Sounds of the seashore

posted in: Mairi Hedderwick | 19

Today sees the launch of Audiosynced – a monthly roundup of blogosphere posts about audiobooks which has been set up by Kelly of Stacked and Abby (the) Librarian and today I’m very pleased to be taking part alongside them.

Audiobooks play a hugely important role in our home – a day without one is certainly unusual. As well as providing the sheer pleasure of listening to a good story, they also allow us to introduce more Dutch into the home – an additional input alongside their (wonderful) Dad. All in all we love audiobooks and have so many that it made choosing my first one to review an enjoyable but interesting challenge.

Photo: Playful Librarian

After much deliberation I decided to review one of our very favourite audiobooks of all time – recordings of Katie Morag and the Two Grandmothers and Katie Morag Delivers the Mail, both by Mairi Hedderwick (published 1986, Whigmaleene Story Cassettes, Collins Audio). This audiobook does everything I think an audiobook can and should do – it is a perfect example of what this format can bring to a great story, which is why I wanted to review it. But, and it’s a big “but”, it doesn’t seem to be available anywhere to buy, nor have I been able to find any copies in (a portal to many library catalogues around the world).

I don’t like to review stories which you then can’t get hold of yourself – but this is such a fantastic recording that I nevertheless had to go with it. It definitely deserves to go on your search list, just in case you strike lucky in a library or second hand book sale. So if you’ll forgive me for tempting you with the (possibly) unobtainable here’s why all of us at Playing by the book think this is an exceptional audiobook.

Photo: Professor P

The Katie Morag books by Mairi Hedderwick are all set on a remote (fictional) Scottish island called Struay. The stories are about family, friends, and life in a small, isolated community, and although we’ve thoroughly enjoyed every Katie Morag story we’ve ever read, it’s the illustrations which really steal the show. I cannot think of a more perfect rendition of life on a Scottish island (and we’ve been to quite a few, even honeymooning on one) – Mairi Hedderwick captures the wild beauty, the customs, the necessary adaptations to island life, the geography, the weather and even the clothing all so precisely you quickly become transported to Struay when you start looking at her illustrations.

With illustrations playing such an important role in the Katie Morag books I was curious to see how an audiobook could possibly do the printed books justice. And yet, and yet, this recording does transport you to Scottish island life, in a magical and unforgettable manner. Rather than simply copying the printed book, the audio book makes the most of the format by using a great deal of music and wonderful sound effects to create a special atmosphere that literally sings Scotland to you – there are several folksongs (including the The Mingulay Boat Song and Katie Beardie, as well as some toe tapping accordion music) and lots of birdsong (oystercatchers, curlews and gulls in particular) and the sound of wind and waves breaking on the shore. It’s an aural treat.

Photo: Jack Spellingbacon

The narrator of the stories (unnamed on my library copy) has a rich voice with a delicious Scottish accent – could it be otherwise? He sounds like he could be a fisherman, with a big beard and woolly jumper smelling of seaspray. The cassette recording opens with him setting the scene – a little bit of background information about Katie and the island of Struay, before he goes on to read the two stories, following the original text closely. The narrator’s opening works exceptionally well in introducing listeners to the location and preparing them for the stories ahead – he draws us in and settles us comfortably down so that we’re ready to really listen to and enjoy the two stories. And once the stories are over the narrator wraps up the recording talking to us about what else Katie might have gotten up to after the stories were finished – perhaps a ceilidh with some singing and dancing. It feels like we as listeners are being gently roused from our dreams and brought back to reality.

This is an audiobook of the highest order – the narrator has a gorgeous voice that matches the story to a T, the original stories have been respected, fantastic use has been made of music and sound effects, and with the narrative framing something extra has been added – something which you won’t find in the printed books. Whoever was responsible for creating this recording deserves a huge thank you and congratulations for being so creative yet faithful in their adaptation.

Photo: emaspounder

Whilst we listened most recently to this recording of Katie Morag and the Two Grandmothers and Katie Morag Delivers the Mail we played with our indoor, rainyday sandpits (an idea I originally found at Beelieve). These are two baking trays with a few cupfuls of sand that I keep on a high shelf to be whipped down when I need something in a hurry for the girls to play with. Sometimes we add dinosaurs and stones to the sand, other times we have marbles, or shells. Today we made some special rollers to make shell prints in the sand.


  • Polymer clay (eg Sculpey or Fimo)
  • A metal tube with a diameter of at least 5cm (we used a thermos flask without its lid which we got for a couple of pounds from TKMaxx)
  • Some shells
  • 1. We rolled out some polymer clay to a thickness of about 5mm. We used enough polymer clay to ensure we could wrap it round the entire circumference of the metal tube (in our case this was 2 packs).

    2. We wrapped the clay around the tube and then pressed shells into the clay.

    3. We removed the shells and baked the clay as per the instructions on the packet.

    4. We let the clay cool and then used our new “shell rolling pin” to make beautiful prints in our sand.

    Whilst playing with sand, when we’ve not been listening to Katie Morag, we’ve been enjoying:

  • She Sells Sea Shells On The Seashore by The C.R.S. Players
  • The album Uam by Julie Fowlis (sung in Gaelic)
  • The 4th CD in the Three Score & Ten – A Voice to the People collection – an amazing selection of Scottish folk music
  • Other sand and island activities we want to try include:

  • Sand prints from Here we are together
  • Beach collages from Kids Nature Spot
  • An adorable driftwood house from Acorn Pies
  • Recreating a rock pool using this wonderful fishing idea form Color Color Color

  • I’m looking forward to checking out the other audiobook reviews over at Stacked – I hope you will too. I’ve started a page with some audiobook resources if you’re on the look out for some for your family. If you’ve any tips or recommendations it would be great to hear from you. What are your favourite audiobooks – ones you listened to as a child yourself, or ones that are currently popular in your home?

    19 Responses

    1. Catherine

      I love the seashell roller. And thank you for the audio book resources. But I have a basic question – what do your children do when listening to the audiobook? Do they just sit and listen? I’ve tried audiobooks with my son (4y.o.)and he is just not interested, even if I have a copy of the book to follow.

    2. Ashley

      The Katie Morag stories were always a favourite with my children too and especially with my niece, at one point she demanded her name be changed to Katie Morag. She was just thrilled to meet the author in person and have her books signed a few years ago.
      Audio books are something I haven’t tried yet but would love to start collecting, particularly useful on car journeys I think instead of just having the radio on.

    3. Zoe @ Playing by the book

      Hi Catherine,
      I don’t think we have ever sat still to listen to an audiobook. We tend to put one on and then get on with some other playing or cooking or painting. The audiobook appears to be on “in the background” but it’s clear that my girls are actually listening to it. M now likes to have one on when she’s playing by herself in her room (a lifesaver during the afternoon when my younger one is still napping). Sometime I find M lying on the floor simply listening to the story but she also likes to play with her lego or other toys at the same time.

      Hi Ashley,
      Yeah, they are fantastic for car journeys. In fact as we quite often do long train journeys we’re also thinking of getting M an mp3 player so she can listen whilst we’re travelling and the whole train carriage doesn’t have to listen to The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe (her current favourite)

    4. Kristine

      Wow the shell roller and the print it makes are beautiful. For interest when Rainbow listens to storytapes she tends to follow the book or just hold Bilby. She tends to turn it off if she decides to play. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

    5. Zoe @ Playing by the book

      Hi Kristine,
      Thanks for the kind comments about the roller – I have to admit I was pretty pleased the way it turned out and now have ideas for other printing rollers like it – perhaps using letters or any sort of cutter to create patterns.
      It’s really interesting that Rainbow switches off the audiobook when she decides she wants to play. Does she enjoy having music on in the background when she plays?

    6. Lee

      Hello Zoe … and thank you for your visit to my blog. Funny about Jeremy Northam v. Andrew Sachs (different narrators of the same book) … wouldn’t it be cheaper to just repackage an existing recording for the U.S. market? (Thank goodness Recorded Books is doing this for the Ian McKellan readings of the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness!) The Katie Morag audios sound delightful … and — since I’ll be on vacation in Scotland in May-June — I’m going to seek them out!!

      And, I’d like to go on if I may and comment on Catherine’s comment. As a librarian I see young listeners at storytime who don’t appear to be “paying attention.” Those young brains are so active, though, that you can be sure that something is getting through! Keep reading and listening!

    7. RHCB Editor

      Hello Zoe,

      I have the honour to be the editor on the current Katie Morag reissue program for Random House – we’re putting new, fresh covers on the whole range – and I am interested to hear about the Whigmaleene audio. We do our own Katie Morag audiobooks, narrated by Mairi Hedderwick, so I imagine we must have subbed the audio rights out to Collins somewhere along the line. From your review, the Collins one sounds delightful – do you think you could let me know the ISBN so that I can see if I can track a copy down?

      Anyway, do have a look for Mairi’s recordings – the reissues should be appearing in shops around now – as they are also really lovely.

      • Zoe

        Lovely to see you hear, and how exciting to learn that there are to be new editions of the Katie Morag books and audiobooks – I can’t wait. When I asked my librarian for the ISBN this is what she gave me:
        y026063x – I hope this makes sense to you as it doesn’t look like a regular ISBN to me!

    8. Julie

      What a gorgeous post on so many levels. I wasn’t familiar with this author so I definitely want to look at our library for this audio book. Currently, we don’t read audio books, but my five year old son and I read our first this week. It was a lot of fun.

      I absolutely love the seashell roller! What a fantastic idea and so much fun!

      Thanks for sharing!

      • Zoe

        Hi Julie,

        Mairi Hedderwick has written lots of Katie Morag stories and book versions will be easier to find than audiobook versions (although I’ve heard from the publisher Random House that new audiobook versions are gradually being released from this year). They are beautifully illustrated, lovely stories that I’m sure you would enjoy! What (audio)book was it that you read with your son this week?

    9. Choxbox

      We are HUGE Katie Morag fans. The irony is that we never came near any in the 8 years in London and once we moved to bangalore found a compilation of 4 stories – which is read over and over.
      Love your posts, in case I havent told you before and blog-rolling you if thats okay.

      • Zoe

        Hi Choxbox,
        Thanks for your kind words – lovely to hear that you’re big Katie Morag fans 🙂

    10. sandhya

      I blog-rolled you after this post had been put up, so visiting these to check out the ones you have chosen as your five best. This truly is a wonderful post.
      I can imagine how the audio sounds. When we were in the UK, we had been to the Isle of Skye in Scotland, and I remember it very well. In fact the photos of Scotland you have put up made me quite nostalgic.
      Audio-books are not yet widely available here, but we had picked up a few when we were out there. The favourite by far is “Winnie the Pooh” and “House at Pooh Corner” by Hodder Children’s Audio which features Dame Judi Dench and Stephen Fry among others. A knows it off by heart and can quote whole passages from it.
      Will look out for the Katie Morag books. They seem to be delightful.

    11. Alice

      This is my favourite audio book! My sister and I used to play it before we went to sleep each night, and I still listen to it now! The gorgeous voice is Bill Torrance

      I have been looking for a copy of this on CD or youtube for years, never knew other people were also on the hunt! Please let us know if you find anything!

      • Zoe

        Hi Alice, it is indeed a wonderful audiobook! I haven’t yet been able to find a digital version and I believe new audiobooks have been released now, read by the author. I haven’t heard them yet.

    12. Alice

      Hi Zoe,

      I’m following up on my comment above, left 6 years ago (time flies)! I’ve recently found this tape and have managed to convert it to an mp3 file! I am now using it in my teaching on the Katie Morag books in primary schools, so if anyone would like a copy please let me know!

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