Children's Books Special: Children's Audio

Solo symphonies of fright and fun
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The Independent Culture

There are good audiobook readers, and there are great ones, especially when matched to a title that suits them perfectly. Soul Eater (Orion, 6 CDs, 6 hrs 45mins, £16.99) is the third of Michelle Paver's atmospheric "Chronicles of Ancient Darkness" series, and is again narrated unabridged by Sir Ian McKellen. Actors have told me that one reason they enjoy audiobooks is that they can have all the parts themselves. McKellen makes the most of the richly various cast: resourceful young Torak and hawk-eyed Renn, the wise elders Fin-Kedinn and Saeunn, the sinister soul-eating Mages and Wolf, the now-grown cub who time and again saves "Tall Tailless" from disaster.

Persuading children to read your own old favourites can be hard, but Charlie Simpson's spirited narration of Rosemary Sutcliff's Eagle of the Ninth (Naxos, 4 CDs, 4 hrs 30 mins, £16.99) takes the listener in at the gallop to one of the greatest fictional evocations of Roman Britain. The 9th Legion disappeared in the Tay valley in 117AD, with the Romans in retreat from Scotland. Sutcliff's hero is Marcus Flavius, son of its lost commander. Wounded in battle at York, he is given the opportunity to travel north as a spy to find out what happened and restore his father's honour - and perhaps the Eagle itself.

Sally Gardner's Lucy Willow (Orion, 3 hrs, 3 CDs, £12.99) is one of her best children's books yet, and this matter-of-fact unabridged reading by Dexter Fletcher will extend its appeal. Lucy and her pet snail Ernest live with her parents and new baby brother Stench on a steam train that shunts between Liverpool Street and a country village - until her father loses his job in the City and a ruthless businessman acquires the train and parks them in a siding.

Lucy is happy enough, especially when her dad gets a job sorting out the local nursery and she finds that she has green fingers. But will she be a match for the ghastly headmistress and her yobbish husband, who are competing with Lucy's father's firm for the flower contract for a local celebrity wedding? Add gangsters in disguise, bumbling burglars, a handsome footballer and his chart-topping wife, season with magic and sit back to enjoy.

Danny Kaye's Ugly Duckling, "with a quack and a waddle and a quack and a flurry of eiderdown", "I'm a little teapot short and stout", Stanley Holliday's lugubrious rendering of "The Lion and Albert", the abbreviated musical cornucopia of "Sparky's Music Mix-Up" and Basil Rathbone's tallyho-ing Mr Toad are just a few of the timeless story-songs gathered together on Children's Favourites (Naxos, 2 CDs, 2 hrs 15 mins, £10.99). It's perfect singalong stuff for the car for grandparents, parents and grandchildren alike.

I often yearn for stories free of parents altogether, like the good old tales of Stevenson, Ransome and Blyton. But the huge popularity of Jacqueline Wilson's sagas of broken homes proves me wrong. Her Candyfloss (BBC, unabridged, 7 hrs, 6 CDs, £15.99) is read to excellent effect by Sophie Aldred. Flossie opts to stay with her no-hoper father in his failing greasy-spoon café rather than go to Australia for a glamorous beach life with her mother and stepfather. Wilson's highly original characters - an aged couple who are the café's only regulars, the jolly folk of the fair, and rich little Rhiannon's sugary 4x4-driving mother - are all given added life and colour by Aldred.