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Over the Horizon: Our Audio Picks

By Pauline Bird and Cameron Phillips


We have learned quite heavily from our own western upbringing and culture when it comes to our own tastes and interests, and this week we thought we would shake things up by talking about our picks for audiobooks whose stories, characters and themes are based beyond our own idea of civilization. For us, it is really important that we reach for things that take us out of our comfort zone, and listening is no different. This week it is our over the horizon picks.


Cameron’s Pick: The Seven Voyages of Sinbad, from Arabian Nights, narrated by Katie Haigh


My choice this week is one of the story cycles from the immensely famous and influential One Thousand and One Nights, most commonly known as Arabian Nights. The Nights is a collection of folk and short stories compiled during the Islamic Golden Age, with Baghdad being the centre of most of the events, whether it be somewhere familiar to the characters, the themes of the story or the story itself. There are so many choices to make, the story of Aladdin and his famous lamp or of Ali Baba and the forty thieves, but my choice this week was to listen to the Seven Voyages of Sinbad. Sinbad, a mariner adventure hailing from Baghdad, embarks on seven voyages filled with magic, mythology, cyclops’ and gigantic land carrying whales. Incidentally, what is extremely interesting about the Sinbad cycle in particular, is that despite the cycle being added to the The Nights much later on in the 17th and 18th centuries by various Arab writers, the Sinbad stories existed during the time of the 8th and 9th century Abassid Caliphate, which reflected the avid maritime exploration of the Indian Ocean of Abbasid and Arab sailors.


Sinbad’s tale is of course told through his seven voyages, and each is filled with magical stories of mythology and adventure. I love the fact that Sinbad can never settle after his last adventure, and his restlessness always seems to result in him and his crew on another medieval romantic adventure. The small nods to Greek mythology are also very cool, as it is well known that medieval Arabs were keen students of Greek antiquity and culture, with the Sinbad’s interaction with a cyclops being parallel to that of Odysseus, and his enslavement by the very Greek Old Man of the Sea.


Katie Haigh’s narrations are absolutely brilliant. She matches the adventurous and swashbuckling tone of the story with her performance, and she really brings the characters, locations and themes of the story to life with her enthusiastic and dazzling read. In addition, I wanted to find a recording with a female actress, just to be immersed a little more, as according to the Arabian Nights, the stories within them are narrated by Queen Scheherazade to her husband, the Sassanid “King of Kings” Shahryar. It was absolutely fantastic, and I am very much looking forward to listening to more stories within The Nights, particularly the story of Ali Baba and his forty thieves. I’d highly recommend that people have a listen to some of the more familiar tales of The Nights, Sinbad included amongst them with Aladdin also, as this period of history is very much underappreciated in the West, resulting in literature.


Pauline’s Pick: The Dragon in the Bookshop by Ewa Jozefkowicz, narrated by Harrie Dobby


The Dragon in the Bookshop was the perfect listen for me. It embraces many of the elements I seek out when choosing a children’s audiobook - combining fantasy, adventure and historical fiction genres effortlessly. Initially beginning in the UK, most of the tale takes place in mediaeval Kraków – a unique and interesting story-telling setting for me.


When a feared dragon takes residence in a cave below the castle, the terrified townsfolk do everything they can to placate the unwelcome beast. They soon realise, however, that their food supplies are quickly dwindling as they try desperately to provide the sustenance the dragon requires. Their only hope lies in the hands of two young scribes who mysteriously appear shortly after the dragon’s arrival.


Myth, magic and mystery in abundance, this book also covers important issues such as the trauma of losing a parent, finding your voice and true friendships in a sensitive manner. This upper-middle grade novel is narrated by Harrie Dobby and her skill in narration helped me to connect and invest emotionally in the characters’ journeys.


Listening to stories set beyond the UK, is something that I endeavour to do more of. I hope to expand my horizons and immerse myself in cultures beyond my familiar and, in doing so, build a collection of recommendations to my children and pupils that could provide windows and doors for them to open too.

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