March 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Audiobooks that Celebrate Teachers | Listen In

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October 5 marks the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) annual celebration of World Teacher’s Day. First celebrated in 1994, the event commemorates the 1966 adoption of the Recommendation Concerning the Status of Teachers, an important step in recognizing educators’ critical role. As the director general of UNESCO states, “Teachers are the single most influential and powerful force for equity, access, and quality in education.” What a fitting acknowledgment of the hard work that goes into improving our world through education.

Not all countries honor their teachers’ achievements on October 5 (in the United States, Teacher Appreciation Day will be celebrated on May 7, 2014). However, the Common Core State Standards, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and UNESCO all acknowledge that preparing students to meet the challenges of a global society is a critical piece of what today’s educators must achieve.

We are taking the opportunity offered by World Teacher’s Day to suggest audiobooks in which teachers play a central role, from the long-lasting influence of Mrs. Granger in Andrew Clements’s Frindle to the humorous depictions in Richard Peck’s The Teacher’s Funeral. After listening to these selections, we hope you and your students will try some of the instructional extensions included with each title that support the Common Core and other state and local learning standards.

Recognizing the dedication and talents of thousands of educators worldwide definitely includes the contributions school librarians bring to their educational communities. Here’s a special nod to all who give their professional commitment to instruction and learning.

Bluefish. Written by Pat Schmatz. Narrated by Luke Daniels and Kate Rudd. 4 CDs. 5 hrs. Brilliance Audio. 2011. ISBN 978-1-4558-2219-5. $49.97.

Gr 6-8–Travis is secretive and Velveeta is into everyone’s business. Their sympathetic, patient English teacher steps in, helping Travis with a learning issue and steering Velveeta towards more productive behavior. The two students become friends and learn to exercise some control over their lives. Through exceptional pacing and intonation, Daniels and Rudd fully express the yin and yang of troubled tweens on the cusp of young adulthood.

The focus on personal growth makes this perfect for class discussions centering on social-emotional standards, such as this one from the Madison (WI) Metropolitan School District curriculum: MMSD SELS Health 1,3 Students will recognize that individuals have personal power to set and achieve goals.

Frindle. Written by Andrew Clements. Narrated by John Fleming. 2 CDs. 1 hr. 39 min. Listening Library. 2000. ISBN: 978-0-8072-1160-1. $24.

Gr 3-5–Fifth grade begins auspiciously for Nick when he meets the inimitable Mrs. Granger. She introduces the bright but stubborn boy to the power of words and more, and both teacher and pupil learn a great deal during the school year about notoriety, bending rules, and recognizing a strong devotion to instructional rigor. Fleming’s deep baritone has a comfortable and friendly timbre that allows the story to unfold without intruding on the inherent humor and honesty. Mrs. Granger personifies the long-lasting influence that a teacher can have in a student’s life.

Students will enjoy investigating new words with the free online website offering a Word of the Day, the Hot Word, and definitions of words that are currently in use as well as those new to the vernacular. The free app for Apple and Android devices turns the search for new words into a technology-rich activity.

Consult reference materials (e.g., dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses), both print and digital, to find the pronunciation and determine or clarify the precise meaning of key words and phrases.

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. Written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes. Narrated by Laura Hamilton. CD. 16:22 min. with hardcover book. Live Oak Media. 2000. ISBN 978-1-5911-2348-4. $29.95.

PreS-Gr 2–Lilly loves everything about school, especially her wonderful teacher. Unable to curb her enthusiasm for some distracting possessions, Mr. Slinger removes them for the day, causing an enraged Lilly to leave him a nasty note. Happily, this terrific teacher knows that Lilly just had a bad day and tells her “tomorrow will be better.” Hamilton’s voicing easily sets apart characters and the clever addition of background voices reading the cartoon bubbles makes this audio accessible to students learning how a book “works.”

Read-along picture books align perfectly with standards for very young learners. The page-turn signals alert students to move ahead, while still allowing plenty of time to “read” the illustrations. One copy of the CD or digital download can be paired with multiple copies of the print edition, permitting teacher assessment during group listening and discussion. These two kindergarten standards fit particularly well:

Foundational Skills: Demonstrate understanding of the organization and basic features of print.
Virginia SOLs Reading K.5 The student will understand how print is organized and read.

a) Hold print materials in the correct position.
b) Identify the front cover, back cover, and title page of a book.
c) Distinguish between print and pictures.
d) Follow words from left to right and from top to bottom on a printed page.
e) Match voice with print (concept of word).

Math Curse. Written by Jon Scieszka. Illustrated by Lane Smith. Narrated by Nancy Wu. CD. 13:46 min. with hardcover book. Weston Woods. 2009. ISBN 978-0-545-13458-3. $29.95.

Gr 3-5–Can math be funny? You bet! When her teacher says that everything can be a math problem, our protagonist’s curse begins. Getting dressed, eating breakfast, or having pizza at lunch all turn into word problems. Wu narrates with appropriately bewildered hysteria and the musical bed blends nicely with Scieszka’s hilarious text and Smith’s off-kilter art.

Not only will students be amused, but they can also solve the real problems as learning extensions. Teachers can encourage students to write and illustrate their own problems in imitation of the book as well.

Solve multistep word problems posed with whole numbers and having whole-number answers using the four operations, including problems in which remainders must be interpreted. Represent these problems using equations with a letter standing for the unknown quantity. Assess the reasonableness of answers using mental computation and estimation strategies including rounding.

Matilda. Written by Roald Dahl. Narrated by Ron Keith. 5 CDs. 5:15 hrs. Recorded Books. 1994. ISBN 978-0-7887-3450-2. $51.75.

Gr 3-5–Precocious Matilda is berated by her parents for reading too much, but she perseveres and reads every book in the library. When she finally attends school and meets the understanding Miss Honey, Matilda’s talents shine. Keith’s British accent and treatment of characters’ conversations is especially good as the evil headmistress Miss Trunchbull tries to outwit the brilliant Matilda. A current musical play and recent movie adaptation don’t diminish this listening experience.

Most school districts participate in some kind of Teacher of the Year program, often announced during Teacher Appreciation Week. After listening to Matilda, introduce students to criteria for the National Teacher of the Year program ( and discuss what makes a good teacher. Not only will they build critical-thinking skills by examining how Miss Trunchbull and Miss Honey measure up to these national criteria, but they can also be encouraged to add their thoughts on what makes an excellent teacher, supporting these Speaking and Listening standards:

Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 3 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

Explain their own ideas and understanding in light of the discussion.

My Teacher Is an Alien. Written by Bruce Coville. Narrated by Liza Ross. 2 CDs. 2:23 hrs. Listening Library. 2009. ISBN 978-0-3075-8285-0.

Gr 3-6–What can you do when your teacher is from outer space and wants to take you back with him? That’s what Susan and her classmates face in Coville’s witty story of sixth grade gone bad. Ross breathlessly interprets Susan’s predicament, and her careful pacing and inflection create a school full of wacky students and teachers.

Originally published in 1991, this book contains outdated technology for today’s students to discuss and research, from differences in telephones to how listening to music has changed. Online and print encyclopedias can be used to support the standard:

Draw on information from multiple print or digital sources, demonstrating the ability to locate an answer to a question quickly or to solve a problem efficiently.

The Teacher’s Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts. Written by Richard Peck. Narrated by Dylan Baker. 4 CDs. 4:42 hrs. Listening Library. 2004. ISBN 978-1-4000-9496-7. $38.

Gr 6-9–In 1904 rural Indiana, when Russell’s hateful teacher dies prior to the start of the new term, he’s sure that school will be canceled. Then comes the awful discovery that his sister has taken the job. Baker’s homey, country voicing perfectly captures this bygone era and the humor and poignancy of the story, making for a superb listening and literary experience.

The Conner Prairie Interactive History Park site has a wealth of information on Indiana during the early 20th century, inviting comparisons between fictional and informational texts and supporting standards such as these from the National Center for History in the Schools, UCLA:
Grades 9-12: Analyze how the emergence of the “New Woman” challenged Victorian values.
Grades 7-12: Explain the role of new technology and scientific research in the rise of agribusiness and agricultural productivity.

The Wednesday Wars. Written by Gary D. Schmidt. Narrated by Joel Johnstone. 6 CDs. 7:28 hrs. Scholastic Audiobooks. 2007. ISBN 978-0-4390-2340-5. $64.95.

Gr 5-8–Set in the 1960s, Holling Hoodhood spends seventh grade relegated to reading Shakespeare while his classmates are dismissed for religious education. Johnstone’s youthful intonation expresses the humor and high emotion as Holling learns to appreciate his teacher and recognize the power of the Bard. The Royal Shakespeare Company’s website offers workshops and activities for specific plays.

Analyze how particular elements of a story or drama interact (e.g., how setting shapes characters or plot).

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 October 2013 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.