Children's Audiobooks: A-monstering and a-Viking we will go

You need, don't you, some CDs in the car going to Penzance or Porto or Palmyra; something to stop the little darlings asking are you nearly there yet; a story that you, too, will find bearable – even enjoyable. Here are some corkers.

Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Midnight Palace (Orion, £18.99) is set in a Calcutta so full of darkness and complicated topography that you long to go there and see for yourself. Read sensitively and generously by the fabulous Dan Stevens, it's about a gang of five strong and mutually supportive teenagers about to leave an orphanage and make their way in the world.

But there is a back-story of twins divided at birth and a monstrous, black-magical Voldemort figure determined to kill them. Though chock-full of the supernatural, it is emotionally realistic, and thrilling to the bitter end: J K Rowling meets Enid Blyton, and wins.

The best children's books often rely on orphan heroes. Ten-year-old Jamie, the narrator of Annabel Pitcher's My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece (Orion, £14.99) might as well be one. His sister is dead, killed years ago by a terrorist bomb. Their parents have split up. His father takes refuge in vodka, and moves to Cumbria (hoping never to see another Muslim) while his mother has swanned off with her therapist.

But, though it has terribly sad moments, it is far from bleak. Jamie and his surviving sister help one another find a way of handling the school bullies and reinvigorating their previously hopeless and bigoted dad. It's a funny, sad, remarkably uplifting story and David Tennant reads it superbly.

Bigotry features, too, in David Walliams's excellent Mr Stink (HarperCollins, £14.99). In this case, poor, glum 12-year-old Chloe befriends a foul-smelling (but surprisingly posh-sounding) old tramp, to the outrage of her ambitious and seriously snobbish mother. Matt Lucas joins the author in giving voice to all these characters, generally resisting the temptation to be ultra-camp. Mr Stink proves grander than even the mother could imagine, and – as in Pilcher's novel – the inadequate parent learns an important lesson at the hands of the wise child: highly satisfactory.

Daniel Philpott is the enthralling reader of Michael Morpurgo's latest masterpiece (also reviewed by Nicola Smyth on page 67). The eponymous Little Manfred (HarperCollins, £10) is a toy dachshund on wheels, made by a German prisoner-of-war for a little girl he had befriended. Now, in 1966, on a beach in Suffolk, her children encounter two friends who knew this man and they take them home to their astonished mother. Based on a true story (the dog is in the Imperial War Museum), it is compelling and touching, and carries an important message about tolerance and understanding.

For younger children, a series of lift-the-flap classic books, combined with CDs, may well hit the spot. Titles include Donkey Skin and The Boy Who Cried Wolf (Child's Play, £7.99 each): they are excellent value and would certainly help young readers on the cusp of independence. The fantastical Gormy Ruckles, written and read by Guy Bass (Oakhill, £18), demands no such skills. Gormy, a timid little monster, longs to go a-monstering, and enjoys eating offal waffles and kitten on toast for breakfast, washed down by horse juice. Boys, I suspect, may like him more than do their sisters, being, in my experience, more appreciative of gruesome slapstick. But he is certainly fun.

Finally, I loved Joe Marsh's reading of David Angus's The Vikings (Naxos, £10.99). With zip and panache, it tells of the formidable men who spent all summer "a-Viking" (like a-monstering, it's apparently a present participle) throughout the known world, and collecting hoards of wealth to bury back home. And all winter carousing, and occasionally slaughtering each other, in vast great halls in the frozen north. You couldn't make it up.

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links