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Tag Archives | Audiobooks

From Gridlock to Road Trip


If you were stuck in bumper to bumper grid­lock, head­ing south on Hwy 100 last week, you may have noticed a woman laugh­ing all alone in her car as she wait­ed patient­ly (with eyes on the road) for things to start mov­ing again. The very next day you might have caught a glimpse of that same lady wip­ing a tear or two from her cheek, again, stay­ing atten­tive to the traf­fic. This emo­tion­al dri­ver wasn’t react­ing to the road con­ges­tion or the fact that her time behind the wind­shield was dou­ble what it should be. The source of her amuse­ment and sad­ness was com­ing from her car radio speak­ers, more specif­i­cal­ly, the audio­book Gone Crazy in Alaba­ma, writ­ten by Rita Williams-Gar­cia, nar­rat­ed by Sisi A. John­son. That cap­ti­vat­ed listener/careful motorist was me, mak­ing the most of rush hour by savor­ing a sto­ry that begs to be heard in audio for­mat.

Gone Crazy in AlabamaThe Gaither sis­ters, Del­phine, Vonet­ta and Fern, along with Big Ma, their grand­moth­er, and Ma Charles, their great grand­moth­er, joined me for the com­mute down Hwy 100 for about a week. The com­bi­na­tion of exquis­ite writ­ing by Ms. Williams and enthralling nar­ra­tion by Ms. John­son trans­formed sev­er­al days of dif­fi­cult maneu­ver­ing on the inter­state to an extend­ed road trip with some of my very best friends. There was even one morn­ing when I final­ly arrived at the school park­ing lot only to have to pull myself away from my vehi­cle, after telling myself “Just five more min­utes to fin­ish this chap­ter!”

In addi­tion to Gone Crazy in Alaba­ma, I have enjoyed near­ly three dozen oth­er audio titles in the past year. My top rec­om­men­da­tions stand out for their mem­o­rable and engag­ing nar­ra­tions. Oth­er than The Hate U Give (most appro­pri­ate for age 12+), these audio­books would be great addi­tions to mid­dle grade (4th-6th) class­rooms.

All Amer­i­can Boys by Bren­den Kiely and Jason Reynolds

Crossover by Kwame Alexan­der

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Esper­an­za Ris­ing by Pam Muñoz Ryan

The Hate U Give by Angela Thomas

Listen, SlowlyLis­ten Slow­ly by Thanhha Lai

One Crazy Sum­mer by Rita Williams-Gar­cia

P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Gar­cia

Refugee by Alan Katz

Reign Rain by Ann M. Mar­tin

Stel­la by Starlight by Sharon Drap­er

The War that Saved My Life by Kim­ber­ly Brubak­er Bradley

My all-time favorite audio­book adven­ture was Echo, by Pam Munoz Ryan. With a run­ning time of ten and a half hours, this mas­ter­piece is well worth every minute spent tak­ing in the cap­ti­vat­ing tale of mag­ic, mys­tery and har­mon­i­ca music. The fate of three chil­dren is inter­wo­ven from Ger­many to the Unit­ed States, from the Rise of Hitler to post-Pearl Har­bor as the har­mon­i­ca plays an inte­gral role in the char­ac­ters’ con­nec­tions and the book’s con­clu­sion. I am con­vinced that the audio pro­duc­tion of Echo offers a unique and mem­o­rable expe­ri­ence that is beyond com­par­i­son to either the read aloud or inde­pen­dent read­ing option. Whether Echo becomes your first audio­book or lands at the top of your exist­ing “to be lis­tened to” list, you will not be dis­ap­point­ed (well, per­haps you will be, but only because it has to come to an end).

If you are look­ing for oth­er great audio picks, con­sid­er the award win­ners cho­sen by YALSA and ALSC.

The Odyssey Award spon­sored by YALSA (Young Adult Library Ser­vices Asso­ci­a­tion) rec­og­nizes the best audio­book pro­duced each year for chil­dren and/or young adults. In 2016, the Hon­or Record­ing was Echo.

In addi­tion to the Odyssey Award win­ners, a longer list of exem­plary audio record­ings are offered annu­al­ly on the Notable Children’s Record­ings list, select­ed by the ALSC (Asso­ci­a­tion for Library Ser­vice to Chil­dren). In 2011, One Crazy Sum­mer was rec­og­nized.

Late­ly, I’ve been reflect­ing on a pow­er­ful quote from Kylene Beers from Notice & Note: Strate­gies for Close Read­ing; “Non­fic­tion lets us learn more; fic­tion lets us be more.” This is what I want most for young read­ers and I bet you do as well.  Yet, like me, you might won­der just how many of our kids have ever expe­ri­enced this pow­er­ful aspect of fic­tion? I believe that for some, if not many, excep­tion­al audio­books may be the tick­et to help­ing kids be more through the books they expe­ri­ence. There was a time in my teach­ing career when I didn’t give audio­books and their lis­ten­ers the cred­it they deserve. I have come to appre­ci­ate the aur­al read­ing expe­ri­ence both per­son­al­ly and pro­fes­sion­al­ly. I hope you feel the same.

Resources that pro­mote access to audio­books:


Epic! is the lead­ing dig­i­tal library for kids, with unlim­it­ed access to an incred­i­ble selec­tion of 25,000 high-qual­i­ty books, learn­ing videos, quizzes and more. You can access Epic! on any device, includ­ing your smart­phone, iPad or com­put­er — FREE for edu­ca­tors!


Bor­row eBooks, audio­books, and more from your local pub­lic library — any­where, any­time. All you need is a library card.


Scribd is a read­ing sub­scrip­tion that is avail­able any­time and on any device. Enjoy access to 3 books and 1 audio­book each month — plus unlim­it­ed access to mag­a­zines and doc­u­ments — for $8.99/month.


Sky­brary is a care­ful­ly curat­ed, ever expand­ing inter­ac­tive library of dig­i­tal books and video explo­rations designed to engage young read­ers and fos­ter a love of learn­ing.


The Velveteen Rabbit

Meryl Streep is in the news this week for her speech at the Gold­en Globes. It’s a pow­er­ful piece — though, truth be told, I think she could read out a phone direc­to­ry and it would be pow­er­ful. She began by apol­o­giz­ing because she’d lost her voice. It was loud enough to hear, but cer­tain­ly rough. I was over­come by an urge to make tea with hon­ey while watch­ing.

Lis­ten­ing to her made me think of the cas­sette tape we had of her read­ing of The Vel­veteen Rab­bit when our kids were small. I think we received it as a gift the Christ­mas I was preg­nant with #1 Son. I might’ve even lis­tened to it dur­ing labor, now that I think about it. In the ear­ly stages any­way.

It is sooth­ing in the extreme. A beau­ti­ful story…accompanied by George Win­ston’s Decem­ber album…stellar nar­ra­tion; it is an astound­ing pack­age. And our sweet baby lis­tened to it every night at bed­time for the first sev­er­al years of his life. I’m tempt­ed to cred­it this cas­sette tape and Win­nie-the-Pooh, which he lis­tened to at nap­time, with the rea­son he’s such a gen­tle giant of a young man.

We trav­elled with The Vel­veteen Rab­bit and a small boom­box with that kid — he need­ed it to go to sleep at night. We used it like a drug on car trips. It sel­dom failed us. We lis­tened to it so often that the record­ing became hard to hear, which had the effect of mak­ing you lis­ten all the hard­er. Tru­ly, by the time the boy could talk, we prob­a­bly could have recit­ed the sto­ry, though not with the love­ly inflec­tion Meryl Streep con­veys, of course.

We tried using it with Child #2, as well, but the record­ing had been loved much, and had not become real, as the Vel­veteen Rab­bit and Skin Horse had, so much as unin­tel­li­gi­ble. You could still hear Win­ston’s piano, but the sto­ry did­n’t quite come through. By age three, Dar­ling Daugh­ter often said it made her feel too sleepy and asked that it be turned off. (She has nev­er slept as sound­ly or as long as her broth­er.…)

I have sev­er­al copies of this sweet sto­ry in book form — var­i­ous artists have illus­trat­ed it and I have large for­mat books and small­er, too. I don’t recall read­ing it to either child, how­ev­er. I love to read aloud, and this is a favorite sto­ry of mine…but who can com­pare to Meryl Streep? Plus, sel­dom do I have some­one in my liv­ing room at the piano to accom­pa­ny my nar­ra­tion.…

But I’m so glad our kids had this sto­ry in their life in the way they had it. Meryl Streep and George Win­ston spin­ning Margery Williams’ mag­i­cal tale of love and childhood…well, I can’t think it gets much bet­ter than that.


Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh


There are a lot of “chal­lenges” hap­pen­ing in the social media sphere these days — books, ice buck­ets, kind­ness, grat­i­tude, etc. All great things — per­haps one of the bet­ter uses for social media even, though it doesn’t quite beat out birth­day greet­ings and first-day-of-school pic­tures, in my book. Last week, a good friend and fel­low read­er “chal­lenged” me to list ten of the books that have shaped or stayed with me in some way.… more

This Vacation’s Audiobooks

Many have asked what our fam­i­ly lis­tened to on vaca­tion this year. We have recent­ly returned and I can now report back. We had a lot of hours in the car — Min­neso­ta through the Black Hills and into the Tetons and up through Mon­tana etc. And back, of course. Good to have three dri­vers. Good to have three stel­lar audio books.… more
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