November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Audiobooks and Learning: Epic Audio | Listen In

SLJ1112w_listenIn(Original Import)

The Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audiobook Production, named for Homer’s epic poem, celebrates the oral tradition of storytelling. Now in its fifth year and jointly administered by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) and the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), the Odyssey Award puts the focus on audio production—the quality of narration, the use of sound effects and music, the technical engineering skill—to provide students with a total listening experience.

While the story is part of the total package, the award goes to the producer—not the narrator, the author, or the publisher—for the interpretation and execution of the narrative to create, as stated in the award criteria, “the unified whole of the completely unique literary experience provided by an audiobook.”

This month’s column is a wonderful opportunity to recap the intent of the Odyssey Award, celebrate the tradition of storytelling at its finest, and pay tribute to some of the narrators whose stellar performances have enhanced the Odyssey Award-winning and Honor productions. The titles highlighted feature the talent of actors, a storyteller, an author, and a country music star whose vocal skills make these listening and learning experiences noteworthy. Curriculum standards and classroom activities for each title will help busy teachers integrate these outstanding audiobooks into their lesson plans.

A complete list of Odyssey Award winners and honor audiobooks, along with the criteria used in their selection, can be found at www.ala.org/yalsa/odyssey. The 2012 Odyssey Award winners will be announced in January at the American Library Association’s midwinter meeting in Dallas, TX.

Elementary School

Dooby Dooby Moo. Written by Doreen Cronin. Illus. by Betsy Lewin. Narrated by Randy Travis. CD. 13:13 min. with hardcover book. Weston Woods. 2007. ISBN 978-0-545-29673-1. $29.95. PreS-Gr 2.

Farmer Brown’s animals, led by the intrepid Duck, are determined to win the county fair talent contest. Duck directs sheep, cows, and pigs in giggle-producing performances, but it is his own rousing rendition of “Born to Be Wild” that steals the show. Lewin’s signature watercolor illustrations showcase the humor of the text. Country music star Randy Travis drawls his way from the preposterous beginning to the side-splitting end with impeccable comic timing. Music and barnyard sound effects complete this 2008 Odyssey Honor title.
Standard: Students will learn about farm animals and become familiar with the sounds they make.
Learning Activity: During story time, students will have an opportunity to choose a familiar song that represents favorite farm animals (“Baa Baa Black Sheep,” “Hey Diddle, Diddle,” “Old MacDonald Had a Farm,” etc.), demonstrating knowledge of music common to American culture and its connection with particular animals.

Louise, the Adventures of a Chicken. Written by Kate DiCamillo. Illus. by Harry Bliss. Narrated by Barbara Rosenblat. CD. 19:24 min. with hardcover book. Live Oak Media. 2009. ISBN 978-1-4301-0688-3. $29.95. PreS-Gr 2.

Rosenblat turns in a tour-de-force performance as she creates the voices of chickens, a drowning pirate, nefarious merchants, and others in this read-along about an audacious chicken with wanderlust. Chafing at farmyard boredom, Louise sets out to see the world and discovers that it is a dangerous place filled with those who would (gasp!) eat a chicken. Clever sound effects, sprightly original music, and superb pacing that allows plenty of time to “read” Bliss’s droll illustrations round out this 2010 Odyssey Award winner.
Standard: Students will be able to discuss specific details of a narrative plot, including how humor is used in a story.
Learning Activity: A follow-up writing activity offers a chance to create an adventure for Louise, choosing a different location such as a train, a mountaintop, a summertime fair, etc.

Martina the Beautiful Cockroach: A Cuban Folktale. Written and narrated by Carmen Agra Deedy. Illus. by Michael Austin. CD. 10 min. with hardcover book. Peachtree. 2008. ISBN 978-1-56145-468-6. $19.95. K-Gr 3.

The lovely Martina, ready to marry, follows her grandmother’s peculiar advice—to spill coffee on her suitors’ shoes and watch their reactions. The rooster proves too cocky, the pig too boorish, and the lizard too cold-blooded. Where does an attractive young cockroach turn next? To Perez, the mouse, whose unusual response wins Martina’s affection. Color-drenched paintings transport readers to the tropics as Deedy, a consummate storyteller, brings out all the clever humor, in both English and Spanish, with unique voices for each hilarious creature in this 2009 Odyssey Honor title.
Standard: Students will be able to recognize various folk tales and the cultures they represent.
Learning Activity: Students can practice vocabulary words from the story in both English and Spanish and be able to define and use each word in a sentence.

Middle/High School

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. Written and narrated by Sherman Alexie. 5 cassettes or 5 CDs. 5 hrs. Recorded Books. 2008. cassette: ISBN 978-1-4281-8292-9, CD: ISBN 978-1-4281-8297-4. $46.75. Gr 8 Up.

Arnold “Junior” Spirit, encouraged to want more than the Spokane reservation offers, enrolls in an all-white high school off the rez. To his Indian friends, Junior is a traitor; to white kids, he’s a curiosity. Alexie draws us into this semi-autobiographical story of reservation poverty, alcoholism, and the dignity of upholding ancient traditions with poignantly witty prose and well-paced, compelling, and culturally authentic narration deserving of the 2009 Odyssey Award.
Standard: Students will be able to recognize and discuss cultural stereotypes depicted in a story.
Learning Activity: In a group, students can create a chart that compares and contrasts the similarities and differences between life on and off an Indian reservation.

Bloody Jack, Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary “Jacky” Faber, Ship’s Boy. Written by L.A. Meyer. Narrated by Katherine Kellgren. 6 CDs. 8 hrs. Listen & Live Audio. 2007. ISBN 978-1-5931-6094-4. $29. Gr 8 Up.

The first book in the Jacky Faber series introduces one of the great feisty females in young adult literature and showcases Katherine Kellgren’s amazing vocal talents. In 18th-century England, orphaned Mary Faber survives by remaking herself as a boy, securing work aboard the HMS Dolphin, and hoping her secret won’t be discovered. Kellgren shouts, cries, and sings her way into Jacky’s frenzied world, adeptly creating voices from street urchins to officers in the Royal Navy to pirates to ladies of the night. This 2008 Odyssey Honor audiobook was followed by Honors for The Curse of the Blue Tattoo in 2009 and In the Belly of the Bloodhound in 2010 (all Listen & Live Audio).
Standard: Students will identify 18th-century British customs, including gender roles and expectations.
Learning Activity: By examining the dialogue in this novel, so richly interpreted through Kellgren’s narration, students can analyze 18th-century British gender roles and stereotypes, comparing them to contemporary mores.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Written by J. K. Rowling. Narrated by Jim Dale. 17 CDs. 21:39 hrs. Listening Library. 2007. ISBN 978-0-7393-6041-5. $90. Gr 6 Up.

Harry and friends engage in a vast battle against the evil Lord Voldemort to conclude the iconic series that transformed children’s reading habits and revolutionized the world of audiobooks for young people. Listening to audiobooks became “cool” as American children, teens, and probably quite a few adults, too, learned British slang and how to pronounce the name Hermione from the brilliant Jim Dale who milks every bit of the humor and pathos from all seven volumes. In Deathly Hallows, he brings to life for the last time the multitude of voices that won him 10 Audie Awards, two Grammy Awards, a place in the Guinness Book of World Records, and a 2008 Odyssey Honor selection.
Standard: Students will recognize a number of literary genres, such as fantasy, and describe their characteristics.
Learning Activity: Students can discuss the scope of Jim Dale’s fully-voiced narration, exploring specific aspects such as accents, singing, emotional inflections, etc. and the ways in which the narration expands and enhances the fantasy.

The Knife of Never Letting Go: Chaos Walking, Book 1. Written by Patrick Ness. Narrated by Nick Podehl. 10 CDs. 12 hrs. Brilliance Audio. 2010. ISBN 978-1-4558-4318-3. $49.97. Gr 7-10.

In a settlement where women and girls died long ago and men and boys are infected by the Noise of others’ thoughts, making silence impossible, 12-year-old Todd is startled to find a quiet space in the woods—and a girl. As he flees the power-hungry men of Prentiss-
town with his dog, Manchee, and the girl, Viola, Todd discovers a world he never knew existed—a frightening landscape where life proves very fragile. Podehl flawlessly interprets raw emotion, dogmatic certainty, and canine simplicity, providing an anchor in the chaos of this tempestuous 2011 Odyssey Honor audiobook.
Standard: Students will recognize the hazards that threaten today’s environment and be able to discuss possible solutions.
Learning Activity: This audiobook can provide a platform for writing about life today and possible implications for the future, starting with “what if.”

The True Meaning of Smekday. Written by Adam Rex. Narrated by Bahni Turpin. 9 CDs. 10:39 hrs. Listening Library. 2010. ISBN 978-0-3077-1112-0. $65. Gr 5-8.

When aliens invade Earth and steal her mother, 11-year-old Gratuity Tucci sets out to find her mom and, along the way, discovers intergalactic friendship with her alien companion, J. Lo. An amusing road trip turns into an incredible journey as Turpin effortlessly gives voice to angst-ridden tweens, domineering humans, menacing aliens, street kids, cats, and the wonderful wobbly-voiced, tongue-clicking J. Lo, making this 2011 Odyssey winner an aural treat.
Standard: Students will be able to describe literary devices such as plot, place, character development, and humor.
Learning Activity: In art class, students can draw images of what they think J. Lo and Gratuity look like and and describe why their visual representations were chosen.

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball. Written by Kadir Nelson. Narrated by Dion Graham. 3 CDs. 2 hrs. Brilliance Audio. 2009. ISBN 978-1-4233-7537-1. $42.97. Gr 5 Up.

The story of the Negro Leagues is told through the reminiscences of an Everyman player, vividly wrought by Graham’s smooth tones, perfect pacing, and soft Southern lilt. The history of the Negro Leagues—the exhilaration of the games, the astonishing talent of the athletes, and the rampant racial injustice—is served up through splendid narration with a dollop of blues harmonica that provides just the right musical touch to this 2010 Odyssey Honor title.
Standard: Students will be able to describe pre- and post-civil rights movement effects on sports.
Learning Activity: This audiobook and a bonus CD with Nelson’s remarkable paintings from the print version provide an excellent opportunity for students to hear the text and see the art. A group discussion can follow on how the integration of vocal performance with the artwork enhances the text.


Sharon Grover is the Head of Youth Services at the Hedberg Public Library, Janesville, WI. Lizette (Liz) Hannegan was an elementary and middle school librarian and the district library supervisor for the Arlington (VA) Public Schools before her retirement, and is currently the 2012 Odyssey Award Chair. They are co-authors of the book Listening to Learn: Audiobooks Supporting Literacy, to be published later this year by ALA Editions.

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