prelutsky (cassette, $8.95, with book, $19.95, Listening Library). Prelutsky's performance is as lively as his witty, funny and very enjoyable poetry.
Picture Book of Hanukkah. David Adler (cassette and paperback, Listening Library, $12.95). For all who celebrate or are curious about the miracle of the festival, the existing story and a brief explanation of today's customs.
The Snowman. Based on Raymond Briggs' wordless picture book, narration by Bernard Cribbins (LP, Weston Woods, $9). The cherished childhood fantasy of a snowman's coming to life and winter wonderland music make this ideal for family listening.
Santa Claus Album. Sandy Duncan (cassette and LP, Caedmon, $8.98). A remarkable collection of verse, music and stories about St. Nick compiled by Michael Hearn.
Tales for a Winter Night. Mary Strang (cassette and LP, CMS, distributed by Listening Library, $8.98). Timeless tales told in the best storytelling tradition: "The Elves and the Shoemaker," "Little Match Girl," "Night Before Christmas" and "The Fir Tree."
FOR AGE 11 AND UP:
Agatha Christie Mystery Stories. Read by Tim Pigott-Smith (two cassettes, Listen for Pleasure, $13.95). Christie at her terrifying best.
Child's Christmas in Wales. Read by Dylan Thomas (cassette and LP, Caedmon, $8.98). The poet shares his childhood recollections of massive snowfalls and abundant feasts in a mesmerizing performance.
A Christmas Carol. (Two cassettes, Audio Book Contractors, $19.95). An unabridged reading, so you won't miss even one Dickensian phrase as you toast your toes by the fire.
Christmas Revels: Wassail! Wassail! Jean Ritchie (LP, Revels Records, $9.95). A joyful celebration of the winter solstice with seasonal music, prose and poetry drawn from American traditions.
Christmas With Ogden Nash. Read by the author (cassette and LP, Caedmon, $8.98). An antidote to sugar-and-spice sentimentality and blatant Christmas commercialism. Includes "The Christmas That Almost Wasn't," "The Boy Who Laughed at Santa Claus" and more delicious satire.
The Hobbit. (Six cassettes, the Mind's Eye, $29.95). This remarkable full- cast dramatization will transport you to J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth. Join Bilbo and Thorin on their dangerous quest for the dragon's treasure hoard.
The Nutcracker. Read by Christopher Plummer (three audio cassettes, Caedmon, $24.95). A complete reading based on Ralph Manheim's recent translation of the E.T.A. Hoffmann classic, with music by Tchaikovsky. This is a much more exciting Nutcracker than you'll see at the local ballet school's recital, and Plummer's performance is magnificent.
Songs for the Holiday Season. Nancy Raven (cassette and LP, Pacific Cascade Recordings, distributed by Listening Library, $8.98). There's a spiritual touch, but fun and feasting are not forgotten in this worldwide collection of 14 carols that includes "Christmas Is A-Coming, "Carol of the Beasts" and ''O Tannenbaum."