Children's Audiobooks

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The Independent Culture

Fine readers are making children's audiobooks ever more enjoyable. Kenneth Branagh emerges as the perfect narrator for The Magician's Nephew (Collins, unabridged, 4 hrs, £12.99), bringing new life to the famous chronicles of Narnia. This is the prequel of C S Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, explaining how the lamp-post got there, and all sorts of mysterious loose ends.

Anton Lesser also shows his versatility as he switches from eager child to cranky American recluse in Michael Morpurgo's The Black Queen (BBC Cover to Cover, c.1 hr, £6.99), a strong, simple story for younger children. When Billy's family moves house, he gets curious about their sinister neighbour, an old woman with long black hair and a black hat, who prefers not to be disturbed. But when his sister's rabbit escapes into her garden, he has to do the brotherly thing and climb over. Would the "witch" have made Mopsy into stew? Or is she kinder than she seems? How fierce is her black cat Rambo, and why do chessboards hang all over the walls of the house?

Morris Gleitzman is an endearingly gutsy writer who excels at reading his own stories, a cross between Rolf Harris and one of those cheerful young chaps in Neighbours. Boy Overboard (Puffin, c. 3 hrs, £7.99) is dedicated to all refugee children: a story in which two Afghani children with an obsession about football struggle to get their family to Australia. It's immediate, exciting and touching, and wonderfully wild wish-fulfilment.

With Arthur, King of the Middle March, the third in Kevin Crossley-Holland's Arthurian trilogy, due out in October, this could be a good time to remind yourself of the first two parts. The Seeing Stone and At the Crossing Places have now been released on CD (Orion, c. 4 hrs, each £12.99). The series is set at the turn of the 13th century, and takes young Arthur Caldicott, growing up as a squire and a knight, back into the legendary world of his fated namesake. It works especially well read aloud, as you would expect, given Kevin Crossley-Holland's talent as a poet, story-teller and folklorist. Samuel West narrates with a minstrel's grace.

The event of the summer has to be the release of Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code (BBC Cover to Cover, unabridged, £29.99), the third instalment of Eoin Colfer's series. Children clearly can't have enough of techno-magical worlds. Colfer's fairy Police Department's centaur inventor Foley is more imaginative than James Bond's Q. Master-criminal Artemis, now 13 and getting a bit of a social conscience (this time he gives almost all his loot away to Amnesty International), remains one of the best new characters in children's fiction. Reader Nathaniel Parker makes the whole highly unlikely story eerily convincing.

Anthony Horowitz's zany stories are always popping with imagination and humour. The Unholy Grail (BBC Cover to Cover, 3 hrs 33 minutes, £12.99, narrated by Nickolas Grace) takes us back to David Eliot's school for young magicians, Groosham Grange. At stake this time is the Unholy Grail, the magical cup awarded to its best pupil; but also, as David suddenly realises, the fate of the school itself.

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