Mo the mouse (and other animals)

Christina Hardyment applauds some star performances in new audio books for young listeners
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The Independent Culture

Audiobooks for children go from strength to strength, with excellent readers evidently enjoying themselves as they throw themselves into impersonating the colourful characters who populate children's literature. Dick King-Smith's A Mouse Called Wolf (Cover to Cover, Ihr 15mins, £4.00) is a gem of tale, read with bosomy warmth by Patricia Routledge. Wolf is short for Wolfgang Amadeus Mo, a name taken from a fragment of chewed-up music a mouse used as nesting material for her youngest, best-loved baby.

Audiobooks for children go from strength to strength, with excellent readers evidently enjoying themselves as they throw themselves into impersonating the colourful characters who populate children's literature. Dick King-Smith's A Mouse Called Wolf (Cover to Cover, Ihr 15mins, £4.00) is a gem of tale, read with bosomy warmth by Patricia Routledge. Wolf is short for Wolfgang Amadeus Mo, a name taken from a fragment of chewed-up music a mouse used as nesting material for her youngest, best-loved baby.

Wolf deserves his name: he has an exceptional singing voice and can even compose. Gradually, the retired music teacher who owns the house they live in earns his confidence with chocolate drops, and accompanies him on piano. Little does she guess that Wolf's resourcefulness will one day save her life. Impossible, yes, but, like Babe, strangely convincing.

Sandi Toksvig gives a brilliant virtuoso performance in reading Kaye Umansky's Wilma's Wicked Revenge (Puffin, 3hrs 15mins, £7.99), a punchily-written and hugely enjoyable romp around the fairy-tale canon. Furious at her regal but ghastly sisters' poor performance at her birthday party, and feeling distinctly undervalued, Wilma decides to get her revenge. Since she, and indeed the entire female side of the family, are powerful witches, the result is magical mayhem with Gerda, Snow White and Hansel and Gretel making cameo appearances. As ever with Umansky, there's a laugh a minute, but there also some uncommon good sense buried at the heart of the tale.

Jacqueline Wilson's The Mum-Minder (Cavalcade book and tape, c.1hr, £7.99) is a piece of wishful thinking in which eight-year-old Sadie successfully mothers not only her flu-ridden mum but the children she takes care of while their mothers and fathers are at work. There is quite a bit of snide comment on parental types, but the point of the tale is to give children a sense of their own competence. Read with a great sense of fun by Sophie Aldred.

Don't be put off by the squashed toads in the opening scenes of Toad Rage (written and read by Morris Gleitzman, Puffin, 3hrs, £7.99): they are a necessary part of a brilliantly plotted story. Clammy and venomous when roused, cane toads are one of Australia's least-loved species, and passing motorists tend to aim to hit them. But why?, asks young Limpy, as he mournfully hauls the dried remains of yet another lost relative to the stack he allows to rest in peace in a corner of his room.

Although himself slightly squashed when barely more than a tadpole, he optimistically sets off to save the rest of his family by converting humankind to an appreciation of toads.

Jeremy Strong is a writer whose wit and convincing engagement with his young readers is well-known; adding on Tony "Baldrick" Robinson as reader is a dream ticket double. I'm Telling You, They're Aliens (Puffin, 2hrs, £7.99) tells of Ricky, a serial worrier who seems at last to have found something legitimate to get agitated about when he discovers that his neighbours the Vorks are harbouring aliens. After all, they admit to it...

"I maintain to this day that the female scorpion meant no harm." Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals (Penguin, 3hrs, £8.99) is not strictly speaking a children's book, but it is such an inspiration - both in its account of an obsessive young naturalist and of eccentric familial co-existence - that children of all ages will thoroughly enjoy it.

Fed up with the English climate, the Durrell family migrate to Corfu, sharing their quarters in a variety of villas with an impressive range of creatures, many multi-legged, some furry, some both thanks to Gerry's acquisitive drive. Entertaining and fascinating on many levels, it makes perfect family-car literature.

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