Bearing gifts

19th December 1997 at 00:00
WINNIE-THE-POOH. Hodder Children's Audio, double cassette (120 minutes) Pounds 7.99. PINOCCHIO. Naxos Junior Classics, doublecassette (158 mins) Pounds 7.99. KIPPER'S SNOWY DAY. Hodder Children's Audio, book and cassette (15 mins) Pounds 4.99.

BRAMBLY HEDGE SPRING AND SUMMER STORIES. Collins, double cassette (40 mins) Pounds 4.99. THE LOST DIARY OF ERIKBLOODAXE. Collins, book and cassette(90 mins) Pounds 6.99

From Winnie-the-Pooh to Return of the Jedi - a selection of cassettes that should help keep young children quiet over Christmas

How about this for a reaction to the news that a friend is having a dinner party? "I suppose they'll be sending me down the odd bits that have been trodden on."

Time to call a psychotherapist? No, just carry on listening to Geoffrey Palmer, who, as Eyore in Hodder's recording of Winnie-the-Pooh, steals the show with a voice drenched in gloom and a lugubrious bad humour.

If Palmer, star of As Time Goes By, had to explain his sour temper, he might just blame it on having to share a wood with Pooh - that annoyingly lovable bear with a penchant for irritating songs.

David Benedictus's classy dramatisation of AA Milne's classic stars Stephen Fry as a cuddlesome, if pompous, Pooh. He is helped into and out of scrapes by an impressive cast. Absolutely fabulous Jane Horrocks is a snuffly, vulnerable Piglet, Robert Daws a canny Rabbit, and Judi Dench a capable Aussie Kanga. Don't worry if the first chapter seems confusing. The rest are gems.

For children with a taste for a thrill, Pinocchio from Naxos is a must. The adventures of the marionette are dark, often frightening and, thanks to John Sessions's narration, very exciting.

Pinocchio, played as a spoilt Italian bambino, encounters Fire, a blue-haired fairy waiting for her coffin, and the Assassins on his long journey back to his father. Sessions turns the Assassins into a Jack Nicholson-Dustin Hoffman double act, a sinister couple no one would want to meet on the dark side of the duvet.

Pinocchio is quality listening and a revelation for adults whose memories of the 19th-century Italian fairy-tale don't extend beyond the end of their noses.

Kipper's Snowy Day is ideal for young children, so long as parents can deal with their tears if the weather doesn't oblige this Christmas. Dawn French is the narrator, and the tape, which accompanies the book, does capture that sense of awe when small children - or in this case small dogs - realise that, yes, it's snowing.

Also for young children is Brambly Hedge Spring and Summer Stories. John Moffat reads Jill Barklem's tales of the mice who make preserves and take elderflower tea with Lord and Lady Woodmouse in the Oak Palace. It's all very heart-warming, so long as you like cosy stories that conjure up John Major's vision of England, despite being about rodents.

In complete contrast is The Lost Diary of Erik Bloodaxe, Viking Warrior, written by Steve Barlow and Steve Skidmore, and read by Stephen Tompkinson.

Erik's story is told by Gorblime Leiftitoutsson, the court poet. There's some history mixed in with a lot of bad jokes, which will probably appeal to seven-year-olds. Too much of warriors called Kon Stipated and Knut Very-clever, however, and their parents might be forced to down a stiff mead.

Stephanie Northen

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