It’s a terrific time for those who love audiobooks. The Audio Publishers Association’s annual survey revealed that the 35,713 titles published in audiobook format in 2013 more than doubled from the 16,309 audiobooks that came out in 2012. This is the second year in a row that the number of titles published has doubled over the previous year, and marks a huge increase since 2010, when only 6,200 titles were released in audio.
Luckily for listeners, audiobooks’ quality is more than keeping pace with the increased quantities of titles on the market. These 10 titles represent the best of the best of 2014’s releases, with titles for all age groups and interests. They all tell fascinating stories—both fiction and nonfiction—that are enhanced by exceptional narration and production values.
The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson. Brilliance. Gr 9 Up. Read by Julia Whelan and Luke Daniels.
Hayley Kincain’s father, Andy, served multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan before being hurt in battle and suffering from PTSD. Hayley has assumed the role of caretaker, trying to keep Andy’s depression and drug and alcohol use a secret. When she meets Finn, who has a secret as big as her own, their relationship helps her to realize that she may have more options and possibilities than she realizes. This story is as much Andy’s as it is Hayley’s, and narrators Julia Whelan and Luke Daniels bring the characters to life.
The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming. Listening Library. Gr 7 Up. Read by Kimberly Farr and additional voice actors.
Differing from most Russian history targeted for this age group (which often feature the Grand Duchess Anastasia as the key or only player), Fleming makes a great effort to go deeper. With topics ranging from the relationship between Alexandra and Rasputin to vivid descriptions of the Romanov children’s sheltered lives, Fleming’s expertly researched account is engaging. Farr’s narration combined with Fleming’s writing will surely provide sustenance for those seeking meaty, narrative nonfiction.
Locomotive by Brian Floca. Dreamscape. K-Gr 5. Read by Eric G. Dove.
Narrator Eric G. Dove spins Floca’s 2014 Caldecott Medal–winning visual masterpiece into a rich auditory experience. Dove’s resonant, lyrical voice captivates listeners and keeps them enthralled from beginning to end. Locomotive has something for all readers, from young engineers (who’ll love learning the details and vocabulary of piston-driven, push-and-pull steam locomotion), to poets (who will appreciate such lines as “wheels spinning, rods swinging, motion within motion running down the track”), history buffs, train enthusiasts, and those who simply love a well-told story.
Ice Whale by Jean Craighead George. Recorded Bks. Gr 5-8. Read by Christina Moore.
When Toozak, a Yup’ik Eskimo boy in Alaska, unknowingly leads whaling ships to the whales’ feeding grounds, the animals are slaughtered. The village shaman declares Toozak’s family cursed until one of them can save the life of Siku, a young ice whale—or the whale saves them. Narrator Christina Moore captures the emotional story in a strong, lyrical, and imaginative way—told in two voices, whale and human. Expressive, thrilling, and, at times, sad, this is an exhilarating audiobook highlighting the interconnectedness of the Alaskan Native culture and the inhabitants of the Beaufort Sea. Real recordings of bowhead whales are used to render the whale speech, and it is delightful to hear actual whale clicks, whistles, and calls throughout the book.
Fat Boy vs. the Cheerleaders by Geoff Herbach. Brilliance. Gr 7 Up. Read by Nick Podehl.
Gabe is caught taking money out of the school vending machine in retaliation for the school band’s funds being reallocated to a new dance team. He is now in custody and is telling his story. How did a fat boy with no leadership skills corral the pep band to take on the cheerleaders? Herbach takes the everyday issues of clique rivalry and stereotypes and creates a story where the underdog fights back. Listeners will discover depth within the main character that doesn’t seem present at the beginning. Nick Podehl’s narration is fun and spot-on. He creates unique voices for the many varied characters and brings each person’s personality to life.
The Bambino and Me by Zachary Hyman. Tundra Books. Gr 1-4. Read by Jason Alexander.
It’s 1927 in the Bronx, and George Henry Alexander loves baseball, the Yankees, and, most of all, The Bambino aka Babe Ruth. For his birthday, he will be going to see a Yankees/Red Sox game with his father, but to his horror, his mother insists that he wear a Red Sox jersey that was a birthday gift. How will George survive wearing the jersey of the enemy? What if The Babe sees him? This story is beautifully written and full of nostalgia. Jason Alexander’s narration is the icing on the cake, adding fun character voices and New York accents to this tale of Americana.
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kulkin. Brilliance. Gr 9 Up. Read by Nick Podehl, Roxanne Hernandez, Nancy Wu, Marisol Ramirez, and more.
The strength and honesty of six transgender teens stand out as their stories are told by a large cast of outstanding performers. Each tells a complex personal tale of realization, coming out, communication with family and friends, struggles, and triumph through adversity. Each performer speaks in the gender of the person’s current self-identity, which is occasionally confusing, although a main narrator, reading Kuklin’s words as she conducted these interviews, provides context for each story. The teens are voiced in a totally believable way with various regional accents. They tell the stories as flawed but full human beings, and as they talk about bullying, mental health, clinical history, and problems with family and friends, listeners will be inspired by their lives.
Ghosting by Edith Pattou. Brilliance. Gr 7 Up. Read by Kate Rudd, Kate Reinders, Amy McFadden, Nick Podehl, and more.
After a failed family move to Colorado, Maxie has returned to the Midwestern town where she grew up. When Emma, her former best friend, reluctantly invites her to a party, it sets in motion an evening full of self-discovery and mistakes in judgment that puts them on a collision course with tragedy. The story is told in alternating voices and viewpoints, and the tension ramps steadily upward. This terrific audiobook will resonate with teens, especially those who have had similar experiences. The large cast is excellent.
Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell. Recorded Bks. Gr 2-5. Read by Lizan Mitchell.
Through her bold performances and natural fearlessness, Josephine Baker became an international performing star. The unadorned narration of the blank verse text is lovely and vibrant as performed by veteran actress Lizan Mitchell. Her voice is full of the same energy and verve Josephine embodied, though the text is mostly narrative with no dialogue. It is sprinkled with occasional quotes from Josephine herself. Mitchell fluidly reads the verse, “knees squeeze, now fly/arms scissor and splay,” that captures Josephine’s uninhibited nature so well.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. Listening Library. Gr 4-7. Read by the author.
Woodson’s story, told in free verse, is particularly compelling when detailing the small moments of life, such as the “Saturday night smells of biscuits and burning hair” or bemoaning the “hair ribbons that anchor (her) to childhood.” And while poetry is sometimes difficult to follow on audio, this author is a masterful narrator. The sounds of the words and the rhythm expressed by her thoughtful intonation, careful pacing, and deliberate emphasis make clear the poetic form: “a country caught” (sharp C’s and T, pause) “between black and white.” Both a personal memoir and a child’s eye view of the nascent civil rights movement, this work confirms Woodson’s brilliance as a writer for children and for adults, too.