Children's Books: Triffic laughs with bad girls

Reading aloud for children is an art, says Christina Hardyment

IT'S VERY easy to read children's books, especially funny ones, in an arch, over- emphatic and intensely annoying fashion which has me reaching for the off button and the kids simulating carsickness in an instant. There are none of these problems with Jeremy Strong's The Hundred-Mile-an-Hour Dog (Puffin, 1hr 15mins, pounds 7.99). Martin Clune's low-key, interested but downbeat, rendering turns an amusing tale into a classic.

Streaker, "a mixture of Ferrari and whirlwind with a woof attached," appears to be untameable - until not only pounds 30 holiday pocket-money but avoiding a ghastly ducking in a slime-filled horsetrough depend upon it. Trevor and Tina's efforts to thwart spotty bully Charlie Smugg and his equally ghastly policemen father pile up disaster on disaster until the very last moment. A chuckle a mile.

The acknowledged master of the gently non-committal has to be Alan Bennett, who has now read virtually all the great early 20th-century children's classics. Every family, perhaps everybody, will be the happier for tucking the BBC's new Alan Bennett Children's Library (BBC 8hrs 10mins, pounds 19.99) into the glove compartment of their car. It contains a cornucopia of classics - Winnie the Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner, The Wind in the Willows, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

Even the best of voices can get wearisome if unalleviated. An equally enjoyable new version of an old classic is the splendidly varied reading of The Adventures of Peter Rabbit and Other Favourite Tales (Penguin, 2hrs, pounds 7.99, also available on CD, pounds 9.99). Among the readers are Michael Hordern and Penelope Routledge, and each tale is agreeably framed in Carl Davis's specially composed music. Also fresh on the ear is Fiona Shaw's reading of Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass (Naxos, 2hrs 15mins, pounds 8.99, also available on CD). Shaw is exactly the adult child that Alice ought to be, without a trace of the winsome, conveying both her sense of wonder and her intrepid common sense.

Jacqueline Wilson's Smarties award-winning Bad Girls (Cavalcade, unabridged, 4hrs 20mins, pounds 9.99), read by Josie Lawrence, also provides a good meaty listen for a long journey. Mandy is being bullied, not least because of her mother is incapable of allowing her only child to grow up and sends her to school with plaits and pink ribbons in an age of baseball caps and streaks. Tanya, an older girl being fostered by Mandy's neighbour, can put paid to the bullies - but she raises a whole new crop of dilemmas for both Mandy and her mother.

Single children's tapes are often extremely meanly endowed, but don't let the small size of Dick King-Smith's Triffic (Cover to Cover, 55 mins, pounds 3.99) put you off. There is nearly an hour of good listening in this "Rare Pig's Tale". An engaging fable of friendship a little in the mode of King-Smith's hugely popular Babe, it is also interestingly informative about rare breeds.

The word "hilarious" is frequently a sure sign of the unfunny, but it is well-earned as the subtitle to a new collection of poems by Michael Rosen, You Wait Till I'm Older Than You (Puffin, 1hr 45mins, pounds 7.99). He reads them himself with just the right degree of emphasis, a hard thing to do when the poems in question are impossible to listen to without laughing aloud. Even their memory brings on a smile - an excellent tonic.

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