Cold winter weather provides the perfect setting for putting on headphones to listen to a good book. For over 50 years, Search Institute, a nonprofit organization, has worked to improve the lives of young people by examining and offering ideas to combat risky behaviors and determining what kids need to succeed. They were early adopters of the adage “It takes a village to raise a child,” believing that the entire community must band together to help young people grow into happy, productive adults.
To that end, Search Institute has generated 40 Developmental Assets that help cultivate positive life experiences. Many communities have adopted them and strive to actively help children and teens find constructive ways to deal with the issues they face growing up. Libraries around the country look to these assets as they plan programs and staff training to insure that they are working as effectively as possible with their young customers.
Of particular interest to teachers and librarians is the inclusion of “Reading for Pleasure” as one of the internal assets across all but the youngest age group. For ages three to five, the asset regarding reading focuses on “Early Literacy.” The recommendation is for young people to listen to or read books for pleasure almost every day (or at least three hours a week in high school) outside of school work.
This month’s column features titles for elementary grades through high school that are funny, poignant, thrilling, and shed light on the human condition. Encourage kids and families to listen to them and use the suggested standards to foster some lively—and instructional—discussions. Many of these audiobooks are available for download and in Playaway format.
Bless This Mouse. Written by Lois Lowry. Narrated by Bernadette Dunne. 2 CDs. 2:20 hrs. Listening Library. 2011. ISBN 978-0-3079-1629-7. $22. Gr 3-5
St. Bartholomew’s is host to a large enclave of church mice, where mouse mistress Hildegarde prepares to protect her community from the Great X. Migrating to the outdoors brings danger, new adventures, and potential disaster as the mice wait to return to the church. Listeners might want to have a print copy to refer to Eric Rohmann’s charming artwork, cathedral design, and terminology. Dunne’s narration is expressive with fine pacing as she gives each character a distinctive voice. The story, with its gentle humor and obvious human foible comparisons, will offer fine discussion opportunities when combined with Cynthia Voigt’s Young Fredle (narrated by Wendy Carter, Listening Library) and Kate DiCamillo’s The Tale of Despereaux (narrated by Graeme Malcolm, Listening Library). A trio of pleasure listening at its best.
Common Core Standard: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.3.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 3 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
Chime. Written by Franny Billingsley. Narrated by Susan Duerden. 8 CDs. 10 hrs. Listening Library. 2011. ISBN 978-0-3079-1520-7. $40. Gr 8 Up
Briony Larkin believes she should be hanged as a witch. After all, she can talk to the Old Ones in the Swampsea. She is also responsible for the death of her stepmother, as well as the fall that addled her twin sister’s wits. Through her self-loathing, she is convinced that, having ruined so many lives, she must be punished. When the handsome, leonine Eldric arrives from London, Briony is attracted but fearful of destroying another relationship. Duerden creates a rich panoply of voices, from the sardonic main character to the wild denizens of the swamp, while at the same time ably conveying the richly layered language of Billingsley’s text.
Common Core Standard: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.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.
The following two audiobooks make for a grand pairing of old-fashioned storytelling. Use the accompanying standard to have students describe how two different authors set about infusing their modern-day adventure stories with traditional conventions of times gone by.
The Emerald Atlas. Written by John Stephens. Narrated by Jim Dale. 10 CDs. 11:30 hrs. Listening Library. 2011. ISBN 978-0-3078-7978-3. $35. Gr 4-8
The first installment in the “Books of Beginning” trilogy introduces three children mysteriously plucked from their parents’ home 10 years ago. Kate, Michael, and Emma have been shuffled from one miserable living situation to another and now find themselves in a curious orphanage with no other children. They discover a magical book that leads them on an astonishing time-traveling adventure. The incomparable Jim Dale reads this fantasy with great aplomb, creating wonderfully distinct voices for dwarves, witches, children, professors, and more. Heart-stopping exploits get the full treatment of Dale’s vigorous narration and will have kids and adults alike clamoring for the next book, The Fire Chronicle. Luckily, it’s available from Listening Library.
The Flint Heart. Written by Katherine and John Paterson. Narrated by Ralph Lister. 4 CDs. 4 hrs. Brilliance Audio. 2011. ISBN 978-1-4558-2243-0. $54.97. Gr 3-7
The husband-and-wife team of the Patersons has created what they term a “freely abridged” version of Eden Phillpott’s 1910 fantasy about an ancient, heart-shaped amulet whose power reaches down through the ages to harden the bearer’s heart. When their mild-mannered father transforms into a tyrant after finding the amulet, 12-year-old Charlie enlists the aid of his younger sister, their dog, and some unusual partners, including a fairy king and a German hot water bottle to return Billy Jago to his loving self. The updated text is well served by Lister’s avuncular narrative style with its comfortable pacing and spot-on voicing of characters both human and magical.
Common Core Standard: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.5.9 Compare and contrast stories in the same genre (e.g., mysteries and adventure stories) on their approaches to similar themes and topics.
Jeremy Bender vs. the Cupcake Cadets. Written by Eric Luper. Narrated by Lincoln Hoppe. 5 CDs. 6:15 hrs. Listening Library. 2011. ISBN 978-0-3079-4190-9. $28. Gr 4-7
Sixth graders Jeremy Bender and his friend Slater’s non-stop comic adventures reach new heights when they infiltrate the all-girls Cupcake Cadets. Their goal is to win the $500 Windjammer Whirl prize in order to pay for damage to Jeremy’s father’s boat. In the process, dressed as female fraternal twins, there are laugh-out-loud episodes to keep listeners engaged on all fronts. Hoppe voices the characters with distinction and palpable humor. Hilarious problem solving and the foibles of growing up are front and center, providing middle-school students, especially boys, with a truly funny story.
Common Core Standard: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.7 Compare and contrast the experience of reading a story, drama, or poem to listening to or viewing an audio, video, or live version of the text, including contrasting what they “see” and “hear” when reading the text with what they perceive when they listen or watch.
Masters of Disaster. Written by Gary Paulsen. Narrated by Nick Podehl. 2 CDs. 2 hrs. Brilliance Audio. 2010. ISBN 978-1-4558-0139-8. $39.97. Gr 4-6
Combine a trio of 12 year olds—Henry, Riley and Reid—with dares and challenging adventures, and the resulting chaos delivers comedy at its best. Each escapade and comical scene builds towards the proverbial “disaster,” with a small sample of their antics involving the contents of a dumpster and some methane gas—a high jinx recipe that only Paulsen could create. Podehl personifies tween boys with his fully voiced performance, and Paulsen narrates the introduction. Listeners that pair this title with Jeremy Bender will have a fun fest that gives humor a big lift.
Common Core Standard: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.5.5 Explain how a series of chapters, scenes, or stanzas fits together to provide the overall structure of a particular story, drama, or poem.
Pie. Written by Sarah Weeks. Narrated by Kate Rudd. 3 CDs. 3:42 hrs. Brilliance Audio. 2011. ISBN 978-1-4558-3313-9. $49.97. Gr 3- 6
Alice’s beloved Aunt Polly dies suddenly and her famous pie crust recipe is willed to her cat, Lardo. Thus begins a charming story of family, cooking (recipes included), and community. A small mystery emerges in the form of a green Chevrolet that gives Alice and her friend, Charlie, a chance to do some detective work. The ensuing pie secret brings unexpected results with everyone in town making pies. A bonus is Alice’s original songs. Rudd does a wonderful job singing the songs and interpreting the characters. This is a quiet, sweet, fun story with a fine performance—be prepared to smile a bit.
Common Core Standard: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.4.3 Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character’s thoughts, words, or actions).
Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different. Written by Karen Blumenthal. Narrated by Sean Runnette. 5 CDs. 5:53 hrs. Macmillan Young Listeners. 2012. ISBN 978-1-4272-2566-5. $17.95. Gr 7-10
Blumenthal has created a history of the technological development of the personal computer and the hand-held devices that are such an integral part of our lives alongside this biography of Steve Jobs. Framed by Job’s famous 2005 speech to Stanford graduates, with text sidebars seamlessly integrated into the production, listeners will gain an understanding of his compulsive drive, his abrasive personality, and how these combined to advance technology and our interactions with it. Runnette’s well-modulated voice and clear, conversational tone translates well to audio.
Common Core Standard: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.7.3 Analyze the interactions between individuals, events, and ideas in a text (e.g., how ideas influence individuals or events, or how individuals influence ideas or events).
Winnie at Her Best. Written by Jennifer Richard Jacobson. Narrated by Laura Hamilton. CD. 1 hr. Live Oak Media. 2010. ISBN 978-1-4301-0880-1. $15.95. Gr 2-4
Fourth grader Winnie struggles to find her own special area of expertise when her friend, Vanessa, declares herself the best actress and their other friend, Zoe, the smartest. Does Winnie do something best, or must she resign herself to being ordinary? When her young neighbor needs help, Winnie triumphs over jealousy and competition as she discovers that she’s quite an excellent friend. Hamilton captures the essence of young girls in voice and pacing, adding to the charm of this early chapter book.
Common Core Standard: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.3 Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events.
Sharon Grover is 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)