Posted in audiobooks

The great Kenneth Williams reading The Wind in the Willows

I am so excited (writes Sam).

My MA in Children’s Literature has restarted after the Christmas break, and we’re looking at how children respond to books. I expect I will share my reading and findings on here and / or on my ChildtasticBooks Masters blog, as well as trying out things on Holly (poor, unsuspecting child). But I wanted to share something that has got me smiling.

One of the books we have as essential reading is the classic The Wind in the Williams by Kenneth Grahame, published in 1908.

Mole and Ratty ‘messing about in boats’. Image courtesy of

I was first introduced to this marvellous book when I was a child. My mother gave me a copy of the audiobook, read by the brilliant Kenneth Williams, and it soon became a most prized possession.

Image courtesy of

I listened to this over and over. It was particularly comforting when I was off school ill, or just needed something to listen to, to relax. My version was a double set of audio cassettes – before the days of CDs! Holly I don’t think has ever seen a tape.

I kept it safe but unfortunately, after much travelling over the years, I couldn’t lay my hands on it when I looked for it recently. I logged on to amazon, convinced I would find it there, but discovered to my horror that it wasn’t available. More recent versions have been done, including one that Holly has read by Alan Bennett, but that wouldn’t do. It had to be Williams’ recording.

In despair, I turned to ebay and managed to track down a copy. It was on cassette again; this version doesn’t exist – as far as I know – on CD. Thank goodness I still have my grandfather’s old stereo which has a cassette player on it! I won the bidding and was hopping with excitement when the postman dropped my valuable package through the door.

So, why do I love this so much? For me, no one has come close to capturing the characters in the story as evocatively as Kenneth Williams. More known for his bawdy, camp humour, Williams was a wonderful and varied actor, with brilliant timing in his delivery. He doesn’t just read the story – he brings it to life in a way that is rarely heard even by the most talented of readers. He was a real storyteller. I might even dare to say that I like the audiobook of this story better than the words on the page. As I read the words I hear his voice in my head and everything comes to life.

I want to play it to Holly to see if she will fall in love with this like I did. Though I worry somewhat. What if she finds it boring or it just doesn’t captivate her like it did me? Will it spoil my enjoyment? She isn’t the biggest fan of the book as it stands, finding the Weasles too scary in particular. She does like Kenneth Williams though, having seen him in one of the Carry On films, so perhaps I can win her over. It’s best done on a long car journey when she’s not distracted in the house but for that I will need to transfer the book onto CD or MP3 format.

I will let you know how we get on. Wish me luck!

Have you heard Kenneth Williams’ version of The Wind in the Willows? What is your favourite audiobook?

PS – if you’d like to enjoy hearing Williams’ talent, have a look at this video on You Tube of him singing Ma Crepe Suzette, and him explaining on a chat show his thoughts on accents – very funny and I think goes some way to showing why I like him reading The Wind in the Willows. A slight warning – there’s a little strong word (nothing offensive) towards the end of that second clip.

Posted in audiobooks, general and welcome

We’ll be away for a while…

Tomorrow we are off to France for our holidays. We’re very excited, although exhausted as we have been tidying the house and trying to work out what to pack (I am sure we’ve got far too much stuff!).

For the next ten days, my lovely friend Lynne and her sons Seth and Neil are going to look after the blog for us. We’re excited because we’re aware that we always provide a female point of view, so it will be good to have some thoughts from boys. So please keep visiting and commenting (I can’t wait to read what they have written when we come back).

Just as a little update, we have picked our audiobooks for our travels. This was a particularly important task as we are spending a lot of time in the car. The books we went for are:

Mr Gum and the Goblins, read and written by Andy Stanton,BottomRight,13,73_AA300_.jpg



Kidnap in the Caribbean, by Lauren St John, read by Alison Reid



Journey to the River Sea, by Eva Ibbotson, read by Imelda Staunton



Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by JK Rowling, read by Stephen Fry



Death on the Nile, by Agatha Christie, read by John Suchet


This last one was on Holly’s insistence!

I think we should have enough to entertain us, especially as the Harry Potter one runs into 20 hours. We will  be sure to write some reviews when we get back!
Until then, a bientot to you all!
Sam and Holly

Posted in audiobooks

Roadtrip special: our top ten audiobooks

When Holly was younger we considered the option of getting an in-car DVD system for long car journeys. We were torn on the issue: on the one hand, it would help alleviate boredom on terribly long drives, on the other we never had TVs in the car and managed (just about) to remain sane. Surely the travelling is part of the experience? There’s at least one famous quote from a famous writer on that but my tired, weekend brain can’t summon it.

Update – thanks mum! (Sam’s mum): ‘To travel hopefully is better than to arrive.’ Robert Louis Stevenson

Luckily, Holly solved this problem for us by declaring that she gets carsick (she doesn’t) and so doesn’t want to read or watch anything while in the car. This left us with the option of audiobooks and, equally luckily, there are some fantastic examples out there to amuse everyone. Though I must say I am glad Holly is a little older now to move beyond the extremely abridged Peter Pan audiobook she had that was over in ten minutes and which we must have listened to thousands of times.

In three weeks’ time we’re heading off to the Jura region in France, which will involve a lot of driving, so we’ve already started thinking about our listening choices. For those days when you spend most of the time in the car, it’s handy to have a longer story that you can keep tuning into, rather than a series of short ones that you flick between. I’ll let you know our final selection soon but Holly and I thought we would share our current top ten favourites in case they come in handy for you. There is something for children of all ages too! The last few lack Holly’s verdict – something I will add in a day or two (we ran out of time because bed beckoned!).

Top ten audiobooks (in no particular order of preference)

The Star of Kazan, by Eva Ibbotson, read by Ruth Jones

Holly’s verdict: This is an adventurous book and audiobook and is read clearly.

Sam’s verdict: Ruth Jones, best known from her Gavin and Stacey role, makes a great narrator, capturing the different voices well but not caricaturing them to the extent of detracting from the story. This is currently Holly’s favourite to listen to as a treat at bedtime and she’s always disappointed when we change it over to something less stimulating so she can go to sleep! It’s also a good listen for parents.
The Boy in the Dress, by David Walliams, performed by David Walliams and Matt Lucas

Holly’s verdict: This is a story about being yourself and it is read in a very funny way.

Sam’s verdict: We all hoot with laughter when we listen to this audiobook – and any of the collaborations between Walliams and Lucas (check out Mr Stink too). Imagine a sanitised version of Little Britain and you’ve got the voices here on an audiobook the children can listen to with pleasure and parents can laugh along to with the crazy voices. However, it’s not just silliness: this story (in my opinion, Walliams’ best) does look at the problems children – and adults – face when they feel different to others. A great way to while away a few hours.
Winnie the Pooh, by AA Milne, read by Judi Dench, Stephen Fry, Jane Horrocks and Michael Williams

Holly’s verdict: This seems like a babyish choice but it isn’t. It is not what you think at all – some adults still read it. I think it is read in a very funny sort of way.

Sam’s verdict: This is Holly’s number one comfort listen. She goes to sleep each night listening to it and I am sure that she can now recite it by heart. The performances are lovely on this CD and suit children of any age.

The Twins at St Clare’s, by Enid Blyton, dramatised version

Holly’s verdict: This is excellently told. It is very descriptive especially with food.

Sam’s verdict: There are a few dramatisations of Enid Blyton’s boarding school series and this is Holly’s favourite. It brings the writing to life more to have a dramatisation rather than a sole reading but I must admit that some of the speaking grates a little on me. Equally, having grown up with the ‘Mamzelles’ I found the casting on this to be totally strange – they sound like university students, not eccentric spinsters.

Image courtesy of

Mary Poppins, by P.L. Travers, read by Sophie Thompson

Holly’s verdict: Mary Poppins is funny and tells a nice story and is calming.

Sam’s verdict: We enjoyed listening to this on a 4-hour car journey but I must admit I just had trouble with some of the narration. Perhaps this is because I have Julie Andrews cemented so firmly in my head (from countless views of the film) that anyone else doesn’t live up to expectations. A great story though.

Image courtesy of

Mr Popper’s Penguins, by Richard and Florence Atwater, read by Nick Sullivan

Holly’s verdict: An exciting story and funny too because all these babies come along. The narrator reads it in a funny way especially when he does the female voices.

Sam’s verdict: I downloaded this because I wondered if Holly might like the story … and she did! At first she seemed unsure but then she became enthralled and demanded to listen to the rest of it once we got home. The narration itself is rather peculiar, with a most bizarre drawl, but it suits the story no end. It’s very different from the film, which Holly also enjoyed, as it takes place much earlier than Carey’s noughties version.

Just William 10, by Richard Compton, read by Martin Jarvisguardian/Observer giveaway

Holly’s verdict: I think personally that it is very funny because it’s about a really naughty boy and he likes going around and playing tricks on people. The narrator is hilarious.

Sam’s verdict: Martin Jarvis is a marvellous narrator and he brings the Just William stories to light excellently. We all love listening to them, and have moved on to the books from the CD, which is great as I doubt Holly would have considered picking them up otherwise.

Matilda, by Roald Dahl, fully dramatised (including performances by Rula Lenska and Christopher Timothy)

Holly’s verdict: To come…

Sam’s verdict: Holly loves this and I can see why. The casting is spot-on, particularly Rula Lenska as the dreadful Miss Trunchbull. We never tire of listening to this and I defy anyone not to laugh aloud, particularly at some of the punishments Matilda metes out to her parents.

James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl, fully dramatised (including performances by Timothy West and James Saxon) – part of the Daily Telegraph giveaway

Holly’s verdict: to come

Sam’s verdict: I am not quite so familiar with this audiobook as it tends to be a bedtime choice more than one that comes out in the car. However, the story itself, as with all of Dahl, is energetic, if rather surreal, and there are some musical interludes which children can sing along to if so desired.$(KGrHqNHJBkE9spKJ85QBPkC(CPpD!~~60_35.JPG

The Cat in the Hat and Other Stories, by Dr Seuss, read by Adrian Edmondson, Daily Telegraph giveaway

Holly’s verdict: to come

Sam’s verdict: We haven’t listened to this much in the car but who else to convey Dr Seuss’s zay writing than the superb Adrian Edmondson? This selection won’t take ages to listen to so is good for short car journeys or times when you just don’t want to listen to anything lengthy.

Over to you:

What audiobooks do you love to listen to? We’d be grateful of some recommendations before we make our next selection!