Learning to love stories - with the perfect voice of God

The Indoor Pirates; Horrid Henry's Nits; Ten in a Bed; and others
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The Independent Culture

Aren't today's children lucky? First-class stories read by first-class readers, many unabridged, are now readily available at bargain prices. The bonus is that hearing stories read aloud leads children to read the books for themselves. It is clear that, far from being a threat to children's literacy, audiobooks are a vital bridge from the passive simplicities of TV viewing to the free-range world of reading for yourself.

Aren't today's children lucky? First-class stories read by first-class readers, many unabridged, are now readily available at bargain prices. The bonus is that hearing stories read aloud leads children to read the books for themselves. It is clear that, far from being a threat to children's literacy, audiobooks are a vital bridge from the passive simplicities of TV viewing to the free-range world of reading for yourself.

The Indoor Pirates (Cover to Cover, unabridged, £4.99) certainly works much better read aloud than it did in the recent television production, which turned it into farce. Jeremy Strong is a master of the art of tongue-in-cheek humour, which compliments children's intelligence. Robert Glenister reads with a straightforward seriousness which is perfect for the gloriously simple Indoor Pirates' adventures.

I liked Alan Bennett's now-famous recording of Kenneth Grahame's tales of the riverbank, but he is inescapably - well, Alan Bennettish (so too, of course, is Mole), and the text is abridged. The version to keep by you long after the children have grown up is Sir Michael Hordern's unabridged The Wind in the Willows (Cover to Cover, c.6hr, £ 19.99). He has a voice as richly resonant as the heart of a cello and reads with a steadiness of tone which leaves the wonderful words to do their own work.

Allan Ahlberg without the pictures is a strange concept, but trust me. Ten in a Bed (Cavalcade, 2hr 10min, £7.99) is a wonderful rehash of familiar fairy stories framed in the experiences of a doughty child who goes to bed each night and finds a succession of invaders already tucked up there: three bears doing a Goldilocks, a wart-ridden witch, a frog prince, Simple Simon, and so on. Not to be confused with Penny Dale's exquisitely illustrated book of the same title, but equal in classic status.

Francesca Simon's Horrid Henry's Nits (Orion, c1hr, £4.99) tells of a seriously naughty boy who deliberately spreads his nits in the first chapter and doesn't get any nicer in the rest. This is a bouncy, breezy production, read with brio by Miranda Richardson and punctuated with superbly timed musical effects.

If all your children know of the world's most famous nanny is the film starring Julie Andrews, then the unabridged Mary Poppins (Cavalcade, 3hr 49min, £9.99), which has several extra episodes as well as the familiar favourites, will be a revelation and a delight. Sophie Thompson reads P L Travers's surreal text a little archly but with just the right briskness.

Our general ignorance of Bible stories is now is now so great that I can see as many parents as children finding The Lion First Bible (Cavalcade, 3hr 17min, £7.99) an illuminating introduction to our cultural heritage. Bernard Cribbins is a fine choice of reader, the resonant bass of his voice confident and convincing; he's just great for God.

Vinegar Street (Puffin, 3hr 30min, £7.99) is another startlingly original story by Philip Ridley. "Nothing like a flickering flame to get the creative juices flowing" thinks Poppy, as she lights the candles of her deeply eccentric home. But there's trouble in store. The electricity man comes to switch on the power at the long-derelict house next door ("the house sucks in the current like a newborn baby sucking at a bottle").

Mandy Nylon is on her way, all brittle charm outside and deeply nasty inside: "Danger has found a home". Excellently balanced production, well-contrasted readers (Sophie Aldred as Poppy, Brian Blessed as Tingle Voice, Sheila Hancock as everyone else) and sizzling sound effects do Philip Ridley's tale proud.

Finally, don't miss Out Of This World (Hodder, 2hr, £7.99), a wonderful taster tape with episodes from 10 of the finest recent children's books "with an unwordly theme".

Yes, Harry Potter is there, but the collection, which includes Jenny Nimmo, Philip Ridley, David Almond and Helen Cresswell, reminds us that fun as her books are, J K Rowling is by no means the only first-class children's writer around.

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