April 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Connections That Count: Audiobooks that Highlight Kids’ Meaningful Relationships | Listen In

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Illustration by E. B. Lewis from Jacqueline Woodson’s The Other Side.
Courtesy of Weston Woods.

Another school year is on the horizon and our focus this month highlights the relationships that children and teens make—with other kids and with adults—to help them navigate the stormy waters of growing up. Teachers and librarians have always been savvy about connecting kids to stories that engage with what is going on in their lives. Current research from the Search Institute of Minneapolis, Minnesota, an organization that addresses critical issues in education and youth development to discover what kids need to succeed, zeroes in on developmental relationships “to understand how the connections that kids form with peers and adults influence their mastery of the skills and habits that are essential for success in school and in life.” (http://ow.ly/m6yNM)

The 10 titles we’ve chosen will be excellent for group listening and for generating discussions about what’s happening to the young people in the stories, from the poignant depiction of friendship in The Other Side to the real drama wrought by abuse in Eleanor and Park.

These audiobooks not only provide important group literary opportunities, they also help students understand how to develop the empathy necessary to build healthy relationships. If time for group listening is limited, have students select titles, listen to them on their own, and write about them; they will still develop that needed empathy, and they’ll also practice the critical writing skills found in so many state and national learning standards, including the following examples:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.6.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.

Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for English Language Arts and Reading, Grade 5, 110.16 The student is expected to: (F) make connections (e.g., thematic links, author analysis) between and across multiple texts of various genres and provide textual evidence). (http://ow.ly/mkgJN)

English Standards of Learning (SOL) for Virginia, Writing, Grade 8, 8.7 The student will write in a variety of forms, including narration, exposition, persuasion, and informational. (d) Organize details to elaborate the central idea and provide unity. (http://ow.ly/mkggo)


About Average. Written by Andrew Clements. Narrated by Celia Keenan-Bolger. 2 CDs. 2 hrs. Recorded Books. ISBN 978-1-4703-0082-1. $25.75. Gr 3–6

Sixth-grader Jordan is determined to discover one unique talent—something that can overcome her feelings of being a “no-more-than-average” kid. As Jordan learns to deal with a mean-spirited classmate, listeners are drawn into her awareness of others’ perceptions of her, and slowly but surely her confidence grows. When a tornado approaches the town, Jordan’s courage proves she’s a lot more than average, and her family, classmates, and community come together, demonstrating human connections at their best. Keenan-Bolger’s narration is quickly paced and delivered in a suitable childlike tone.

Andy Shane and the Very Bossy Dolores Starbuckle. Written by Jennifer Richard Jacobson. Illustrated by Abby Carter. Narrated by Rachael Lillis. CD. 16:54 min. with paperback book. Live Oak Media. 2008. ISBN 978-1-4301-0323-3. $18.95. K–Gr 3

Andy Shane hates being interrupted and corrected by know-it-all Dolores Starbuckle every day in school. Help arrives when Andy’s Granny Web makes an unexpected visit to his class, enthusiastically modeling assertive behavior that Andy emulates, and neutralizing his foe and turning her into a friend. Lillis develops an array of distinctive, amusing voices and captures the frustrations and exuberance of Jacobson’s well-developed characters. Engaging line drawings by Carter enhance the text, which children may follow as they listen.

The Other Side. Written by Jacqueline Woodson. Illustrated by E. B. Lewis. Narrated by Toshi Widoff-Woodson. CD. 7 min. with hardcover book. Weston Woods. 2012. ISBN 978-0-545-44811-6. $29.95. K–Gr 3

Clover, who is black, and Annie Rose, who is white, spend their summer on either side of a split rail fence—a striking metaphor for their segregated lives. Clover’s mother tells her never to cross to the other side because it is dangerous, but the girls are intrigued with one another. Lewis’s shimmering watercolors evoke the heat of summer as the girls sit on top of the fence and talk. Widoff-Woodson’s youthful, understated narration and a subtle underbed of music give listeners a peek at life before the Civil Rights Movement. An interview with the author rounds out this excellent production.

Wonder. Written by R. J. Palacio. Narrated by Diana Steele, Nick Podehl, and Kate Rudd. 7 CDs. 8 hrs. Brilliance Audio. 2012. ISBN 978-1-4558-4420-3. $64.97. Gr 4–6

August, nicknamed Auggie, is a 10-year-old with a facial deformity that causes others to avoid and even shun him. When he enters a mainstream school, Auggie must learn to cope with difficult new situations and new people. The narrative is told from the perspectives of Auggie, his new friends, his sister, and her boyfriend. Steele’s Auggie is raspy, quick, and delivered in a conversational tone, while Rudd and Podehl give a full range of vocal performances that bring the remaining characters to full light.

Middle School

Hidden. Written by Helen Frost.Narrated by Sisi Aisha Johnson and Maria Cabezas. 2 CDs. 2:25 hrs. Recorded Books. 2012. ISBN 978-1-4640-2099-5. $25.75. Gr 5–7

Darra and Wren meet at summer camp and discover a terrible shared secret. Years ago, Darra’s father stole a van and brought it home, not knowing that Wren was inside. When Darra saw Wren in the van, she tried, in her own way, to help. Darra’s father went to prison, leaving both girls scarred by the event. Stuck together in the same cabin, they must decide if they can talk about the past, forgive each other, and possibly become friends. Johnson and Cabezas skillfully delineate the emotional distress of teens caught in situations outside of their control and, through expert pacing and intonation, bring out the complex character development embodied in Frost’s spare text.

Hoot. Written by Carl Hiaasen. Narrated by Chad Lowe. 6 CDs. 6:29 hrs. Listening Library. 2002. ISBN: 978-0-8072-1595-1. $50. Gr 6–9

The endangered burrowing owl faces off against Mother Paula’s All-American Pancake House in this 2003 Newbery Honor book. Add an appealing protagonist and Lowe’s understated narration to the mix, and the themes of friendship, honesty, and child abuse are tempered with large doses of humor and a nice touch of mystery. Listeners will be rooting for Roy as he navigates being the new boy at Trace Middle School and finding friends in unexpected places. Lowe’s inflections and pacing make for engaging listening as Roy and his friends fight against animal and child abuse. Pair this with Hiassen’s other environmental mysteries: Flush, Scat, and Chomp (all Listening Library).

See You at Harry’s. Written by Jo Knowles. Narrated by Kate Rudd. 5 CDs. 6 hrs. Brilliance Audio. 2012. ISBN 978-1-4558-8958-7. $49.97. Gr 6–10

It’s hard enough being the third child of four, especially when your petulant older sister is looking for romance, your older brother is trying to figure out his sexual orientation, everyone thinks your little brother is so adorable, and your parents seem oblivious to everything that’s happening in the family. When the unthinkable happens and your family really falls apart, you’re sure it’s all your fault. Kate Rudd mines every heartbreaking, deeply nuanced emotion with subtle vocal interpretations and pacing guaranteed to leave listeners mourning for what has been lost.

High School

Eleanor and Park. Written by Rainbow Rowell. Narrated by Rebecca Lowman and Sunil Malhotra. 7 CDs. 9 hrs. Listening Library. 2013. ISBN 978-0-3853-6828-5. $50. Gr 8 Up

Eleanor is an outsider, navigating her first day at a new school, taunted on the bus by the “cool crowd.” Park becomes her unwilling rescuer and, despite their differences, they become close friends. Told in two voices, the audio production emphasizes their journey from tenuous friendship to blossoming romance, performed by the narrators in understated yet powerful tones. As the teens’ relationship deepens, parental abuse, bullying, family resilience, and love combine for a realistic look at adolescents under duress. As the emotional turmoil builds, the counterpoint between the two voices becomes dancelike, driving the plot to a surprising yet inevitable conclusion.

Jerk, California. Written by Jonathan Friesen. Narrated by Andy Paris. 8 CDs. 9:30 hrs. Recorded Books. 2010. ISBN 978-1-4498-0647-7. $87.75. Gr 9 Up

Sam is a high school senior who has lived with Tourette’s syndrome since age six. He has no friends and no prospects for college or employment when he graduates. His abusive stepfather has convinced Sam that he’s worthless, just like his dead father. When George, the town eccentric who hires Sam for the summer, dies unexpectedly, Sam sets off on a quest to learn the truth about his father, meeting family and making friends along the way, and discovering himself in the process. Paris’s steady pacing conveys Sam’s inner dialogue, mirroring his jerky muscles and keeping listeners engaged in the action.

The Raven Boys. Written by Maggie Stiefvater. Narrated by Will Patton. 10 CDs. 11:09 hrs. Scholastic Audio. 2012. ISBN 978-0-5454-6594-6. $79.99. Gr 8 Up

From the dramatic introductory music to the complexity of plot and characterizations, Stiefvater’s story of Blue, Gansey, and the Aglionby boys is masterfully performed by Patton. Listeners will be drawn into the world of Blue, her psychic family, and the mysterious group of boys who search for the ley line, a link to the long-dead Welsh king, Glendower. Even in this fantasy world, the bonds between Blue’s family, the strong friendships between “the boys,” and the depth of Blue’s relationship with Gansey mirror familiar emotions and connections in today’s world. This is the first book in “The Raven Cycle” (The Dream Thieves is due in Sept. 2013). Listeners will be entranced by the fully voiced narration. Even the minor characters demonstrate vocal excellence and make listeners admire the talent that drives a story to surpass the print version.

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).