Star Wars, as anyone who has any contact with the young must know, has hit the big screen in a revamped version. Cunningly timed to coincide with R2D2, C3PO and the cosmic forces of good and evil flooding into this neck of the galaxy, are book and tape versions of the three stories: Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi (Pounds 4.99 each set, Reed Books).
These are not the soundtracks of the films, but well turned-out abridgements. They are also quite short (about 20 minutes each) and, with read-along books, quite within the comprehension of a seven-year-old, especially with the audible signal to turn the page. These really are the ultimate spin-off: the tape of the book of the film of... However, they are guaranteed to amuse interplanetary warriors in the seven-to-11 age group.
Roald Dahl's Matilda (Pounds 7.99 Collins, two tapes) is altogether more complex stuff. This abridgement follows the film version pretty closely. Read by Jenny Hanley, who strikes a nice mean between Dahl's relish for sadistic mayhem and the nerves of younger listeners, the story (if you have been living in a cave even further from young lives than the one inhabited by those who don't know about Star Wars) concerns a little girl who is amazingly precocious and, despite her family's being almost illiterate, becomes a prodigy of wisdom and book-learning. In the process, she helps her sweet teacher, Miss Honey (all puns intended) free herself from the tyranny of her Aunt Agatha, also known as Miss Trunchbull, fearsome headmistress. Oh, and there's also Matilda's family who not only are crooks and bullies but also - and we are left in no doubt that for Dahl this is a worse sin than clocking second-hand cars - hate reading and prefer TV. For anyone between four and 11.
In some ways more sophisticated, in others much shallower, the Bonechillers series from Collins (Pounds 5.99) takes stories about youngsters at American schools with a creepy twist. This is good spine-tingling, nail-biting stuff which weaves together hokum and adolescent drama.
In Strange Brew (60 minutes), Tori whips up a potion from a book which mysteriously appears at the same time as her new best friend. Rather like Carrie in Brian de Palma's film, Tori makes her class skid around on bubbles, the students throw up in the cafeteria and the school burns down. But don't worry, it all comes out in the wash.
Likewise, in Teacher Creature, Joey and Nate's suspicions about the spooky new teacher sprout when they find him reading a cookbook featuring recipes for roast children with wild mushrooms. Batrachian (a bit of a giveaway, a name which means "lizardlike") finally gets his comeuppance due to a combination of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and mutant trees. Gruesome satisfaction for gory-minded eight to 12-year-olds.