July 20, 2017

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Strong Women, Strong Stories: Audiobooks for Women’s History Month | Listen In

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ListenIn_Woman_symbolIn preparation for the celebration of Women’s History Month in March,
we’re featuring audiobooks for all grade levels that highlight the accomplishments of women who have made strides in areas from music to politics to science to literature and beyond. The theme for 2014, chosen by the National Women’s History Project, is “Celebrating Women of Character, Courage & Commitment.” Teachers and librarians seeking great information on women’s history need look no further than the NWHP website (nwhp.org), which is an excellent place to find a diverse range of resources, including an extensive “Biography Center” that lists several hundred women who have been honored for National Women’s History Week and National Women’s History Month with a brief paragraph on each.

Rather than pairing each title with a different instructional standard, this month’s topic lends itself especially well to focusing on the following Anchor Standard of the Common Core State Standards:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.3: Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Promoting these outstanding audiobooks to teachers, students, and families will provide listening pleasure and allow them to discover how these women, through extraordinary character, courage, and commitment, changed the course of events for themselves and future generations.

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Primary Grades

Chambers, Veronica. Celia Cruz: Queen of Salsa. CD with paperback book. 46 min. Live Oak Media. 2008. $18.95. ISBN 9781430102830.

K-Gr 3 –This read-along picture book biography of the acclaimed Cuban salsa singer features culturally accurate narration by Michelle Manzo, a musical background with plenty of Latin flavor, and an example of Cruz’s electric performing skills that will leave listeners tapping their fingers. It also demonstrates how perseverance, talent, and determination brought Cruz recognition and fame.

Students who find their curiosity about the iconic singer—and Google doodle subject on what would have been her 88th birthday, October 21, 2013—piqued by Chambers’s book may want to check out the 2003 documentary, Celia Cruz: An Extraordinary Woman…Con Azucar! They also may want to take a look at this brief piece on the Christian Science Monitor website, which provides additional information about the woman who rose to fame in a musical genre largely ruled by men; it includes video footage of Cruz performing “Guantanamera.” (ow.ly/socoq)

Kerley, Barbara. What to Do About Alice: How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, and Drove Her Father Teddy Crazy. CD with paperback book. 15 min. Weston Woods. 2010. $18.95. ISBN 9780545298216.

Gr 2-5 –Packed with great vocabulary words such as “gamboled” and “voracious,” this lively read-along picture book biography is an excellent introduction to a rabble-rousing woman who is often overlooked in American history. Kerley recounts Alice’s many escapades while Edward Fotheringham’s whimsical illustrations perfectly depict the energetic young girl. Narrator Katherine Kellgren pulls it all together with pacing and inflection that convey the varied emotions that the First Daughter evoked in everyone she met.

The Roosevelt family’s influence on 20th-century American history is significant; both Alice’s father, Teddy, and his cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, were presidents, and FDR’s wife, Eleanor, also contributed to America’s historical landscape. The University of Virginia’s Miller Center has more information about Alice’s family life (ow.ly/soz7d). In addition, the Roosevelt family tree can be found on the PBS American Experience website (ow.ly/sozeK), where students can see the young woman’s place in the overall family picture. These two extensions will add depth and perspective for both students and teachers learning about Alice’s life.

Van Allsburg, Chris. Queen of the Falls. CD with hardcover book. 15 min. Recorded Books. 2011. $39.75. ISBN 9781456117115.

Gr 2-5 –The first person to survive going over Niagara Falls was a rather unlikely daredevil: a former charm school instructor, Annie Edison Taylor made history on her 63rd birthday, October 24, 1901, in a barrel of her own design.

Van Allsburg’s monochromatic illustrations deepen the emotional turmoil and excitement, and Angela Goethals’s expression and pacing match the building tension as Taylor’s incredible feat is carried out. Follow-up discussion may focus on the power of Niagara Falls—scores of videos can be found online to aid those having trouble visualizing—or on some of the amazing facts that can be found on the Niagara Falls State Park website (ow.ly/soi8l).

Middle School

Gies, Miep & Alison Leslie Gold. Anne Frank Remembered. 8 CDs. 9 hrs. Oasis Audio. 2009. $29.95. ISBN 9781598595239.

Gr 6 Up –Anne Frank’s remarkable strength and courage are well known, and this memoir by Miep Gies, whose family helped the Franks hide from the Nazis, sheds new light on Frank and her family. Gies was over 100 years old when she recounted her harrowing experiences, and this work brings fresh perspective to the unrelenting tension endured by the Frank family and those who protected them. Barbara Rosenblat’s stirring performance, with its authentic inflection, tone, and cadence, makes the tale seem new and even more compelling. The result is a reflection of two strong women.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl (Random, 1952) is a natural companion to this title and will offer students an opportunity to compare and contrast. Two important websites can assist with the research: the Anne Frank Museum (annefrank.org) and Gies’s own site, where videos of Gies and her husband, Jan, accentuate the gripping story (ow.ly/soJlQ).

Hoose, Phillip. Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice. 3 CDs. 4 hrs. Brilliance Audio. 2009. $59.97. ISBN 9781441802378.

Gr 7-10 –Teenager Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat on a Birmingham bus nine months before Rosa Parks gained fame for the same act of civil disobedience. Colvin, however, did not become famous. Instead, she was ridiculed and despised by both white and black communities, and ended up poor and largely forgotten. Channie Waites interprets, with great empathy, the extensive interviews by which Hoose tells the story, broadening the connection between listeners and Colvin, the difficult decisions she made, and the turbulent times in which she lived. Students can listen to Colvin relate an uncomfortable incident from her childhood at StoryCorps (ow.ly/soJRF) and then discuss the impact this may have had on her future.

Montgomery, Sy. Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World. 3 CDs. 2 hrs. 48 min. AudioGo. 2013. $39.95. ISBN 9781935430827.

Gr 5-8 –This excellent biography, enhanced by Meredith Mitchell’s skillful narration, not only describes the extraordinary accomplishments of animal scientist Grandin, it also explains for young listeners how autism affects the way the brain works. Born in 1947, Grandin suffered as a child from a disorder that made communication and personal interaction almost impossible. With time, a persistent mother, and sympathetic teachers and friends, Grandin was able to reach her potential, becoming a professor at Colorado State University, creating humane livestock equipment, and advocating for those with autism spectrum disorders. Students will also enjoy watching the HBO movie about Grandin, available in many public libraries or online (ow.ly/soKhH). Educators can encourage students to compare and contrast the story in the film with the story in the audiobook.

High School

Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. 8 CDs. 10 hrs. 12 min. Books on Tape. 2011. $40. ISBN 9780307879394.

Gr 10 Up –Reading with a poet’s lilting voice, Angelou tells the story of her difficult childhood and young adult years. Raised by her extended African American family, she endured racism, rape, and teen pregnancy, rising above adversity to become a respected educator and author, who was asked by President Bill Clinton to compose and present a poem at his first inauguration. Students can visit Angelou’s website (mayaangelou.com) to learn more about her many accomplishments and bring themselves up to date on her story.

Roberts, Cokie. Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation. 6 CDs. 6 hrs. $29.99. HarperAudio. 2004. ISBN 9780060527877.

Gr 9 Up –Roberts herself enthusiastically narrates these stories of America’s earliest heroines with lively humor and a great sense of the important role these women played in history. Profiles of Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, Deborah Franklin, and Martha Washington, among others, show how their steadfast commitment to their newly formed country allowed the work of burgeoning democracy to take place. Encourage students to discover more about America’s stalwart women of history by researching online at the National First Ladies’ Library (ow.ly/soLrv).

Sotomayor, Sonia. My Beloved World. 10 CDs. 12.5 hrs. Books on Tape. 2013. ISBN 9780307913104. $40.

Gr 9 Up –Toughened by a childhood living in Bronx housing projects with a large Puerto Rican family troubled by alcoholism and poverty, Sotomayor resolved to make something positive of her life. After graduating from Princeton and going on to law school at Yale, Sotomayor is now the first Hispanic member of the U.S. Supreme Court—and its fourth female Justice. Rita Moreno, Puerto Rican herself, brings cultural authenticity to the narration of this captivating memoir; the preface and prologue are read by Justice Sotomayor. Learn more about the women of the Supreme Court at the PBS website (ow.ly/soLQs).

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.

This article was published in School Library Journal's February 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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