Hear and now

16th August 1996 at 01:00
Kidnapped (Penguin Pounds 6.99) is one of those children's classics which is rapidly gathering dust on the shelf. Yet what a shame if Stevenson's swashbuckling classic is lost to generations of youngsters whose acquaintance with the misty world of shots in the heather, cold porridge in a darkened manse and do or die in the echoing glens is confined to a trip to the cinema to see Braveheart (wrong period but right setting).

Robbie Coltrane offers a cracker of a reading of a fairly sensitively abridged text (2.5 hours), authentically Scottish enough to strike chords with its native hearers, but intelligible enough to be understood by coarse Sassenachs. It is a complicated story and benefits from Coltrane's relish at the characters and their rolling language. Stevenson's genius is at its most subtle as he traces not only the adventures which befall the young David Balfour as he sets out to claim his inheritance but also the ways in which he matures through his friendship with the quixotic Alan Breck Stewart.

Just as young lads may no longer read Stevenson, I fear that fewer and fewer lasses will be turning the pages of Frances Hodgson Burnett. A Little Princess (Penguin Pounds 6.99), that great recourse of many a young girl who felt unpopular at school and was just waiting for a rich uncle to turn up and proclaim her his little princess, is now available in a three-hour version sympathetically read by Eleanor Bron.

Although much of the trappings of the story - the little girl whose father dies in the service of the Raj, the servitude in which she is kept by the hateful headmistress of the seminary, the begging of food from the hot bread shop - may seem unimaginably quaint, yet the reality underlying them, that children are hopelessly in the power of potentially abusive adults, is unfortunately no less true now than it was a century ago. And Hodgson Burnett's tough moral, that misfortune should make us more understanding and kinder to the misfortunes of others, will never be untimely, though it may not be fashionable. Deeply satisfying for mostly girls of 10 to 16.

Hurray for Mick Inkpen whose Nothing (Hodder Pounds 7.99) is a most delightful picture book with tape read by Ian Holm. When people are moving out they often leave something behind. Going through the house they come across something which no one wants. "What is it," they ask "Oh, that. It's just nothing, " they reply. And of course, it may be nothing. But it turns out to be of great sentimental value. Ian Holm's voice is always comfortable and Mick Inkpen's illustrations will amuse non-readers enjoying the book for 15 minutes. Ages three to seven.

Worried Arthur (Ladybird Pounds 4.99) is a penguin who agonises over what to do for his birthday. Luckily his father is full of ideas and reassurance and finally hits on something which will suit all the celebrants. The story is spun out for 20 minutes each side, by dint of songs and sound effects. As often with Ladybird, there is something a bit contrived about the whole production. But the situation is one which young children aged three to seven do find very easy to identify with and the accompanying book is cleanly produced and fun to use.

For the same age-group, I See, I Hear (Collins Pounds 5.99) offers 34 minutes of entertainment, but the concept, credited to Gyles Brandreth and written by Mich le Brown is less appealing. It centres on some kittens being given to the children of a clown and features quite a few nursery rhymes sung in improbable accents.

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