The power of audiobooks is demonstrated this month by fiction and nonfiction works on the same topic. From penguins to the arts to history, these effective productions offer young people a wealth of information and some very good stories, too. Pairing two titles that focus on familiar instructional themes is an excellent way to establish a foundation for learning about a particular subject. Fiction—from picture book read-alongs to novels—has long enjoyed high quality production values in audiobooks. Now, nonfiction audiobooks are catching up, often including excellent bonus material from the print editions—photographs, sources, timelines, and other features—that enhance the listening experience.
The following examples range from picture book read-alongs for younger children to novels and nonfiction titles for middle and high school, and connect to a variety of Common Core Anchor Standards for Reading. There are, of course, other standards which would work equally as well in building curriculum units. The final Anchor Standard, “CCSS.ELA–Literacy.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently,” seems to address specifically what we hope to showcase this month: that stories and informational audiobooks paired together are, indeed, a winning combination for increasing both knowledge and literacy skills.
A Waddle of Penguins
One Cool Friend. Written by Toni Buzzeo. Illustrated by David Small. Narrated by Chris Sorenson. CD. 15 min. with hardcover book. Recorded Books. 2012. ISBN 978-1-4640-3571-5. $37.75. K-Gr 2
On an unwanted trip to the aquarium, Elliot delightedly discovers penguins and decides to take one home. Hilarity ensues as Elliot blithely changes household routines to care for his new friend, Magellan. Sorenson’s tone is inviting and his pacing allows time to absorb Small’s clever, understated 2013 Caldecott Honor illustrations which provide the perfect foil for Buzzeo’s straightforward text. Fanciful and amusing, this charming read-along gives listeners a fresh perspective on penguins.
Penguins. Written and illustrated by Gail Gibbons. Narrated by George Mazzoli. CD. 16:59 min. with paperback book. Live Oak Media. 2011. ISBN 978-1-4301-0951-8. $18.95. PreS-Gr 2
Mazzoli’s measured narration, with an underbed of penguin calls and sounds from the habitat, introduces these remarkable, flightless, feathered inhabitants of the Southern Hemisphere. The simple, direct text is enlivened by Gibbons’s trademark brightly-colored illustrations and includes facts about penguin physiology, nesting patterns, and a geographic locator map.
Common Core Anchor Standard: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
Instructional Extension: Students can explore the real world of Magellanic Penguins to determine if Elliot could really have kept his friend at home by visiting the Bronx Zoo’s wonderful website. Teachers will find lots of useful information, activities, and photos suitable for classroom use on Kidzone’s penguin pages.
World of Dance
Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring. Written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan. Illustrated by Brian Floca. Narrated by Sarah Jessica Parker. CD. 1 hr. Brilliance Audio. 2012. ISBN 978-1-4558-7731-7. $29.97. Gr 2-5
The true story of the inspired collaboration among choreographer/dancer Martha Graham, composer Aaron Copeland, and set designer Isamu Noguchi that led to the creation of the ballet, Appalachian Spring. With Parker’s mellow inflections and measured pacing and the effective underbed of music from Appalachian Spring, this fascinating description of an inspired creative process is an effective introduction to dance, music, and design. This fine audiobook also includes a complete performance of the ballet music and fully narrated back matter. Students may want to keep a print copy nearby to look at Floca’s lovely illustrations.
Ballet Shoes. Written by Noel Streatfield. Narrated by Elizabeth Sastre. 6 CDs. 6 hrs. Listening Library. 2004. ISBN 978-1-4000-9497-4. $35. Gr 3-5
Great Uncle Matthew, off on world travels, discovers three little orphans and sends them home to his niece Sylvia in post-World War I London. When GUM, as he is affectionately known, fails to return, the three adopted sisters grow up in genteel poverty, attending a ballet academy, dancing on the stage, and making their own way in the world. This old-fashioned story is narrated to perfection by Sastre, who manages a variety of British accents and genders with ease. Her tone and pacing invite listeners into a fascinating world long past.
Common Core Anchor Standard: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.3 Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
Instructional Extensions: Students can watch a production of Appalachian Spring on YouTube, danced by Martha Graham and the original company, with Noguchi’s sets to compare Floca’s interpretation in the print edition of Ballet for Martha. They might also watch the 2007 British television film version of Ballet Shoes (Koch Vision) and discuss how that medium is different from the audiobook.
Civil Rights Movement
The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963. Written by Christopher Paul Curtis. Narrated by LeVar Burton. 4 CDs. 4:45 hrs. Listening Library. 2003. ISBN 978-0-8072-1777-1. $38. Gr 5-8
In 1963, Kenny Watson’s family takes a summer trip from Flint, Michigan, to Birmingham, Alabama, unaware that they are traveling to one of history’s darkest days. LeVar Burton’s narration combines humor and distress, creating an exceptional listening experience as events unfold in that violent summer when four young girls died in their church as a result of a bombing. Curtis blends comedy with drama as the Watsons confront the segregated South alongside the hopefulness of the Civil Rights Movement in this 1996 Newbery and Coretta Scott King Honor title.
We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March. Written by Cynthia Levinson. Read by Ervin Ross. 6 CDs. 6:22 hrs. Listening Library. 2012. ISBN 978-0-385-36151-4. $40.. Gr 4-8
Unadorned narration, extensive bonus material, the singing of the gospel song composed for the Birmingham March, an author’s note, and interviews with the now-adult marchers make this a strong nonfiction offering for classroom use. Listeners will be engaged by the individual stories of Audrey, Booker, Arnetta, and James as their experiences during the Civil Rights Movement are recounted and then reinforced by hearing their own grown-up voices in author interviews. This serves as a good example of an audiobook that surpasses a print reading; hearing the actual voices of the witnesses to history adds a valuable dimension.
Common Core State Standard: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.6. Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
Instructional Extension: An excellent video excerpt of Mighty Times: The Children’s March can be watched on YouTube, making a fine accompaniment to these audiobooks. The full documentary is available online or on DVD, with a teacher’s guide provided by Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Peachtree Publishers has also recently launched a website based on the print edition of We’ve Got a Job that includes information featured in the book for students to explore at their own pace.
Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust. Written by Doreen Rappaport. Narrated by Emily Beresford and Jeff Crawford. 5 CDs. 5 hrs. Brilliance Audio. 2012. ISBN 978-1-4692-0625-7. $64.97. Gr 5 Up
Beginning with the heartfelt introduction read by Rappaport (“Even as a Jew, growing up in a Jewish household, I had only ever heard that ‘Jews went like lambs to the slaughter’ during the war.”) and moving to incredibly brave attempts—often by teenagers—to combat the Nazi machine, the events in this well-researched book will surprise listeners. Beresford and Crawford alternate the telling of uprisings large and small from Warsaw to Sobibor, and from Greece to Theresienstadt, highlighting a seemingly endless string of courageous acts against an incomprehensible enemy. The narration is without frills, employing measured pacing and consistent intonation that allows the strength of the text to tell the harrowing, yet often hopeful, story. Viewing the bonus CD, which includes photographs and other information from the print edition, expands the listening experience.
Once. Written and narrated by Morris Gleitzman. 3 CDs. 3 hrs. Prod. by Bolinda Audio. Dist. by Brilliance Audio. 2005. ISBN 978-1-7409-4902-6. $24.95. Gr 5-8.
Then.Written and narrated by Morris Gleitzman. 3 CDs. 3:35 hrs. Prod. by Bolinda Audio. Dist. by BrillianceAudio. 2008. ISBN 978-1-7420-1545-3. $24.95. Gr 5-8
Gleitzman narrates his own work in these two stories of the Holocaust. In Once, ten-year-old Felix is living in a Catholic orphanage, hidden there by his parents who hoped to keep him safe from the Nazis. In a naive attempt to reunite with his parents, Felix runs away from the orphanage to go back home. On his way, he meets six-year-old Zelda and, together, they flee from the relentless evil of Nazi cruelty. Their story continues in Then as they escape from a death train and find shelter on a Polish farm. Gleitzman’s unvoiced reading alternates between childlike innocence and the sure knowledge that life should not hold so many horrors. Listeners will believe Gleitzman as he takes on the persona of Felix, the storyteller.
Common Core Anchor Standard: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.9. Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.
Instructional Extension: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website has pages particularly geared to students, where they can do further research on a wide variety of topics and view many photographs from the period.
Sharon Grover is Head of Youth Services at the Hedberg Public Library, Janesville, WI. Lizette (Liz) Hannegan was a school librarian and the district library supervisor for the Arlington (VA) Public Schools before her retirement. They are co-authors of Listening to Learn: Audiobooks Supporting Literacy (ALA Editions, 2011).