Children's Books Special: The best audiobooks
Sunday 17 August 2008
For younger children of 6-10, Macmillan has at last recorded the works of Eva Ibbotson. Gloriously funny and completely screwball, her tales of eccentric witches and kindly ghosts will be familiar to anyone with slightly peculiar relations, but their wit is of a kind which adults will love too. If I had to choose one recent release, it would be The Secret of Platform 13, both as one of Ibbotson's funniest tales and for Sian Thomas's crisp reading. The best of all is The Beasts of Clawstone Castle as read by David Tennant, below (both £10.99).
Many parents and children will be rediscovering CS Lewis's Narnia books because of the films, and the BBC's version of Prince Caspian (£9.99), starring Paul Scofield among others, is beautifully done, with music, birdsong and a tweaking of the narrative which works very well as drama.
Some parents, trying to turn children on to classic fiction, even turn to recording their own favourite books, but few do it so well as the actor Peter Joyce, whose eclectic "Assembled Stories" collections are worth hunting down – you can download extracts from the internet. He has a gorgeously gravelly voice. For 8+, I recommend his George Macdonald's The Princess and the Goblin (£15.99), a tale of how a good-hearted miner-boy saves a princess from capture by the goblins that haunt the king's mountain mines, and is saved in turn when she follows the thread on her grandmother's magic ring. Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda, John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps and J Meade Faulkner's Moonfleet are also good new additions to the list, but slightly older boys of 12+ will lap up Assembled Stories's forthcoming rendition of H Rider Haggard's thriller about immortality, She. Often a little too complex and old-fashioned to be read on the page, these Victorian and Edwardian stories were written to be read aloud, and their gung-ho confidence is conveyed with infectious enjoyment.
Craftsman are the masters of fantasy fiction audiobooks, and their unabridged recording of Ursula le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea two years ago was stunning. Its sequel, also read by Karen Archer, is The Tombs of Atuan (£25.95), and tells how Sparrowhawk comes to the distant Labyrinth of the Kargad lands, searching for the broken amulet of a wizard in order to restore peace. The Tombs are guarded by a young woman, Arha, who is being corrupted by dark spirits. A resonant political fable about turning away from the hatred fostered by religion, the story takes a long time to take off, but grip it does, through Archer's trance-like reading and the original music by Leigh Odlin. Not one for winding roads or dark nights.
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