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October 23, 2014

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At the Core: Audiobooks Promote Critical Reading Habits | Listen In

SLJ1208w LI Opener At the Core: Audiobooks Promote Critical Reading Habits | Listen InAs teachers and librarians return to school this month, many will be tasked with implementing the Common Core State Standards (www.corestandards.org) into their lesson plans. The Common Core mission states that: “The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.” They aim to promote critical thinking through student engagement with high quality literary and informational texts to develop critical reading habits necessary for interpreting the “staggering amount of information available today in print and digitally.”

What the Common Core Standards do not include or replace is content standards, so curriculum specialists and librarians and the teachers with whom they work are left to determine how to meld them together with their state content standards. It’s not an impossible task—what the Common Core really calls for is an end to rote learning and repetition, focusing instead on rigorous inquiry and discussion that will enable our students to think critically, listen attentively, use technology strategically, and communicate effectively. And, of course, this all starts in kindergarten.

We think audiobooks offer teachers and librarians a unique way to engage students with learning that supports these objectives. To that end, this month’s column focuses entirely on titles that support specific Common Core Standards, with content standards for various states included as examples of how they work together, from kindergarten through high school.

In this Article
Elementary School
Middle School
High School

Elementary School

Kitten’s First Full Moon. Written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes. Narrated by Joan Allen. CD. 6 min. with hardcover book. Weston Woods. 2011. ISBN 978-0-545-37422-4. $29.95. PreS-Gr 1
The Caldecott Medal story of a kitten searching for a tantalizing bowl of milk has made a lovely transition to audio. A fanciful musical underbed follows the action as kitten tumbles, chases, and climbs to reach the elusive bowl of milk in the sky. Allen’s vocal pacing pairs nicely with looking at the illustrations. As kitten finally finds the milk waiting on the porch, quiet satisfaction and humor bring a happy end to the tale.

Common Core Standard: SL.K.2. Confirm understanding of a text read aloud or information presented orally or through other media by asking and answering questions about key details and requesting clarification if something is not understood.

Content Standard: Baltimore County (MD) Public Schools (Kindergarten, Language Arts)

Sequence and retell events or stories.
Comprehend information in fiction and non-fiction texts.

From Seed to Plant. Written and illustrated by Gail Gibbons. Narrated by Erin Mallon. CD. 12:34 min. with paperback book. Live Oak Media. 2012. ISBN 1-4301-1079-8. $18.95. K-Gr 2
With fitting music, well-placed sound effects, and clear narration, this nonfiction title combines information and style. The introduction includes page-turn signal instructions as well as a note about how the text and captions are spoken, allowing listeners to easily follow the location of words on each page. Mallon’s light voice and excellent pacing affords students time to study the illustrations that depict the terminology of plant life cycles. The very useful project and facts about seeds at the end provides a natural extension for primary grade science lessons.

Common Core Standard: RI.1.2. Identify the main topic and retell key details of a text.

Content Standard: Madison (WI) Metropolitan School District (Grade 1, Life Science)

Communicate that new plants grow from seeds, leaves, stem cuttings, roots and bulbs, and as plants grow, they develop structures that serve their basic life cycle needs.

Pair the next two audiobooks to introduce the upcoming presidential elections, using the same Common Core and content standards for both. Note: Virginia has not adopted the Common Core State Standards, but does provide a comparison and analysis with the Common Core (www.virginia.doe.virginia.gov/testing/common_core/Index.shtml).

So You Want to Be President? Written by Judith St. George. Illustrated by David Small. Narrated by Stockard Channing. CD. 22:05 min. with hardcover book. Weston Woods. 2002. ISBN 978-1-55592-132-3. $29.95. K-Gr 4
This Caldecott Medal winner features humorous facts about U.S. presidents with a viewpoint especially interesting to children. Droll, cartoon-style illustrations extend the text and provide intriguing presidential caricatures. Difficult issues are presented in age-appropriate fashion. Channing’s reading enhances the humor and the background music includes variations of “Hail to the Chief” and other patriotic songs that lend an energetic air to the narration.

The Worst of Friends: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and the True Story of an American Feud. Written by Suzanne Tripp Jurmain. Illustrated by Larry Day. Narrated by Richard Poe. CD. 15 min. with hardcover book. Recorded Books. 2012. ISBN 978-1-4640-4049-8. $37.75. Gr 2-4
Political discord is nothing new, as Jurmain humorously reveals in this snapshot of two admired patriots. As “different as pickles and ice cream,” both physically and philosophically, Adams and Jefferson stopped speaking to each other for nearly a decade while their political parties wrangled to the point of violence. Day’s illustrations provide plenty of historical detail and Poe’s forthright narration and steady pacing hit just the right note to keep readers turning the page.

Common Core Standard:RI.3.3. Describe the relationship between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text, using language that pertains to time, sequence, and cause/effect.

Content Standard: Virginia Standards of Learning (Grade 3 History and Social Science, Civics)

3.11 The student will explain the importance of the basic principles that form the foundation of a republican form of government by

a) describing the individual rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and equality under the law;

d) describing how people can serve the community, state, and nation.

Middle School

The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P. T. Barnum. Written by Candace Fleming. Narrated by Christopher Lane. 4 CDs. 3 hrs. Brilliance Audio. 2012. ISBN 978-1-4558-1136-6. $54.97. Gr 6-9
From the jaunty introductory circus music to the sensational tidbits of Barnum’s life, this engaging biography of America’s greatest purveyor of humbug gives all the detail kids (and adults, too) will want to know. Beginning with Barnum’s impoverished childhood and ending with the famous circus that still bears his name, Lane’s comfortable pacing and rich voice take listeners back to an earlier time and the 19th-century fascination with human curiosities: Tom Thumb, bearded ladies, and Chang and Eng are among Barnum’s many featured oddities. It’s not all about amusement, as Fleming includes Barnum’s darker side as well, presenting a well-rounded portrait of the celebrated showman. A bonus CD contains photographs and other illustrated material from the print edition.

Common Core Standard: RI.8.7. Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of using different mediums (e.g., print or digital text, video, multimedia) to present a particular topic or idea.

Content Standard: Hawaii State Standards (Social Studies, Grade 8)

HI.2. Historical Understanding: Change, Continuity, and Causality: Understand change and/or continuity and cause and/or effect in history.

SS.8.2.1. Historical Sources: Differentiate between primary and secondary sources, understanding the potential and limitations of each.

The Mighty Miss Malone. Written by Christopher Paul Curtis. Narrated by Bahni Turpin. 7 CDs. 8 hrs. Listening Library. 2012. ISBN 978-0-3079-6824-1. $44. Gr 6-8
Twelve-year-old Deza Malone’s family is struggling with Depression-era life in Gary, Indiana, but their strength to persevere is a testament to resilience, good humor, high hopes, and courage. As her father searches for work far away from home, Deza, her mother, and her brother are determined to follow him. When they do, the trials of racism, hunger, and homelessness are palpable. Turpin’s talent embodies the voice of Deza as she journeys to find not only herself but also her most important family values.

Common Core Standard: RL.7.9. Compare and contrast a fictional portrayal of a time, place, or character and an historical account of the same period as a means of understanding how authors of fiction use or alter history.

Content Standard: Georgia Department of Education (English Language Arts, Grade 7: ELA7R1)

c. Relate a literary work to information about its setting or historical moment.

A Wrinkle in Time. Written by Madeleine L’Engle. Narrated by Hope Davis. 5 CDs. 6 hrs. Listening Library. 2012. ISBN 978-0-3079-1659-4. $25. Gr 6-8
This 50th anniversary production of L’Engle’s Newbery-winning story introduces a new generation to Meg Murry and her younger brother, Charles Wallace, as they travel to rescue their father, a trip that truly “wrinkles time.” Engaging vocal interpretations of Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which contrast nicely with the young voices Davis employs for the children. An introduction read by the late author adds to the enchantment of this classic tale. A Common Core text exemplar for grades 6-8.

Common Core Standard: RL.6.3. Describe how a particular story’s or drama’s plot unfolds in a series of episodes as well as how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.

Content Standard: Oklahoma State Department of Education (Oklahoma C3 Standards, Language Arts, Grade 6)

2. Inferences and Interpretation

b. Make inferences or draw conclusions about characters’ qualities and actions (i.e., based on knowledge of plot, setting, characters’ motives, characters’ appearances, other characters’ responses to a character).

High School

The Book Thief. Written by Marcus Zusak. Narrated by Allan Corduner. 11 CDs. 13:56 hrs. Listening Library.ISBN 978-0-7393-3800-1. $75. Gr 9-12
Nazi Germany during World War II is the backdrop for this “small story” that explores the power of words to affect the human condition. Death is the narrator here, performed with detached perfection by Corduner, recounting the story of the young thief, Liesel, who discovers books have the ability to sustain her community amidst the horrors of war. This 2007 Michael L. Printz Honor Book is also a Common Core text exemplar for grades 9-10.

Common Core Standard: RL.9-10.2. Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

Content Standard: Massachusetts (Reading Standards for Literature 6-12)

Grades 9-10: MA.8.A. Relate a work of fiction, poetry, or drama to the seminal ideas of its time.

The Scorpio Races. Written by Maggie Stiefvater. Narrated by Steve West and Fiona Hardingham. 7 CDs. 12 hrs. Scholastic Audio. ISBN 978-0-545-35705-0. $79.99. Gr 8-12

From the author’s original music to the sweeping drama of Sean Kendrick and Puck Connolly’s quest to win the deadly annual water horse races, the dual performances of West and Hardingham drive the narrative to its satisfying conclusion. This 2012 Odyssey Honor award winner showcases how a listening experience can raise a strong narrative to an even higher level as the tension builds.

Common Core Standard: RL.9-10.5. Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.

Content Standard: Illinois State Board of Education (English Language Arts)

State Goal #1: Read with understanding and fluency

C. Comprehend a broad range of reading material

1.C.4e. Analyze how authors and illustrators use text and art to express and emphasize their ideas (e.g., imagery, multiple points of view).

The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic. Written by Allan Wolf. Narrated by Michael Page, Phil Gigante, Christopher Lane, Laural Merlington, and Angela Dawe. 9 CDs. 10 hrs. Brilliance Audio. 2011. ISBN 978-1-4558-2937-8. $59.97. G. 9-12
There are many observances of the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking, but here is a distinctly unique perspective featuring voices unheard from before: the Morse code telegrapher, the mail clerks, the captain, the crow’s nest lookout, even a ship’s rat and the fateful iceberg. These and more, including the unsinkable Molly Brown, give the outstanding ensemble cast many opportunities to present a “you are there” feeling as the inevitable becomes reality. Even though listeners know the outcome, the approaching doom is still a surprise, until the last feeble Morse code transmission is sent. A tour-de-force narrative and production.

Common Core Standard: RL.9-10.3. Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.

Content Standard: English Language Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools, Grades 9-10

Narrative Analysis of Grade-Level-Appropriate Text

3.4 Determine characters’ traits by what the characters say about themselves in narration, dialogue, dramatic monologue, and soliloquy.

Literary Criticism

3.11 Evaluate the aesthetic qualities of style, including the impact of diction and figurative language on tone, mood, and theme, using the terminology of literary criticism. (Aesthetic approach)


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. They are co-authors of the book, Listening to Learn: Audiobooks Supporting Literacy (ALA Editions, 2011).
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