01 Apr / Have Audiobook, Will Travel [in School Library Journal]
The luggage is loaded, and the gas tank is full. Destination’s mapped. Ready to go? Press play!
Flying Lessons and Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh, read by full cast
Some of the most beloved, lauded, and awarded children’s authors – including Matt de la Peña, Grace Lin, and Walter Dean Myers – are gathered here to share this entertaining collection that is guaranteed to resonate with diverse audiences. Here’s a bonus: some of the writers – Meg Medina and Tim Tingle, for example – serve as their own narrators, as well.
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson, read by N’Jameh Camara, Jose Carrera, Dean Flanagan, Angel Romero, Toshi Widoff-Woodson, Mikelle Wright-Matos, Jackson Leroi Widoff-Woodson, Jacqueline Woodson
Every Friday afternoon, six middle schoolers are ushered into a former art room, cleverly renamed the “A-R-T-T room – A Room To Talk,” and encouraged “to talk about the things kids talk about when no grown-ups are around.” Woodson and her own children feature in the stellar cast. The audio includes a bonus interview between Woodson and her son Jackson.
In the Shadow of the Sun by Anne Sibley O’Brien, read by Jackie Chung
What do you do when your family trip turns out to be to North Korea of all places? Mia and Simon head to Pyongyang with their aid-director father, only to have him disappear, leaving the intrepid siblings to save him – and themselves. Chung narrates a heart-thumping, treacherous journey with convincing verve.
Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, read by Adenrele Ojo
Thomas was indeed a Founding Father of the United States, but he was also the father to at least four children with Sally Hemings, one of his enslaved women. Bradley’s fascinating historical fiction gets a sensitive, enthralling read from the ever-versatile Ojo.
“Nate Foster” series by Tim Federle, read by Tim Federle
Once they start, listeners will want to keep adding the miles to finish this winning series about irrepressible Nate Foster as he makes his Broadway dreams come true, written and oh-so-irresistibly narrated by former child-star-now-bestselling-author Federle.
The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani, read by Priya Ayyar
In her first-ever diary, 12-year-old Nisha records her family’s perilous journey from Pakistan to India during the 1947 Partition. Ayyar proves to be an ideal narrator, actualizing Nisha’s evolution from reluctant and reticent to bold and brave. The addition of Hiranandani’s reading of her author’s note – in which she reveals her father’s family’s 1947 exodus along Nisha’s family’s route from Mirpur Khas to Jodhpur – is especially gratifying.
Refugee by Alan Gratz, read by Michael Goldstrom, Kyla Garcia, Assaf Cohen
Gratz gets personal with desensitizing statistics, policies, and politics by giving names, families, and histories to three tweens fleeing three countries during three time periods. Goldtrom is Josef who escapes Nazi Germany; Garcia is Isabel who flees from Cuba; Cohen is Mahmood who runs from Syria. The superb tri-part narration intensifies Gratz’s already resonating stories.
“Track” series by Jason Reynolds, read by Guy Lockard (Ghost, Sunny, Lu) and Heather Alicia Simms (Patina)
Meet the Defenders track team: each of the middle-schoolers have their own challenges, but together – led by no-nonsense, always-nurturing Coach – they’ll all turn out to be the champions they need to be. Lockard, Reynolds’ childhood friend and anointed collaborator, exuberantly voices three quarters of the tetralogy; Heather Alicia Simms energetically takes on Patty in Patina.
“The Underland Chronicles” by Suzanne Collins, read by Paul Boehmer
Before Hunger Games made her household name, Collins created NYC’s “Underland,” into which Gregor (the Overlander) must venture to save his missing father – and maybe the whole world. An epic adventure series remarkably read in full by Boehmer, whose adorable rendition of two-year-old Boots, Gregor’s younger sister, still gets talked about by my now-adult children.
The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, read by Stephanie Hsu
Assisted by a huge red bird, mysterious strangers, and all the people who love her, 15-year-old Leigh begins the aching journey back to life and laughter from the black hole of her mother’s suicide and even finds first love. Hsu reads with youthful rawness, embodying the broad spectrum of Leigh’s experiences across realities, oceans, cultures, family histories.
Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough, read by Xe Sands
Combining both free verse and prose, McCullough’s revelatory historical fiction debut is enhanced by Sands’ perceptive reading of this portrait-of-an-artist-as-a-young-woman which introduces female painter Artemisia Gentileschi, one of the Renaissance’s most accomplished painters, whose career was throttled by patriarchal violence. And yet she persevered.
“Dumplin’” series by Julie Murphy, read by Eileen Stevens (Dumplin’) and Erin Mallon and Kyla Garcia (Puddin’)
Before the Jennifer Aniston-starring celluloid adaptation, Dumplin’ was a guffaw-inducing book, starring self-proclaimed “cashier, Dolly Parton enthusiast, and resident fat girl” Willowdean Dickson who decides to enter the local beauty contest – run by her former Miss Teen Blue Bonnet mother. Multifaceted Stevens gives Willowdean prodigious range – sweet and snarky, fearless and funny, determined and doleful, too. Murphy’s teen-girls-overcoming-societal-expectations-because-of-their-size series continues with Puddin’, featuring Willowdean’s friend, “fat camp”-survivor Millie and her unlikely relationship with popular pretty girl Callie. Mallon becomes Millie, Garcia assumes Callie, as the frenemies become so much more.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, read by Rebecca Lowman, Maxwell Caulfield
A giddy-inducing delight about college freshman Cath’s growing up, growing apart (from her twin), growing in love (for the first time), featuring Lowman who crisply, predominantly voices the novel, with fan-fiction interludes elegantly recited in posh British by Caulfield. Elements of gleeful satisfaction include a unique use of pop culture as aphrodisiac, the awkward innocence of late teenage angst, family drama without a zombie or werewolf in sight (although beware the hidden vampire, ahem).
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, read by the author
That Acevedo narrates her debut novel-in-verse is a sublime gift. She’s undoubtedly the ideal aural arbiter of her dazzling coming-of-age tale about a Harlem teen whose generational, cultural, religious, and emotional conflicts coalesce to teach her “to believe in the power of [her] own words.” Going audio has the added benefit of Acevedo’s additional explanatory track about the novel’s final contrapuntal poem.
Sadie by Courtney Summers, read by Rebecca Soler, Fred Berman, Dan Bittner, Gabra Zackman, with a full cast
A stupendous, fully-realized production – including podcasts with ads – about a murdered girl, the sister determined to track down her killer, and the journalist desperate to figure out what happened to them both. A riveting murder mystery, though maybe best not listened to at night.
A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi, read by Priya Ayyar
Bestselling fantasy YA author Mafi roots her latest in familiar reality in this can’t-turn-away timely story about teens falling in love despite intolerant peer pressure, difficult family situations, and vast cultural divides. This post-9/11, coming-of-age story of Persian American teen Shirin should be an especially effective catalyst for engaging important family conversations.
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, read by Sneha Mathan, Vikas Adam
With their marriage apparently already arranged, Dimple is all-but-guaranteed to shun Rishi, her intended … we’re talking a set-up in a pre-college prestigious science summer program in 21st-century northern California, after all. Mathan and Adam take spirited turns voicing this often LOL teen love story of opposites attracting.
For a condensed one-page PDF, click here.