IAN RICHARDSON's narration of an abridged version of Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Caedmon TC 1587; record/cassette $7.98) is the finest of the spoken records for children recently released from Caedmon. This first story in the Narnia chronicles, familiar to many children and adults, concerns the adventures of four brothers and sisters who discover in an armoir full of fur coats the secret doorway to a magical kingdom called Narnia, held in thrall by a wicked White Witch. Once inside the kingdom, the children themselves are caught up in the epic struggle between the evil witch and the noble Christlike lion, Aslan.
Richardson, a British Shakespearean actor, manages to be equally convincing, in turn, as icy witch, friendly faun, or timorous child. His fine voice maintains an edge of narrative suspense from which it's difficult to escape. And his talents, plus Lewis' strange tale, full as it is of wonder and Christian allegory, make The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe a treat for parents as well as children.
Ruby Dee's and Ossie Davis' reading of Verna Aardema's Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears (TC 1592; record/cassette $7.98), a collection of five African folk tales, will catch the younger set who might not have stayed with C. S. Lewis to the end. Dee and Davis dramatize a primitive, anthropomorphic jungle world where owls wake up the sun, where spiders outsmart frogs, where man and beast often vie with one another for the same territory and possessions.
It would be difficult to find two more complementary voices -- each with its own particular kind of richness and range. Dee, in "Mosquitoes," which is the best story on this record, gives an almost visual quality to the action of the animals she describes -- the rabbit running, "click, click, click," the iguana ambling "badamin," and the snake sliding a whispered "wasawusu, wasawusu" through the grass.
And, by the way, the reason the mosquito buzzes in peoples ears is that she has a guilty conscience because she set off the house-that-Jack-built chain of events leading to the owl's refusal to wake up the sun. So she whines incessantly.
Oscar Brand Celebrates the first Thanksgiving in Story and Song (TC 1513; record/cassette $7.98), will also suit younger children. More than a Thanksgiving holiday record, it is an unremittingly merry account of the trials and tribulations of Plymouth's first settlers. Having excised the death, doubt, and disease that plagued the pilgrims, Brand has produced an entertaining set of folk songs and his own compositions which he has then knitted together with a first-person account of what it was like to be a Puritan child in the days of religious intolerance in England, and later to be a young participant in Plymouth Colony.
Instead of sticking closely to known Pilgrim tunes, mostly humns, Brand has branched out, with good results, to songs of the period with which they would have been familiar -- songs like "Marlborough's Gone to Battle," "Henry Mrtin" and "The Little Mohee." Although the narrative occasionally takes some strange turns to accomodate certain selections, Brand has produced such a nice collection of music, we can forgive him if he's left out some of the more unsavory bits of Plymouth's history.
Sing Children Sing: Songs of Austria (TC 1578; record/cassette $7.98) is all music -- music of the Children's Choir of the Viennese Conservatory. Except for the standard favorite "Do Re Mi," sung in English, everything is auf Deutsch , and very charming.
The only disappointing selection from Caedmon is Carol Channing's recording of Richard Scarry's What Do People Do All Day (TC 1588; record/cassette $7.98). Now, a Richard Scarry story without Richard Scarry illustrations is like a carousel without brass rings and horses. And Chamming's chuck-baby-under-the-chin voice soon grates on the nerves.
Take away the color and detail of Scarry's animal-people, and all you have left are rather boring stories of simple characters who buy things, build things, and get themselves into unimaginative mischief. As a result, the only way to salvage this record is to supply the listener with the book as well.