As the days of summer approach, thoughts turn away from structured routines and toward opportunities for fun. Unfortunately, research continues to indicate that extended learning breaks contribute to diminishing literacy skills such as fluency, vocabulary acquisition, and reading comprehension. The dreaded summer slide! In this column we explore this phenomenon and offer some ways that school and public librarians can work with families to keep kids reading—with audiobooks.
In “Summer Reading Loss” (Reading Teacher, May 2007), Maryann Mraz and Timothy Rasinski wrote: “…the reality of summer reading loss is well documented—and it is more persistent among students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who are already at risk for academic failure.” Thankfully, they also state that students who take part in summer reading interventions maintain those skills. In fact, students who participate in public library summer reading programs demonstrate increased achievement in reading skills when they return to school in the fall, according to the conclusions drawn by Carol Fiore and Susan Roman in their article, “Proof Positive” (School Library Journal, Nov. 2010). The Search Institute (www.search-institute.org), a nonprofit organization investigating what young people need to succeed, identifies reading for pleasure as one of the ‘40 Developmental Assets’ necessary for healthy growth. So it’s gratifying to see that when Denise Geier, a curriculum director in Middletown Township, NJ, created summer reading lists for her students (“Sweating Over the Summer Book List.” Library Media Connection, March 2005), she determined the focus should be on “…reading just for the fun of it…” and enlisted help from public librarians for recommendations.
Our own experience closely mirrors Geier’s. We have worked with language arts teachers to produce high-interest, varied, middle school summer reading lists, successfully advocating for titles that had quality audio productions, allowing students to read with their ears or with their eyes. Listening to audiobooks gives a well-documented boost to the very skills lost during the summer months, according to Gene Wolfson’s “Using Audiobooks to Meet the Needs of Adolescent Readers” (American Secondary Education, Spring 2008).
Roger Sutton, in “Remixing Reading” (The Horn Book, March/April 2012; http://tinyurl.com/82pzrvn), states that “books, readers, and reading are always changing, both definitionally and individually, as an original text is transformed across media and its readers become viewers, listeners, players, and co-authors in the experience of story.” Given choices, students can be motivated to listen to an audiobook, read a graphic novel, or see a movie version of a favorite novel, all of which serve to nourish literacy skills.
Our audiobook selections this month focus on middle school students, providing not only listening pleasure but also opportunities to increase reading comprehension, fluency, and vocabulary acquisition. Get kids listening and beat the summer slide!
Aliens on Vacation (The Intergalactic Bed & Breakfast Series). Written by Clete Barrett Smith. Narrated by Joshua Swanson. 6 CD. 7 hrs. Brilliance Audio. 2011. ISBN 978-1-4558-0133-6. $54.97. Gr 5-7
David, aka Scrub, is horrified to squander the summer in tiny, boring Forest Glen, WA, with the grandmother he’s never met. Grandma, who goes by the name Sunshine, runs the Intergalactic Bed & Breakfast, hosting a very bizarre clientele and a secret in which David is soon embroiled. Swanson mines all of the humor and tension of this light summer tale, imbuing both humans and aliens with distinctive voices. He is especially effective with the budding romance between David and Amy, a local girl who shows David that aliens have rights, too.
Standard: Students will compare and contrast different ways of life and understand the factors contributing to individual differences.
The Beasts of Clawstone Castle. Written by Eva Ibbotson. Narrated by Jenny Sterlin. 5 CDs. 6 hrs. Recorded Books. 2007. ISBN 978-1-4281-2183-6. $51.75. Gr 5-8
Madlyn and Rollo, spending their summer holiday in the country with elderly relatives, fall under the spell of the crumbling Clawstone Castle and its legendary Wild White Cattle. When the brother–sister duo enlist the help of some alarming ghosts to attract more paying visitors to the castle, Clawstone’s increasing success prompts local rivals to hatch a dastardly plan. Sterlin’s expressive reading, spot-on pacing, and ability to flawlessly define the different characters enhances this rollicking British mix of fantasy and social commentary.
Standard: Students will explore concepts of role, status, and social standing to evaluate the interactions of individuals and social groups.
Close to Shore: The Terrifying Shark Attacks of 1916. Written by Michael Capuzzo. Narrated by Taylor Mali. 3 CDs. 3:30 hrs. 2010. AudioGo. 2010. ISBN 978-1-4281-2183-6. $39.95. Gr 6-10
In the summer of 1916, the Jersey Shore became a popular place for ocean swimming. Unknown to tourists or the general public, a young great white shark had also taken up residence at the beach. The gruesome attacks will appeal particularly to reluctant male readers, with Mali’s deliberate narration highlighting the anxiety of shore dwellers and visitors. His reporter’s style, increasing speed and volume as tension builds, allows science and sensationalism to combine in creating a rousing summer read.
Standard: Students will investigate and understand the interactions among populations in a biological community.
Dead End in Norvelt. Written and narrated by Jack Gantos. 6 CDs. 7:16 hrs. Macmillan Young Listeners. 2011. ISBN 978-1-4272-1356-3. $29.99. Gr 5-8
“Grounded for life” two weeks into summer vacation of 1962, 12-year-old Jack manages to find adventure in this wild, semi-autobiographical novel. Norvelt, a small, planned community developed during the Great Depression by Eleanor Roosevelt, is dying—literally. Apprenticed to elderly, arthritic neighbor, Ms. Volker, Jack helps create obituaries for the original Norvelt residents who are expiring at an alarming rate, making the boy wonder what is going on. Gantos meshes history and humor with his unvoiced, earnest reading and a bonus interview, telling listeners how he blended fact and fiction to create this 2012 Newbery Medal winner. Steer students to these websites about the real Norvelt, PA, for more information: http://tinyurl.com/NorveltHistoricalMarker and http://tinyurl.com/RecallingOldNorvelt. Standard: Students will identify the causes of the Great Depression, its impact on Americans, and the major features of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.
Moon Over Manifest. Written by Clare Vanderpool. Narrated by Jenna Lamia, Cassandra Campbell, and Kirby Heyborne. 8 CDs. 8:30 hrs. Listening Library. 2011. ISBN 978-0-3079-6816-6. $40. Gr 5-8
After years of riding the rails, Abilene Tucker’s father suddenly decides she must spend the summer of 1936 with an old friend in Manifest, Kansas, a town devastated by drought and the Great Depression. Amidst the heat and dust, Abilene discovers a mystery stretching back to 1918 that includes the town’s coal mining legacy and the boys who went off to fight in World War I. Lamia expertly creates myriad voices for children and adults across Manifest’s decades, with Heyborne and Campbell ably rounding out the supporting cast of this 2011 Newbery Award winner. Standard: Students will evaluate the credibility and perspective of a variety of sources such as biographies, diaries, journals, artifacts, eyewitness interviews, and other primary and secondary source materials.
The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place. Written by E. L. Konigsburg. Narrated by Molly Ringwald. 5 CDs. 5:30 hrs. Listening Library. 2004. ISBN 978-1-4000-8609-2. $45. Gr 6-9
Bullied by fellow campers and a despotic camp director, Margaret Rose Kane is thrilled to spend the summer with her beloved great-uncles while her parents are in Peru. However, trouble is brewing in the uncles’ backyard, where towers they have been creating from found objects are slated for demolition by a city council bent on removing “blight.” To save the towers, Margaret enlists a quirky group of sympathizers to educate the community on the important role of art, especially outsider art. Ringwald’s performance is exhilarating, capturing the precocious teen, her Hungarian uncles, and an eccentric cast of secondary characters. Students can explore the history of outsider art through this article from Encyclopedia Britannica online: http://tinyurl.com/Art-Outsider. Standard: Students will compare and contrast the characteristics of public art.
Shark Wars. Written by E. J. Altbacker. Narrated by Joshua Swanson. 5 CDs. 5:30 hrs. Listening Library. 2011. ISBN 978-0-3079-1687-7. $30. Gr 4-7
Gray, an adolescent reef shark (or so he thinks), is growing so large and behaving so badly that he’s banned from the reef to find his own way in the Big Blue. With his dogfish friend, Barkley, he joins a tough shark clan, or shiver, where he only gets into more trouble. Sharks with human characteristics and references to the “landsharks” who hunt from above are part of the humor in this engaging story, enhanced by Swanson’s fully voiced sharks and excellent pacing and emotional inflection. (Note: There are two sequels—The Battle of Riptide and Into the Abyss.) Students may want to learn about the real characteristics of great white sharks at the Smithsonian website: http://tinyurl.com/c9uhft6. Standard: Students will list the characteristics of ocean dwelling mammals, i.e. specific species of shark.
Small as an Elephant. Written by Jennifer Richard Jacobson. Narrated by William Dufris. 5 CDs. 5 hrs. Brilliance Audio. 2011. ISBN 978-1-4558-0336-1. $49.97. Gr 5-8
Jack wakes up in Acadia National Park to discover that his mother has abandoned him. Wavering between panic, despair, and anger, he tries first to find her, hiding from authorities. When that proves futile, he sets out on a harrowing journey to see Lydia, the only live elephant in Maine. As Jack travels, he slowly reveals his mother’s “spinning episodes” and his fear of being separated from her. Dufris’s raspy voice turns in an emotional performance that demonstrates Jack’s resentment, panic, and pain. Both the Acadia National Park (www.nps.gov/acad) and Elephant Facts (www.elephant-facts.com) websites provide interesting additional information about the central themes of the story. Standard: Students will be able to describe the characteristics of large land mammals (i.e., the elephant) and understand the history and mission of the National Park Service.
|Sharon Grover is the Head of Youth Services at the Hedberg Public Library, Janesville, WI, and chair of ALA’s 2013 Michael L.Printz Committee. 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 was the 2012 Odyssey Award Chair.|