Bath, Book, Bed: Candy Gourlay's 10 books to read with your eyes shut

Published on: 23 April 2017 Author: Candy Gourlay

You're never too old to enjoy having a bedtime story read to you, so Tall Story author Candy Gourlay picks her top 10 audiobooks to get the whole family drifting off to sleep.

Family reading together

Being read to before you go to bed after a relaxing bath or shower is not just for the little ones! There is something magical about being read to either by a real live person or by a good audiobook at any age and I urge you to keep reading aloud with your children for as long as possible.

There's something primal about listening to a story - something that draws the listener in deeply and must surely give us fuel for beautiful dreams and pure relaxation.

There are those who dismiss audiobooks as 'not real reading' or 'cheating'. No, it's not cheating. It may not be reading in the sense of decoding a page, but it's simply another way of experiencing a story that can be just as gripping and absorbing. And yes, it is different - in the way that cinema, radio and television can all offer different experiences of a single narrative. The audiobook succeeds or fails on the basis of the narrator's performance.

'The audiobook is a present-day manifestation of storytelling traditions rooted in ancient cultures,' audiobook maker Janet Stark told me after she produced the audiobook of my novel Tall Story for Listening Library. 'I suspect it's encoded in our DNA.

'The best audiobooks are read by someone involved and connected with the material, even passionate. Many listeners will choose those audiobooks read by their favourite narrator as their first criteria. Delivery, pace, and tone are everything, and people become attached to a particular voice speaking almost intimately to them like an old friend.'

Here are ten of the best audiobooks


The BFG audiobook1. The BFG by Roald Dahl, narrated by David Walliams

Dahl's most famous book read by the comedian-turned-bestselling children's author. It is hard to begrudge Walliams his successful invasion of our turf when you hear his entertaining performance of this classic. Walliams also performs his own books.




Millions audiobook2. Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce, narrated by Stephen Tompkinson

This is one of my favourite books anyway, but I think this is the best of Boyce's audiobooks. Tompkinson's narration captures the sweet vulnerability of motherless Damian who finds a bag stuffed with money. Also worth listening to is Tompkinson's reading of Buried Alive by Jacqueline Wilson, about a dorky boy who goes on the kind of raft-building, outward bound summer camp my children used to attend. Tompkinson's reading is sympathetic and laugh out loud funny. He also reads some younger chapter books like the Astrosaurs books by Steve Cole.

Magnus Powermouse audiobook

3. Magnus Powermouse by Dick King-Smith, narrated by Nigel Anthony

This story about a baby mouse who mistakenly eats something that makes him grow massive was a staple of our family car journeys in the days when my children were small. We were in stitches every time Nigel Anthony voiced Magnus: 'Nasty. Bite you.' We all loved this so much that when our cassette tape was eaten by the player, I borrowed it from the library and paid the fine, pretending I lost it! It is now available on Audible.



The Graveyard Book audiobook

4. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, narrated by Neil Gaiman

Gaiman's melodic voice will enthral you just as much as his story, a reimagining of The Jungle Book which follows a boy growing up with ghosts instead of animals. Teenagers and adults may also enjoy Gaiman's readings of his older books, such as Neverwhere and The Ocean at the End of the Lane.



Jack and the Beanstalk audiobook

5. Jack and the Beanstalk and Other Stories, read by Lenny Henry and Sheridan Smith

Anyone who loves Lenny Henry will enjoy his telling of these best-loved tales, with that warm voice hiding a chuckle! He also narrates other storybook staples such as Hansel and Gretel, The Ugly Duckling and Sleeping Beauty. Adults will also enjoy his narration of Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman.



Just William audiobook

6. Just William by Richmal Crompton, read by Martin Jarvis

Which Just William do I mean, you ask? ALL OF THEM. Martin Jarvis is superb - my particular favourite is his interpretation of William's lisping friend Violet Elizabeth Bott: 'I'll thqueam and I'll thqueam till I'm thick!' These are great for long journeys - we could listen to the books in a loop! Martin Jarvis also reads classics like Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, William Golding's Lord of the Flies and Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.


The Book Thief audiobook

7. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, narrated by Allan Corduner

If you've read the book, you will know that the narrator is Death - and Corduner's wry, liquid tones make this modern classic a joy to listen to.




How To Train Your Dragon audiobook

8. How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell, narrated by David Tennant

'DAVID TENNANT?!' you scream? Yes! And he reads it in his Scottish voice too, not his Doctor Who voice, which suits the story to a tee. If BookTrust had given me the chance to pick more than ten audiobooks, I would also have mentioned My Sister Lives On the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher - in that case, it was David Tennant's reading that ultimately sold me the book. And for Doctor Who fans, you can find audiobooks galore read by Tennant and other actors from the TV series.


Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone audiobook

9. Harry Potter by JK Rowling, narrated by Stephen Fry

Never mind if you've read the books... listen to the audiobooks, all of them! The readings are compulsive listening. Also worth a listen are the various Winnie-the-Pooh audiobooks available featuring Fry as Winnie the Pooh and Judi Dench as narrator.




I Capture The Castle audiobook

10. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, narrated by Jenny Agutter

Agutter's honeyed voice perfectly suits the classics. Agutter also reads The Railway Children, Emma, and Pride & Prejudice.




Which books have you loved to share with older children at bedtime, and which audio books can you recommend? Join the conversation on Twitter @Booktrust, using the hashtag #BathBookBed.

Candy Gourlay is a Filipino author based in London. Her award-winning middle grade novel Tall Story was selected as one of the 50 best books celebrating cultural diversity in the United Kingdom. Her second book Shine was listed for the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize. A picture book is due to be published in 2018.

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