Good nail-biting stuff

19th December 1997 at 00:00
From Winnie-the-Pooh to Return of the Jedi - a selection of cassettes that should help keep young children quiet over Christmas

STAR WARS. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. RETURN OF THE JEDI. Reed, book and cassette, (17 minutes) Pounds 4.99 each. MATILDA. Collins, double cassette (180 minutes) Pounds 8.99. BONECHILLERS. Collins, cassettes (60 minutes) Pounds 5.99 each.

The Star Wars trilogy, as anyone who has any contact with the young must know, was this year revamped and relaunched for a new generation. Cunningly timed to coincide with the return of the cosmic forces of good and evil are book and tape versions of the three stories: Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

These are not film soundtracks but well turned-out abridgements, ably acted by the likes of Roy Dotrice (Obi Wan Kenobi). They are quite short and with read-along books quite within the comprehension of a seven-year-old. Guaranteed to amuse interplanetary warriors in the seven to 11 age group.

Roald Dahl's Matilda 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 concerns a little girl who becomes a prodigy of wisdom and book-learning, even though her family is almost illiterate. In the process, she helps her teacher, the sweet Miss Honey, free herself from the tyranny of the headmistress, Miss Trunchbull. We are left in no doubt that, for Dahl, to hate reading and prefer television is a worse sin than clocking second-hand cars. For anyone between four and 11.

In some ways more sophisticated, in others much shallower, the Bonechillers series from Collins takes stories about youngsters at American schools with a creepy twist. Although the accents and settings at first seem alien, this is good spine-tingling, nail-biting stuff which weaves together hokum and adolescent drama.

In Strange Brew, 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 whole school burns down. On the way, her best friend breaks her leg in a mysterious night-time accident. But don't worry, it all comes out in the wash. Gruesome satisfaction for gory-minded youngsters aged eight to 12.

Victoria Neumark

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