December 16, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Top 10 Audiobooks 2017

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These 10 titles represent the best of October 2016 to October 2017 audiobook releases, with selections for all age groups and interests. They tell fascinating stories—both fiction and nonfiction—that are enhanced by exceptional narration.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. HarperAudio. Gr 9 Up. Read by Bahni Turpin.

When Starr witnesses her friend’s death by a white officer, she must deal with the reactions of her family, her inner-city neighbors, and her upscale private school friends—not to mention her own feelings. Starr’s first-person narration creates an immediacy that draws listeners into her anger and grief. Turpin perfectly captures dialect, cadence, and slang, providing each individual with nuanced tones.

Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore. Listening Library. Gr 7 Up. Read by Rebecca Soler.

When 18-year-old Jane is invited to a gala at a magnificent island estate, the events play out five times. The stories fall into different genres—espionage, mystery, horror, science fiction, and fantasy—and each stands alone with crisp, concise plots full of twists, clues, and trapdoor surprises. Soler captures each character in this quirky, spellbinding novel, tweaking her voicing per the demands of shifting genres and story lines.

Refugee by Alan Gratz. Scholastic. Gr 3-7. Read by Michael Goldstrom, Kyla Garcia, & Assaf Cohen.

Gratz provides names, families, and histories to three tweens fleeing three countries, during three time periods. Josef (voiced by Goldstrom) escapes Nazi Germany on the eve of World War II aboard the ill-fated St. Louis; Isabel (Garcia) leaves the unrest and deprivation of Cuba’s Special Period during the 1990s; and Mahmood (Cohen) flees the bombs in 2015 that continue to destroy Syria. The three stories converge—naturally yet magically—by book’s end.

Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune by Pamela S. Turner. Recorded Books. Gr 7 Up. Read by Brian Nishii.

Yoshitsune was spared after his father attacked a rival, was then raised by monks, and later received instruction in the way of the samurai. Yoshitsune pledged his loyalty to his half brother Yoritomo and performed many heroic feats. Unfortunately, Yoritomo didn’t trust Yoshitsune and sent assassins to eliminate him. This true adventure races along at breakneck speed, referencing modern high school cliques to describe the Japanese aristocracy vs. the samurai. Narrator Nishii easily captures Turner’s conversational phrasing and touches of sarcasm.

A Spy Called James: The True Story of James Lafayette, Revolutionary War Double Agent by Anne Rockwell. Dreamscape. Gr 2-5. Read by Rodney Gardiner.

The true story of James Lafayette, a Revolutionary double agent, will captivate and anger young listeners. James, an American enslaved person, put himself in danger while trying to secure America’s freedom from the British and earn his own. Realizing too late that freedom was promised only to enslaved soldiers, not spies, James had to fight to free himself from the very people he had just helped win their independence. Gardiner performs the tale of intrigue, adventure, and heartache with reverence and articulated care.

The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore. Listening Library. Gr 5-8. Read by Nile Bullock.

His older brother’s recent gang-related death has left 12-year-old Lolly with raw, unresolved emotions. His mom’s partner brings Lolly two garbage bags full of LEGOs from the toy store where she works, and the boy finds his path via the ever-evolving LEGO constructions. Moore doesn’t shy away from critical issues: bullying, gun violence, police brutality, child protective services, and autism. In this believable self-discovery story, the will to survive is achieved by channeling a talent and by the support of friends and family. Bullock provides excellent narration.

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon. Listening Library. Gr 9 Up. Read by Bahni Turpin, Raymond Lee, & Dominic Hoffman.

Natasha, an undocumented Jamaican teen seeking legal help on her last day in the country before she and her family are deported, and Daniel, a budding Korean American poet on his way to a Yale admissions interview, meet in New York City. Over the course of the day, they debate love and destiny, but neither can deny the connection between them, nor that time is not on their side. Turpin and Lee fully express the emotions of the two teens as they fall in love, and they also provide performances for the parents, who play integral roles in the protagonists’ lives. The narrators do a stellar job of conveying the characters’ individual and interwoven journeys.

To Stay Alive: Mary Ann Graves and the Tragic Journey of the Donner Party by Skila Brown. Brilliance. Gr 7 Up. Read by Lauren Ezzo.

For 19-year-old Mary Ann Graves, and her family, the journey from Illinois to California in 1846 means an arduous walk through mountains and deserts, alongside livestock and wagons. When winter falls on the Sierra Nevada, each day becomes a battle for survival against snow, cold, and starvation—until they must resort to horrific means to survive. Ezzo beautifully communicates the cadence of Brown’s verse, varying her pace and tone, aptly conveying Mary Ann’s reactions and emotions.

When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin. Hachette Audio. Gr 4-6. Read by Kim Mai Guest.

The Black Tortoise of Winter’s chilly grip hasn’t stopped villagers from trekking up the mountain to hear tales from Amah the Storyteller. Upon their arrival, Pinmei, Amah’s granddaughter, hides in the shadows and listens. Life abruptly unravels when the conniving Tiger Emperor kidnaps Amah, and Pinmei, with her friend Yishan, must find the courage to rescue her beloved grandmother. Guest superbly captures each character.

You Bring the Distant Near. by Mitali Perkins. Listening Library. Gr 9 Up. Read by Sneha Mathan, Shivali Bhammer, Priya Ayyar, N’Jameh Camara, & Zehra Jane Naqvi.

Relationships among three generations of women play paramount roles as they all acclimate to American life while trying to hold on to Indian culture. Mathan, Bhammer, Ayyar, Camara, and Naqvi read expressively and clearly, giving listeners an immersive experience that spans from the 1970s to present day.

This article was published in School Library Journal's December 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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