Books: Salt-scurfed strangers and flannel undies
Sunday 01 August 1999
Asense of resourcefulness characterises many of this summer's talking-books for children. The Railway Children (BBC pounds 8.99) employ their red flannel undies to flag down an express train after a landslide. This episode neatly and excitingly concludes the first tape, but Marcy Kahan's dramatisation of Edith Nesbit's great novel is excellent throughout, full of splendid sound-effects and fine actors.
For Robinson Crusoe (BBC pounds 8.99), resourcefulness is second nature. Whatever he finds - a goat, a parrot, some barley or an ignorant but docile cannibal - he turns to his advantage, though it takes him years and years to do it.Probably because it so often sounds didactic and ponderous, Defoe's famous novel creaks a little these days. But a much older saga has lasted better, thanks to re-writing. The Wanderings of Odysseus (Cover to Cover pounds 7.99) is Rosemary Sutcliffe's version of the Odyssey, superbly narrated by Robert Glenister: the language has an ancient alliterative magic entirely appropriate to the oral tradition from which it sprang ("salt-scurfed he came, a storm-driven stranger"). There are enough imaginative and gory disasters to satisfy an army of little boys.
Anne of Avonlea (Naxos pounds 8.99) is "a tall slim girl of half-past 16" when the story opens. L M Montgomery's famous books about 19th-century rural Canada have an enduring appeal. This one covers Anne's two years of teaching before she goes to college. She is still a scapegrace with a good heart and a little too much of Pollyanna about her, but Liza Ross's beautiful voice is soothing and curiously cheering.
For Famous People in History (Naxos pounds 8.99), Nicholas Soames has written brief, original and excellent introductions to Columbus, Darwin, Nelson, Lincoln, and others, each introduced by appropriate music - in Mozart's case, his own, written when he was only six. Soames is particularly good on Shakespeare, listing words he invented and relating the scanty facts of his life to the plays. The last piece is about Anne Frank, accompanied by Samuel Barber's Adagio. Though I steeled myself furiously, it made me weep.
J. Meade Falkner's Moonfleet (BBC pounds 8.99) is a rollicking romantic saga of smugglers, hidden treasure, wrecked galleons and hopeless (but not too soppy) love. Set largely on the Dorset coast, it is splendidly directed by Sally Avens. Tackling more contemporary problems is Michael Morpurgo's Long Way Home (Cover to Cover pounds 7.99), very well read by Michael Maloney. Also set in the West Country, this is about George, an orphaned boy who is sent to help out on a farm one summer. He is wary and suspicious but, despite problems and adventures, he is finally accepted into the family. Resourceful parents should acquire these tapes, if only to limit the number of times they have to endure their children asking "Are we nearly there?"
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