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.

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