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Book Reviews: Reading on the Run

by Karen Hildebrand
 | Jun 22, 2015

Whether listening for pleasure or at a classroom listening center, learning a language or sharing a road trip audiobook, the pleasure of listening to a book is readily available. From wonderful sound effects to full-cast audio and the vast repertoire of voices that master audio book performers like Jim Dale have to offer, reading with our ears has become a popular way to read new books. Fortunately, school and public libraries are making audiobooks easy to acquire, and the state library consortiums allow for audio downloads without ever leaving home.

One exciting offer this summer is SYNC, an online program sponsored by audiobook publishers and AudioFile magazine to introduce the listening experience to your young adult audience.  SYNC offers two free complete audiobook downloads each week for 14 weeks, beginning May 7, for listeners ages 13+. Each week, SYNC offers a contemporary young adult audiobook paired thematically with a classic audiobook title.  SYNC is dedicated to introducing the listening experience to the young adult audience and demonstrating that required reading can be completed by listening. The MP3 titles can be downloaded for free and listened to at any time.

To keep abreast of the best children’s and YA audio books, make note of these websites for award-winning audiobooks: the Odyssey Award , the Audie Awards, and Notable Children’s Recordings.


Ages 4–8

The Adventures of Beekle :The Unimaginary Friend. Dan Santat. 2015. Hachette Audio. Richmond Hoxie, narrator.

This beautiful story of friendship begins on an island far away. When our young friend continues to be overlooked as a companion, he embarks on a journey that leads him to a beautiful friendship. Hoxie’s narration adds the right inflection for hope, sorrow, and a joyous conclusion with the friends’ voices together announce The End. Download the Beekle party kit.

Last Stop on Market Street. Matt de la Peña. 2015. Recorded Books. Lizan Mitchell, narrator.

Young CJ and his Nana take the bus home from church every Sunday. CJ sees other people come and go in their cars and questions why he and Nana have to ride the rickety old bus every week. Narrator Lizan Mitchell does a wonderful job portraying both CJ and Nana, especially as Nana explains all the right reasons about the wonders of the bus “that breathes fire!”


Nana in the City. Lauren Castillo. 2015. Recorded Books. Christopher Gebauer, narrator. 

When a young boy visits his Nana in the city, he becomes afraid of all the hustle and activity and noise. That same night Nana knits him a super red cape to ward off his fears. The next day when they have their city adventure, the young boy feels brave and confident in his cape and is able to enjoy the wonders of the city. The narration provides all the excitement of urban life but also reflects the fears of the little one as well. Two tracks are available, one adding the page-turn signals.

Ages 9–11

The Island of Dr. Libris. Chris Grabenstein. 2015. Listening Library. Kirby Heyborne, narrator.

Young Billy arrives on the island with only a large library to use for his entertainment while he shares a rented cabin with his mother for the summer. When Billy starts to read aloud, the fun and adventure begin. Narrator Kirby Heyborne has lots of fun with all the characters on the island as his voice brings to life all the characters from Hercules to Tom Sawyer and more.


Nest. Esther Ehrlich. 2015. Listening Library. Jenna Lamia, narrator.

Set in the early 1970s on Cape Cod, Chirp and her family are dealing with her mother’s recent diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. Narrator Jenna Lamia has perfected some of the regional dialect in family and neighbors. Her voice reflects the various feelings of Chirp and her family, from exhaustion to holding back tears. Chirp’s summer goal to spot a red-throated loon provides another layer of story surrounding this family’s plan to deal with a life-altering illness.


Pluto, a Wonder Story. R.J. Palacio. 2015. Brilliance Audio. Scott Merriman, narrator.

The author’s first book, Wonder, was an instant hit among students and teachers. Followed by The Julian Chapter, Auggie’s story continued. Now in the format of a short story, readers learn about Auggie’s earliest friendship with Christopher. Narrator Scott Merriman has a gentle approach to this friendship and is able to evoke the emotional level of the boys’ friendship and their eventual drifting apart. Wonder fans will welcome this addition to Auggie’s friendship circle.


The Worst Class Trip Ever. Dave Barry. 2015. Brilliance Audio. Todd Haberkorn, narrator.

Told through the voice of eighth grader Wyatt Palmer on his flight to Washington, DC, on a school trip, he and his buddy, Matt, are convinced there are terrorists on their plane. With all the wonderful sights and monuments in the background of this story, narrator Todd Haberkorn has fun with all the students and teachers on this fun-filled trip to the United States capital.

Ages 12–14

The Darkest Part of the Forest. Holly Black. 2015. Hachette Audio. Lauren Fortgang, narrator.

In a voice that depicts both the whimsical fantasy of fair folk and the serious tones of the modern-day world, narrator Lauren Fortgang brings the lives of humans and Fae together in a mysterious, fast-paced adventure. Hazel must defend her town, her brother, and her friendships as she tries to help the horned-boy fairy prince who had been asleep in a glass coffin for years until the day it was shattered.


Stella By Starlight. Sharon M. Draper. 2015. Simon & Schuster Audio. Heather Alicia Simms, narrator.

Set in 1930s North Carolina, Stella and her brother peer through the bushes under starlight to discover the hooded Ku Klux Klan burning a cross in the midst of their gathering. Stella races back to share the news to her community. Simms not only captures the many voices of the people in the African American neighborhood, but also adds her beautiful voice to the hymns and spirituals that wind through the text.


Ages 15+

Bone Gap. Laura Ruby. 2015. Blackstone Audio. Dan Bittner, narrator.

Combining myth with reality, this is the story of the Midwestern town of Bone Gap, two brothers, and the kidnapped girlfriend of the older brother, Sean. Younger brother Flinn feels responsible to find her, as he is the only witness to her abduction. Roza is a Polish immigrant who has been abused, and narrator Dan Bittner does an excellent job using Polish-accented English to bring her difficult circumstances yet strong personality to life as she tries to find a way back from the netherworld and escape her evil kidnapper.


Shadow Scale. Rachel Hartman. 2015. Listening Library. Mandy Williams, W. Morgan, narrators. (Sequel to Seraphina, 2012).

This highly anticipated sequel brings Seraphina into the world of a war with dragons. Half-dragon Seraphina takes on the responsibility as she attempts to find a way to avert this impending confrontation. With a light English accent, narrator Mandy Williams represents Seraphina beautifully in addition to giving life to all the characters and place names from the imaginary world of Goredd.


Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights. Ann Bausum. 2015. Listening Library. Tim Federle, narrator.

Author Ann Bausum has researched the history of the gay rights movement to show the discriminatory treatment and abuse that led to the Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village in 1969 at the Stonewall Inn. “Tim Federle's narration wrings all the emotion from this gripping history. With vocal intensity that is by turns fearful, angry, or touching, Federle takes listeners on this affecting journey through a shameful part of our national story that, while improved, still leaves much to be desired,” according to judges of the AudioFile Earphones Award this year.

Karen Hildebrand is retired library media specialist and library director for Delaware City Schools in Delaware, Ohio. She is currently an adjunct professor at Ashland University in Ohio, a reading consultant, and a Holocaust Fellow at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. She also chairs the Education Curriculum Committee for the Delaware County Historical Society. The review contributions are provided by members of the International Literacy Association’s Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group.

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