Key Ideas and Details
Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
Craft and Structure
Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:
Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.
The academic-year cycle is upon us again and teachers and librarians are searching for fresh ideas to engage students. Although the discussion of efficacy of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)—with its focus on informational texts—continues, the framework provides a national springboard for guiding instruction.
The section “Building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction,” states that “students must be immersed in information about the world around them if they are to develop the strong general knowledge and vocabulary they need to become successful readers and be prepared for college, career, and life. Informational texts play an important part in building students’ content knowledge.”
More and more nonfiction titles are becoming widely available as audiobooks, many with the same exceptional narration and attention to production detail that we have come to expect from fiction titles. We found that the following standards, from the College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading, were well supported by the following selected audiobooks.
From urban farming and bird migration to World War II history and providing medical care to the poor, these audiobooks offer learning extensions across many grade levels for research, class discussion, and group projects.
Martin, Jacqueline Briggs. Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table. 1 CD with tr book. 17:52 min. Live Oak Media. 2014. $29.95. ISBN 9781430117421.
PreK-Gr 3 –This true story of Will Allen, a former professional football player turned dedicated urban farmer, is an excellent companion to Wendell Minor’s My Farm Friends (below). Peter Jay Fernandez narrates with a deep, expressive baritone and deliberate pacing, giving time for listeners to “read” Eric-Shabazz Larkin’s lively illustrations, and delight in the carefully selected soundscape and finely tuned production details. The story of his teaching lab, Growing Power Farm in Wisconsin, will motivate listeners to grow their own vegetables and herbs. The afterword, read by Will Allen, gives three important hints to urban farming (start a worm factory!), and the Growing Power website (growingpower.org) is an essential follow-up for students.
Minor, Wendell. My Farm Friends. 1 CD with tr book. 8:24 min. Live Oak Media. 2012. $29.95. ISBN 9781430110965.
PreK-Gr 3 –Tom Bodett introduces many familiar farm animals with his slight drawl and laconic tone, highlighting the rhyming text and unusual facts. Background sound effects reinforce the information as young listeners learn that pigs don’t sweat, cows drink lots of water to produce milk, and other information conveyed by Minor’s simple words. Adequate time between page turns allows students to see that horses sleep standing up and chickens always have red combs. A list of “My Farm Friends Fun Facts,” read at the end of the book, adds more details, such as the fact that one pound of wool can make seven miles of yarn! This is a fine addition to curriculum units on farm animals.
Sweet, Melissa. Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade. 1 CD with tr book. 15 min. Recorded Books. 2012. $37.75. ISBN 9781470335052.
K-Gr 3 –The story of puppeteer Tony Sarg, designer of the world-famous high-flying balloons of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, is expressively performed by John McDonough. This read-along for young listeners combines a beautifully illustrated book with a narrator whose pacing enhances the experience by allowing time to look at Sweet’s charming pictures. Teachers will want to use the author’s note to set the context of “performing on Broadway,” and definitely will refer to Sweet’s discussion guide (http://ow.ly/z409c), which includes activities and alignments to Common Core State Standards.
Hoose, Phillip. Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95. 3 CDs. 3 hrs. Brilliance Audio. 2012. $39.97. ISBN 9781469282091.
Gr 5 Up –Science, fascinating facts, and a compelling story combine to reinforce listeners’ awareness of one small shore bird and its fight against extinction. Hoose’s comfortable baritone lends additional credibility to this remarkable journey of rufa red knot, for many years observed migrating an unbelievable distance— equivalent to flying to the moon and halfway back again. Listeners will want to have the beautiful print edition at hand to enjoy color photographs and additional information for classroom research.
Sheinkin, Steve. The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights. 3 CDs. 4 hrs. Listening Library. 2014. $27. ISBN 9780804167444.
Gr 5-8 –In July 1944, more than 300 sailors were killed on the docks of Port Chicago, California, in a huge explosion. Most of the sailors were African American and none of them had been trained to safely handle munitions. Moreover, no white sailors did this kind of work. After the blast, many of the men refused to return to this dangerous assignment. Fifty of them were charged with mutiny, although their actions did not fit the Navy’s own definition of that crime. Dominic Hoffman’s unadorned narration, with its measured pacing, serves the story well. Sheinkin turns history into an adventure, taking facts and figures and blending them into an exciting and heartbreaking exposé of war, racism, and injustice gone amok. Students will want to visit the Port Chicago website (http://ow.ly/z401m) for additional information and to learn that these men have not been forgotten.
Brown, Daniel James. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. 12 CDs. 14:30 hrs. Penguin Audio. 2013. $49.95. ISBN 9781611761696.
Gr 8 Up –This is so much more than a story of the United States winning the gold medal in rowing at the 1936 Olympics in Germany. It’s the story of the boys and men from the University of Washington who overcame much adversity just to sit in that boat, of their triumph over the hardships of the Great Depression in the Northwest, of rising above family dysfunction, and of grit and determination on the part of those who rowed as well as those who coached and loved them. Edward Herrmann’s restrained tempo and mellow intonation allows all of the story’s emotional highs and lows to take center stage, elevating an excellent book into a remarkable listening experience.
Earl, Esther. This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl. 7 CDs. 8 hrs. Brilliance Audio. 2014. $59.97. ISBN 9781480585492.
Gr 7 Up –Part memoir, part homage, this work follows the short life of the young cancer patient to whom John Green dedicated The Fault in Our Stars. Told by Esther as well as her parents, siblings, and friends, it is by turns funny, thoughtful, and heartbreaking. Esther was a bright, engaging young woman whose insights into living with, and realizing she would soon die from, cancer are captivating, and Esther’s musings on her relationship with God will be of particular interest to Christian teens. Her parents, Lori and Wayne, are excellent narrators of their own writing, while Christina Panfilio’s careful pacing and inflection perfectly portray Esther’s teen voice when reading the girl’s own words. Other narrators (among them Nick Podehl, Luke Daniels, and Amy McFadden) read the parts of Esther’s siblings and friends. Green’s heartfelt introduction and occasional insertions will be especially appreciated by his many fans. Students can find Esther’s conversations on YouTube, which may spark their interest in making their own videos.
Kidder, Tracy & Michael French. Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World. 6 CDs. 7:22 hrs. Listening Library. 2014. $35. ISBN 9780804121699.
Gr 9 Up –Paul Farmer, a medical anthropologist and epidemiologist, has spent his adult life working to bring quality health care to the poor, particularly in developing countries. Kidder expertly weaves Farmer’s personal story—his unconventional upbringing and his stellar academic career—with the grueling hours spent battling multiple drug-resistant diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS as he struggles to provide individualized health care to his many impoverished patients around the world. This fascinating, complex, and thought-provoking book is narrated by Lincoln Hoppe with a mixture of steadiness, solemnity, and admiration. Hoppe’s conversational style perfectly suits Kidder’s ability to give an intimate glimpse into the seeming chaos of Farmer’s life. Students can follow up by listening to Farmer answer 10 questions regarding his controversial beliefs regarding health care (http://ow.ly/z40Ck).