Katherine Powers reviews audiobooks for kids
By Kathryn Lasky
Unabridged, 5 ½ hours
Blackstone Audio. 5 CDs, $24.95
audible.com download, $13.97
This is the first book in Kathryn Lasky's enthralling 15-volume "Guardians of Ga'Hoole" series, eight of which are available from Blackstone as recordings, with more on the way. At the center is Soren, a young Barn Owl, and his band of friends: a loquacious Elf Owl, a companionable Burrowing Owl and a big-hearted Great Grey Owl. Recommended for readers starting at age 9 -- and enchanting to even the oldest listener -- the books tell of a war between the forces of good and evil, of daring deeds, dangerous mysteries and the joys of friendship. They also abound in natural science, especially facts about owl physiology and habits. Pamela Garelick's many-textured, wide-ranging voice, now husky, now sharp, now very owlish indeed, marvelously conveys the personalities of the different characters and their predicaments. Narrator and narrative are immensely compelling -- and so evocative of a fantastical world that we are led by our ears from book to book. The series will be given a further dimension this fall with the release of "Legend of the Guardians," a 3-D movie based on the first three books, directed by "Watchmen" director Zack Snyder.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF MONTMARAY
By Michelle Cooper
Unabridged, 8 ¼hours
Listening Library. 7 CDs, $37
audible.com download, $26
This terrific novel, reminiscent of Dodie Smith's "I Capture the Castle" and suited for ages 12 and up, purports to be the journal of Princess Sophie FitzOsborne, an orphan just turned 16 in 1936. She lives in a tumble-down castle in the tiny (fictional) Kingdom of Montmaray in the Bay of Biscay with members of her eccentric family, including her mad uncle, King John; Carlos, a Portuguese Water Dog; and a handful of subjects. Isolated and a haven for puffins, the island is thrust into the growing world crisis when a couple of Nazis arrive to search for the Holy Grail (that search was one of Heinrich Himmler's actual obsessions). What follows is a coming-of-age story filled with elements of history, demanding relationships, curious domestic details and tremendously suspenseful adventure. In a fine performance, narrator Emma Bering deftly distinguishes between the many characters with variations of tone and accent (though sparing us cartoonish Germans). Naturally enough, most of the book is in Sophie's voice, to which Garelick gives a changing register of sadness, fear, exasperation, determination and joy.