Children's Audiobooks: Knights, and dads, in battered armour
Friday 31 March 2006
Children's audiobook listening is becoming ever more compelling, with classy readers, snappy sound effects, appropriate music and unabridged titles. First, the best: a mesmerising reading by Philip Madoc of Alan Garner's famous tale of wizardry The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (Naxos, unabridged, 6hr, 5CD, £11.06). Garner takes the ancient legend of 140 knights waiting in a cave to save England in its hour of need and turns it into a heart-stopping chase novel, set with pinpoint accuracy on, under and around Alderley Edge. Madoc has an epic voice, perfectly suited to this epic tale. Noble as narrator, he shifts easily into eager child explorers Colin and Susan, Cheshire-man Gowther's burred vowels, the slavering Maggot-breed of Ymir and the wise cadences of Cadellin Silverbrow.
With Flyte, the second of Angie Sage's Septimus Heap series just about out, this is a good time to prepare yourself by listening to the first book about the Heap family, Magyk (Bloomsbury, 12hr, 10CD, £35), read by Allan Corduner. Heard aloud, Sage's quirky medieval world wraps you irresistibly round.
All the Heaps are wizards, but their little sister, adopted after the death of their seventh son, is really special: a princess whom an extremely unpleasant warlock is determined to prevent becoming queen. Can Witch Extraordinary Marcia in her pointy purple python shoes stand up to him? And what mystery lies behind the magically able army escapee "Boy 412"?
Jacqueline Wilson's latest novel, Candyfloss (BBC, unabridged, 7hr, 6CD, £16.99), pitched at the 8-12 age-group, is the story of how Florence, aka Flossie, copes with her glamorous mother's announcement that they are going to Australia for six months, where new husband Steve has a promising job.
That means not seeing her father, whose greasy-spoon café is on the verge of bankruptcy. She decides to stay with her Dad, losing all the luxury trimmings, but finding out the difference between real and cosmetic friendship. Wilson is on top social-observing form in Candyfloss, from Flossie's hurried birthday breakfast (a croissant with a candle stuck in it, and baby half-brother Tiger ripping presents open) to an ingenious solution involving a fairground palm-reader-cum-candyfloss maker. Sophie Aldred gets Flossie's voice just right: youthful but not childish, down-to-earth but on occasion wobbly with sadness.
Laugh-a-minute listening is offered by the farcical adventures of Sir Gadabout (Orion, 1hr, 1CD, £5.99) and his loyal squire Herbert. Smaller and shabbier than a knight ought to be, he has been voted "knight most likely to chop his own foot off" by Arthur's knights of the Round Table. But when Guinevere goes missing, he sets off valiantly to save her... with (almost) catastrophic results. Written by Martyn Beardsley with effervescent pace and an abundance of throwaway wit ("A long long time ago, even before television was invented), it is read by Clive Anderson, a master of deadpan delivery.
The youngest listeners and nostalgic grandparents will nod away happily to Noddy: The Great Train Chase and other stories (BBC, 1hr, 1 CD, £5.99). Although derived from the modernised for TV versions of Enid Blyton's mini-morality tales of Toyland, they stay impressively true to the spirit of the plucky but by no means goody-goody red-shirt.
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