February 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Hearing the World: Fiction and nonfiction audiobooks from around the globe | Listen In

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December brings with it the close of the calendar year, giving us time to reflect on and celebrate the diversity of our world’s cultures. Audiobooks, especially those that represent common human experiences and examine global heritage and customs, afford listeners an opportunity to hear stories from around the world. From Africa, Asia, the Americas, and beyond, this month’s selections of audiobooks provide armchair travel and glimpses at life in other countries and cultures, an important component to understanding the lives of other people—different, and yet not so different, from us.


Early Elementary

BRUCHAC, Joseph. Crazy Horse’s Vision. 1 CD with pb book. 24 min. Live Oak Media. 2005. $19.95. ISBN 9781591129110.

Gr 1-5–This is the story of Curly, a young Lakota boy who would grow up to be the famous hero Crazy Horse. Curtis Zunigha, a member of the Delaware tribe, narrates Bruchac’s (Abenaki) retelling of the boy’s vision quest with the authoritative cadence of a born storyteller. Original music by flutist Robert Tree Cody (Dakota and Maricopa) enhances the reading. Superb pacing gives listeners time to absorb the striking paintings by Lakota artist S.D. Nelson. Additional material from author and illustrator—read by Bruchac—provides a broader look at the rich diversity of Native American cultures.

MORA, Pat. Yum! ¡MmMm! ¡Que rico! America’s Sproutings. 1 CD with pb book. 20 min. Live Oak Media. 2013. $19.95. ISBN 9781430114482.

PreS-Gr 3–Mora’s haiku are beautifully read by Gabriella Cavallero, whose clear and distinct voice enhances the poetry, allowing listeners to focus on delicious foods from around the Americas: blueberries, chili peppers, chocolate, corn, papayas, potatos, pecans, and more. Brightly colored illustrations by Rafael López draw young listeners into the distinctive settings. Background music with a Latin flair completes the lyrical descriptions of fruits and vegetables native to North, Central, and South America. The author’s note includes food-related jump-rope rhymes that continues the fun. Yum.

NELSON, Kadir. Nelson Mandela. 1 CD with tr book. 10 min. Weston Woods. 2013. $29.95. ISBN 9780545609487.

Gr 1-5–Forest Whitaker uses intonation, pacing, and cadence to narrate this biography of Mandela. Background music and Nelson’s exquisite illustrations evoke the setting as the story of Mandela’s childhood and struggle against apartheid is powerfully told. His resilience in the face of oppression, charismatic leadership, and remarkable journey from prison to president are told with a sense of the effect that his life had on millions of South Africans and citizens of the world. An author’s note and interview with the author/artist complete the package for student learning and enjoyment.

SAY, Allen. Grandfather’s Journey. 1 CD. 8 min. Weston Woods. 2008. $12.95. ISBN 9780545106948.

K-Gr 5–The 1994 Caldecott Award–winning title is the story of Say’s grandfather’s travels between Japan and the United States, echoed many years later by the artist himself. The text portrays the longing they both felt for the place they were not: “The moment I am in one country, I am homesick for the other.” B.D. Wong’s narration combined with the musical soundscape provides just the right atmosphere for Say’s reminiscesnces.

SOTO, Gary. Too Many Tamales. 1 CD with tr book. 11 min. Weston Woods. 2002. $29.95. ISBN 9781555921378.

PreS-Gr 3–Blanca Camacho’s gently accented voice narrates this tale of a Mexican family tradition. Maria, who’s helping to knead the masa for Christmas tamales, tries on her mother’s diamond ring. She loses it in the sticky dough, but doesn’t realize the ring is gone until the tamales are all done. Shaken, Maria gets her cousins to help search for the ring by eating all of the tamales, to no avail. Did someone swallow it? Feeling sick, Maria admits what happened, only to discover that her mama found the ring in the dough before the tamales were cooked. As children read along, the rich, realistic oil paintings by Ed Martinez further immerse listeners into the story and setting.

Middle Grade

COMPESTINE, Ying Chang. Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party. 4 CDs. 4:45 hrs. Listening Library. 2007. $38. ISBN 9780739361610.

Gr 4-6–Narrator Jodi Long brings the terror, sights, and—most especially—sounds of the Cultural Revolution to listeners who may be unfamiliar with this period of Chinese history. Ling’s parents are doctors at a small hospital in Wuhan when Chairman Mao declares war on what he considered to be dangerous bourgeois elements infiltrating society and undermining communism. Long accurately portrays the pitch and rhythm of Chinese speech, effectively heightening the emotional tension of this biographical novel as listeners observe Ling’s growth from a self-centered child to a hardened, activist teen.

FLEISCHMAN, Paul. Seedfolks. 2 CDs. 1:30 hrs. Blackstone Audio. 2003. $24.95. ISBN 9781883332952.

Gr 4-7–This story will resonate with listeners who have an interest in urban farming. Seedfolks has been a favorite with those looking to raise awareness of community, gardening, and connecting people with diverse backgrounds. Beginning with an abandoned city lot in Cleveland, OH, and one small Vietnamese girl planting bean seeds, the book tells of a collection of 13 gardeners and their adventures of growing food and bonding with one another. Their individual voices will “plant” inspiration for listeners to grow their own gardens.

IHIMAERA, Witi. The Whale Rider. 4 CDs. 3:40 hrs. Brilliance Audio. 2004. $24.95. ISBN 9781740947831.

Gr 5-8–Young listeners may be familiar with the notable movie inspired by this book, a story that features the cultural transitions facing many countries and people. A female child, Kahu, is born to a Maori family, breaking a tradition of male descendants. Kahu’s great-grandfather, who’s also the tribal leader, initially feels that the whale-riding legend will be threatened by the fact that she’s a girl, but eventually sees that Kahu can ably fulfill that role. Narrator Jay Laga’aia, who easily captures the rhythm of Maori vocabulary and the lilt of New Zealand English, beautifully narrates.

PARK, Linda Sue. A Long Walk to Water. 3 CDs. 2:40 hrs. Full Cast Audio. 2013. $34. ISBN 9781936223121.

Gr 5-9–The narratives of two children, living years apart in war-ravaged South Sudan, highlight the misery of the conflict while underscoring the need for clean water around the world. David Baker, as young Salva, does a fine job of replicating the cadence of Sudanese speech, making the boy’s struggle to get to a refugee camp seem all the more urgent. Cynthia Bishop infuses quiet determination into the voice of Nya who, 10 years later, grapples with the lack of potable water for her family and community. As their stories come together, listeners will gain appreciation for the plight of children living in such challenging circumstances. An author’s note and Salva’s own words at the end complete this excellent audiobook.

WHELAN, Gloria. Homeless Bird. 3 CDs. 3:36 hrs. Listening Library. 2003. $30. ISBN 9780807220139.

Gr 5-8–The 2000 winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature is brought to audio with a fine performance by Sarita Choudhoury. When 13-year-old Koly faces an arranged marriage, tragic events unfold that test her resilience and courage. The work provides a close look at Indian culture: food, family life, clothing, and customs. Listeners will be drawn into Koly’s journey to womanhood and the challenges she faces, while they learn about the culture and traditions that inform her life.

Young Adult

ABDEL-FATTAH, Randa. Does My Head Look Big in This? 8 CDs. 9 hrs. Brilliance Audio. 2012. $29.95. ISBN 9781743191668.

Gr 7 Up–When Amal, an Australian teen of Palestinian decent, decides to wear the hijab, the traditional head covering for Muslim women, full time, she’s forced to reexamine her relationships with friends, family, neighbors, and even school officials. Rebecca Macaulay’s delivery brings an authentic teen quality to the production and enables American listeners to understand and enjoy the Australian slang peppering the text.

FARISH, Terry. The Good Braider. 4 CDs. 4:30 hrs. Recorded Bks. 2014. $46.75. ISBN 9781470376253.

Gr 9 Up–Cherise Boothe’s soft, lilting voice stands in sharp contrast to the harsh circumstances of Viola’s life in war-torn South Sudan, where existence is precarious, dependent on the whims of ever-present soldiers. Hoping for better circumstances, Viola’s small family flees to Cairo, where further tragedy looms while they wait for the opportunity to join an uncle in Portland, ME. Life in America, with its different cultural mores, proves almost too difficult for Viola’s mother. Boothe’s reading will help listeners appreciate the struggles of this very personal immigrant experience.

LAKE, Nick. In Darkness. 8 CDs. 9 hrs. Brilliance Audio. 2012. $59.97. ISBN 9781455877065.

Gr 9 Up–Pinned under the rubble of the hospital where he is recovering from being shot, Shorty reflects on the violence of his life in Haiti prior to the 2010 earthquake. Alternating with Shorty’s reminiscences of gang life and providing hope for survival are scenes from the past: Haitian slave hero Toussaint L’Ouverture’s bloody revolutionary battle for freedom 200 years earlier. Benjamin L. Darcie brings the two heartbreaking stories together with expert inflection and pacing.

YOUSAFZAI, Malala. I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban. 9 CDs. 10 hrs. Hachette Audio. 2013. $30. ISBN 9781478979784.

Gr 7 Up–The story of the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize winner is told by Malala herself, with journalist Christina Lamb. Archie Punjabi’s narration makes listeners feel as though they are sitting in a room listening to Malala recount her resistance to Taliban oppression, which resulted in her being shot in the face for insisting on her right to an education. Malala’s inspiring story will encourage students to take charge of their own lives and realize their ability to change the world.

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 December 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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  1. I’m always trying to expose my kids to other cultures through books, food, and any other way that I can. These audiobooks are a great way to do that. My daughter loves to listen to stories in the car and some of these will be making it into the rotation.