I’ve been on a bit of a Neil Gaiman kick lately, since Stardust came out and I read and enjoyed Coraline. Although I’ve been way too busy to read much more (I picked up M is for Magic and another Gaiman book about a month ago) I did have a chance to listen to this single-CD reading of four of Gaiman’s works for children, and was overall pretty impressed.
The Neil Gaiman Audio Collection is read by Gaiman himself, and includes three short stories and a poem, as well as a short interview conducted by his little daughter. Two of the stories, “The Wolves in the Walls” and “The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish” are available as beautifully illustrated children’s books. The other, “Cinnamon”, was only available on Gaiman’s website. I’m not sure what the origin of the poem, “Crazy Hair”, is.
Gaiman reads the stories with a deadpan voice, ably distinguishing between the different characters without actually “doing” their voices (with a couple of exceptions). There is a great deal of humor in the way he relates the absurdities his stories revolve around as if they were absolutely normal, everyday events. “There are wolves,” he says in the character of the little girl Lucy, “in the walls”. “No”, says her mother, her father, her brother, who all have an explanation for the noises she hears in the walls of their big old house. To which Lucy responds, matter-of-factly, “Wolves.”
“Wolves in the Walls” is my least favorite of the stories, although kids will love the silly premise and the girl Lucy’s frustrations at convincing her parents that, indeed, wolves are living in the walls of their house. “Cinnamon”, the next track, I liked somewhat more; the story tells of a faraway princess who does not talk and the tiger who awakens her to the world and gives her something to talk about. “The Day I Swapped…” is my favorite (and Gaiman’s daughter’s favorite, too), detailing the journeys of a boy who foolishly swapped his dad away and must follow the trail of ensuing swaps to recover his poor, absent-minded old dad. The poem, “Crazy Hair”, is also loads of fun, a very Shel Silverstein-like poem about the wild things that roam the jungles of a boy’s crazy hair.
What Gaiman’s work — both the stuff intended for adults and the children’s work — has in common, aside from a keen eye for the absurd and hilarious, is a dark anxiety about the relationship between kids and their parents. Lucy’s parents are distracted and pay her little attention, like the parents in Coraline; the dad swapped for two goldfish doesn’t even seem to notice, he’s so wrapped up in reading his paper! So it’s surprising and touching to see Gaiman’s easy candor with his daughter in the interview that closes out the collection, in which the young girl asks whether he prefers writing children’s books or adult ones, how he decided he wanted to be a writer, and which of his works are his favorites (among other things).
The Neil Gaiman Audio Collection is a great thing to have on hand for even short car trips, since the longest story is only 15 minutes or so. Kids will love hearing some of the stories over and over, and on a CD that’s easy — just hit a button. I can’t imagine most kids being all that interested in the interview more than once (if that) but again, it’s easy to skip. Gaiman’s stories are generally deeply complex and will reward repeated listenings, even for adults. (Christmas note: it would also make a great gift!)
You can find out more about Neil Gaiman and this collection at The Neil Gaiman Audio Collection page on his website; you can also liten to a short snippet ot Gaiman reading “The Wolves in the Walls”.