THE SECRET GARDEN
By Frances Hodgson Burnett
(Listening Library, unabridged, 8 ½ hours, 7 CDs, $37; audible.com download, $25)
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “The Secret Garden,” not only one of the greatest children’s novels ever written, but also one of the most recorded. At least seven unabridged versions are available, the most recent being a fine one narrated by Finola Hughes. This story of two crabbed and crabby children, a bucolic young friend, an old pensioner, an English robin and a secret realm of burgeoning nature draws on deep currents of comforting and exhilarating fantasy. Hughes’s English-accented voice has a pleasantly low register for the general narration, and she carries off the several characters who have Yorkshire accents adeptly and with warmth and decorum. As for the children, they possess the voices of youth, becoming increasingly invigorated by their friendship and Nature — to say nothing of the “richly frothed new milk,” oat cakes, heather honey and clotted cream that become their diet.
By Cynthia Voigt
(Listening Library, unabridged, 6 ¼ hours, 5 CDs, $34.; audible.com download, $23.80)
Thanks to his over-abundant curiosity and complications involving a Peppermint Pattie, Fredle, a young kitchen mouse, ends up alone and confused in the perilous outdoors. His adventures are many, and his ponderings on the nature of things are enchantingly skewed by his tininess. Wendy Carter reads the descriptive passages in a sweet, compassionate voice at a pace that is easy to follow. She takes on the various characters whom Fredle meets in his travels with a great deal of energy, injecting perhaps more obnoxiousness into the voices of some hostile animals than is strictly necessary. (A know-it-all field mouse and a belligerent raccoon — country creatures both — have somehow acquired blaring “Joisey-style” accents.) On the other hand, Carter gives a malevolent barn snake a slithering underlay of hiss that is pleasantly chilling, and she insinuates friendly, bouncing eagerness into the voice of a young female dog, a characterization that is dogginess itself.