Fast forward to adventure
THE LITTLE TRAIN AND THE LITTLE FIRE ENGINE. Pounds 3.99. BMG Kidz. THE LITTLE POLAR BEAR. Pounds 3.99, BBC Young Collection. Pingu. THE CHEF; PINGU CELEBRATES CHRISTMAS; PINGU AND THE BIRTHDAY PRESENT. Pounds 4.99 each. BBC Children's Books. THOMAS THE TANK ENGINE.
DILLY THE DINOSAUR AND OTHER STORIES; DILLY GOES TO SCHOOL AND OTHER STORIES. Pounds 3.99 each. Tempo Reed .
Some are born storytellers, some achieve storytelling; others have storytelling thrust upon them. It's part of every teacher's stock-in-trade to put across a good book to young children, but not everyone can handle the skills involved with complete success. Storytelling in schools is an attempt to blend entertainment with the development of literacy.
Choosing raw material for a live audience is getting easier. A new generation of writers brings young listeners into a place which is either very like home or totally, wickedly different. Others gently touch a nerve of insecurity, dealing with what really matters to young children. But even contemporary classics can collapse in the teacher's translation from inner voice to amateur performance.
For the nursery school listening corner, or for the apprentice storyteller in search of training, there is an increasing range of audio tapes which use famous faces or famous voices as narrators. Handing over the performance to someone else can allow the throat-weary classroom teacher to engage in more constructive questioning and discussion with the children.
Mick Inkpen's tales of a dog called Kipper are a pleasure to share with toddlers. Dawn French is the reader here. Her timing, her understanding of the fun in the story and her ability to tickle the words make her storytelling the star choice in this selection.
There are tiny surprises which Dawn French reads as though she enjoyed them herself. She is particularly good at being just the teeniest bit shocked with the mice who nibble the toybox.
Dilly the dinosaur is a different kettle of fish. Dilly has emotional and behavioural difficulties. He gets into terrible trouble for bad habits, such as painting on the bedroom wall. On tape, some of the catch-phrase elements begin to grate after a while and for me the character doesn't quite come to life Josie Lawrence sounds a little too much like an adult putting on a child's voice.
The Little Train, by the very grown-up Graham Greene, is a traditional children's fable of growing up. The small engine from Little Snoring runs away along the mainline, through the dark and gloomy mountains to the fearful city of Great Smokeoverall.
Simon Cadell's urbane narrative conveys kindly understanding while managing to conjure flecks of fearful imagery from the text that are reminiscent of Ted Hughes's Iron Man. The Little Fire Engine, on the same cassette, stirs a similar nostalgia for machines with a soul which appears to have outlived their times.
Thomas the Tank Engine is another mechanical chum who has survived several dubious reincarnations. Ted Robbins reads the stories which the vicar didn't write, but his son Christopher Awdry did. Adults may feel that even a tank engine can suffer from over-exposure, but the low-key nature of these stories provides a safe and reliable format which gives countless children a sense of security.
Little Polar Bear is yet another multimedia star, having recently completed a series for the BBC. The icy world of Lars the polar bear comes across refreshingly well in this reading. These are the original voices from the television production, comfortable and reassuring for younger listeners. The stories deal with simple and direct themes, such as friendship, adventures, getting lost, getting frightened and getting home again.
By way of contrast, half the appeal of Pingu, the Scandinavian penguin, is lost by translating his remarks into anything intelligible. He has a fine idiosyncratic character, with the odd touch of stubbornness and determination. The tales deal with sibling rivalry and all the things that matter in a society governed by fish and lashings of ice.