31 Days, 31 Lists: 2022 Best Audiobooks for Kids
I’d say that this is one of my more peculiar lists. To understand how I put it together, you have to understand that every day, on my way to work, I walk. While walking, I listen to audiobooks of various children’s books. Am I seeing the great swath of titles that, say, the Odyssey Award committee is privy to this year? Nope! Not even close. In fact, I’m in awe of how much sheer time that committee must take. No, I’m self-selecting. I don’t listen to YA. And only rarely do I hear anything younger than titles intended for 9-12 year olds.
Today, these were the audiobooks that impressed me the most over the year. It’s not a huge list. It’s just the folks that I think did a stellar job. These narrators deserve applause of their own.
Interested in my previous lists of splendid audiobooks? Well, I really only ever did one before. Ya gotta start somewhere!
2022 Best Audiobooks for Kids
Attack of the Black Rectangles by A.S. King, narrated by Pete Cross, Gretchen Bender, and Jane Yolen
In any other author’s hands, this book could have run into danger of didacticism or, at the very least, boredom. I mean, we’ve seen books about censorship of books before, right? Even when I was a kid we had the novel The Day They Came to Arrest the Book by Nat Hentoff (circa 1982, thank you very much). That’s why it came as a bit of a relief to me to see that the author of this book was A.S. King. Whew! Okay, that’s all right then. Because you know what Ms. King does well? Weird details. I mean, she’s an excellent writer too, no question, but so are a lot of folks. But what we’re talking about here today is the audiobook experience itself, and this one’s fascinating. Some producer made the choice to make this book sound full-cast. As far as I can tell Pete Cross is doing the bulk of the heavy lifting, but whenever we hear strongly worded letters from the community, we suddenly are engulfed in a range of other voices. You’ll note that in my credits I’ve listed writer Jane Yolen. Jane’s basically a character in this book (playing herself) and it would have been downright odd not to get her to do her own voice. All told, this has the feel of a full-cast when, in fact, there are really only 2-3 people at work here. A remarkable final product!
Black Bird, Blue Road by Sofiya Pasternack, narrated by Rebecca Gibel
The heroine of this book, Ziva, loves her brother. Loves him so much that she’s not going to let a little thing like leprosy (known today as Hansen’s disease) stop her. As she says at one point, she’d poke out all the eyes on the Angel of Death if she had to, to keep Pesah with her. When the two find themselves on a mission to the city of Luz where the Angel of Death cannot follow with a half-demon boy as their guide, it’ll take all their skills together to escape his grasp. Narrator Rebecca Gibel has the tricky job of making Ziva likeable when the text is doing everything in its power (at least at first) to make her anything but. She has to walk this thin line between Pesah’s calm tones and Ziva’s hot temper. I liked the tempo of this book particularly. A lot happens in a very short amount of time, and much of that is a credit to the pace at which Rebecca reads. A lovely listen, that’s for sure. And I guarantee your kids won’t fall asleep in the process!
Breda’s Island by Jessie Ann Foley, narrated by Megan Trout
Breda’s just been packed off to Ireland to spend the summer with her grandfather. The same grandfather her mom can’t talk to for two minutes on the phone without crying. A hard, quiet man, she’s been sent there for stealing. Never mind that Breda is just seething with the unfairness of it all. Her single mom is always working on her business and is never around. She won’t tell Breda who her dad is, and to top it all off now Breda’s in another country with a man who makes her eat fish the first night she’s there (which she promptly upchucks all over the floor). Here, narrator Megan Trout had to utilize a believable, but still comprehensible to young American ears, series of different Irish accents. It’s a bit of a balancing act. For the first time it got me wondering about audiobooks in different nations. Would, for example, publisher Quill Tree Books have a different narrator in Ireland itself for this book, should that come up? I only ask because I thought the job that Ms. Trout did here in the States was excellent. I pay close attention to how well a narrator distinguishes between characters, and at no point did she ever make me feel confused. A beautiful read, worthy of the source material.
Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone by Tae Keller, narrated by Shannon Tyo and Carolyn Kang
After “The Incident”, Jennifer, who believes in aliens from outer space, has gone missing. Now the students who bullied her must figure out what happened to her. So in this book author Jennifer Chan alternates not simply between the past and the present, but the near past, the distant past, the present AND THEN (just to make things interesting) she alternates between Mal (the narrator)’s voice and the journal entries of Jennifer herself. You can imagine my surprise then when I was merrily listening to the audiobook and discovered a good 30 minutes in that there was a SECOND audiobook narrator at work here. I think it’s Shannon Tyo for the most part, and then Carolyn Kang just SWOOPS in there, upsetting the applecart entirely. It was fantastic, since I love it when an audiobook surprises me in some way. I swear, Ms. Kang just came out of nowhere! It breaks down so beautifully and neatly between these two voices too. Almost as if Tae Keller planned it that way. A perfect accompaniment to a great book.
The Kaya Girl by Mamle Wolo, narrated by Ekua Ekeme
Abena is not looking forward to spending her vacation with an aunt she hardly knows at Accra’s largest market, but then she meets Faiza, a girl her age, also from Ghana but living in almost another world, and all her assumptions start to fall away. Uh-oh. This is, like, really really good. For those of you that prefer to listen to your middle grade novels as e-audiobooks, run, don’t walk, to the Libby app and check this one out. Reader Ekua Ekeme gives this book the perfect read, in large part because her pronunciations are so on point. I looked Ms. Ekeme up and apparently this is the first book she’s ever narrated. Nutty because she is remarkably good, far beyond getting the words right. With her voice leading the way, I found that every time I had to put this audiobook down it was almost painful. One of the best of the year, bar none.
The Language of Seabirds by Will Taylor, narrated by Michael Crouch
Parents. They are the worst. Or at least Jeremy’s dad is in the running. He definitely cares about his son but since he found himself unexpectedly divorced recently, he has not been doing well. Jeremy and his dad are spending a summer in a cabin in Oregon owned by his uncle and it’s a complicated situation. Jeremy’s dad is simultaneously trying to solo parent by coming down hard on his son, while at the same time drifting into alcoholism. That means that Jeremy is not about to share the fact that he’s attracted to boys. And this summer, there’s one boy in particular. When Jeremy meets Evan, a kid helping out his grandma’s knick-knack shop in town, the two become instant friends. And maybe more? So at first glance narrator Michael Crouch doesn’t have a lot to work with here. There are essentially only about seven major characters (it would make a really good stage play). Four are male and three are female. I was enjoying the read, though, and then we get to this catastrophic scene where Jeremy’s dad gets hammered in a restaurant. Crouch has to do “drunk” in an audiobook for kids. This must be incredibly difficult to do, right? But the man just nails it. He slurs… just enough. Speaks.. just a little too loudly (until it’s way too loudly). And best of all is when he gets overly enthusiastic. If we could give Academy Awards for narration performances, I know who I’d nominate in a heartbeat.
Three Strike Summer by Skyler Schrempp, narrated by Skyler Schrempp
I had a great good fortune to have a long car ride ahead of me, so I chose to listen to the audiobook edition of this book. Best decision I could have made. Skyler Schrempp, the very author, reads the book herself. After I got over my envy (I would have killed to read my own audiobook for my middle grade novel last year) I had to admit that there isn’t an actress alive that could have done a better job. In this tale Gloria is mad for baseball but getting into a game is a near impossibility for her. When her family up and moves from Oklahoma in the middle of the Dust Bowl to California to pick peaches, she tries to attach herself to the local boys and their team. Meanwhile, there’s some major oppression coming down from the bosses of the place and Glo’s keep-your-head-down father starts getting radicalized and quick. I’ve been trying to figure out what made Schrempp such an effective reader, and some of it is the accent, no question. A careful amount of twang but clear as a bell to ears unaccustomed to Okie cadences. It wasn’t just that, though. The woman (who has some acting credits to her name) knows how to bear down when things are getting tense. Listening to this is like having your favorite aunt read you a book at bedtime and going way over the time usually allotted for such a thing cause the story’s so good. Give it a listen if you don’t believe me.
We Were the Fire: Birmingham 1963 by Sheila P. Moses, narrated by Genesis Oliver
I was into Sheila P. Moses before it was cool. I mean, I was! Do you remember her first book? I sure do. It was back in 2004. I think that was the year I started blogging and I remember reading her novel The Legend of Buddy Bush and just loving it. Three years later I reviewed the follow-up The Baptism and I was hooked from there on in. This latest title of hers comes a good 18 years after Buddy Bush, but fits right in when it comes to tone. Clocking in at a mere 3 hours, this book looks older by its cover but is actually meant for a younger crowd. Your third and fourth graders, I’d imagine. In this story we’re in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. Young Rufus and his sister have a new stepfather who they call Daddy Paul, and with him comes the possibility of a whole new life. They move into a home in a predominantly white part of town, just as protests start to surge against an entrenched racist system. Narrator Genesis Oliver has a challenge with this book that another reader might have balked at. You see, Moses is writing in a very particular, Southern style. So in this book, Daddy Paul refers to his wife as “Wife” and she to him as “Husband”. This is affected, at least to my Northern ears, but when Mr. Oliver reads it your objections subside entirely. He makes the text of this book work on a consistent basis, even when terms may seem old or outdated. No small feat, and a wonderful example of how a narrator can bring something additional to a text that wasn’t there at the start.
Want to see other lists? Stay tuned for the rest this month!
December 1 – Great Board Books
December 2 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 3 – Simple Picture Book Texts
December 4 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Funny Picture Books
December 7 – CaldeNotts
December 8 – Picture Book Reprints
December 9 – Math Books for Kids
December 10 – Gross Books
December 11 – Books with a Message
December 12 – Fabulous Photography
December 13 – Translated Picture Books
December 14 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales
December 15 – Wordless Picture Books
December 16 – Poetry Books
December 17 – Unconventional Children’s Books
December 18 – Easy Books & Early Chapter Books
December 19 – Comics & Graphic Novels
December 20 – Older Funny Books
December 21 – Science Fiction Books
December 22 – Fantasy Books
December 23 – Informational Fiction
December 24 – American History
December 25 – Science & Nature Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Books for Older Readers
December 29 – Best Audiobooks for Kids
December 30 – Middle Grade Novels
December 31 – Picture Books
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
SLJ Blog Network