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.
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 worldcat.org (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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Other sand and island activities we want to try include:
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?