Prior to the prolificacy of the printed word, information was shared via storytelling. Talented orators enchanted audiences telling their tales. In fact, many of the literary greats were inspired by the sound of stories. Mark Twain, for instance, fashioned Jim of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn after a elderly man enslaved by Twain’s uncle who shared stories each evening to all the children (Powers). Black and white.
Today, the art of storytelling is making a comeback in the form of audiobooks. Lamb (2021) notes that according to the. “2018 StatShort Annual Report, ..audiobooks are the ‘fastest growing book format’ (p. 2.18). Audiobooks, especially e-Audio which can be downloaded to mobile devices for listening to anywhere, are revolutionizing the world of reading. Audiobooks are quickly becoming one of the most sought after formats with digital downloads holding a huge importance. Maloney notes, “Revenue from dowloaded audiobooks in the U.S. grew 38% last year from 2014…Meanwhile, revenue from hardcovers and paperbacks grew by 8% and 3%, respectively, and e-books declined 11%” (2016). Further, the relative ease in creating a digital audiobook as opposed to a physical audiobook is encouraging publishers to contract the format for new and older titles. (Maughn)
Moreover, audiobook consumption offers many of the important benefits of traditional reading. Janson (2019) notes, “most of the literacy skills and strategies that are utilized by the audiobook readers are exactly the same comprehension skills and strategies that we teach our students” (p. 358). Audiobooks are an ideal option for a myriad of personalities from reluctant readers, language learners, and harried commuters.
With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo is an excellent example of a high-quality audiobook experience. The book’s best feature is that it is narrated by the author, a talented spoken word poet. The title won the 2020 Audie Award for best Narration by the Author and was a finalist in the 2020 Best Young Adult Audiobook category. Notably, Acevedo is the 2019 Printz Award winner with her inverse novel, The Poet X.
Listening to With the Fire on High allows the reader to hear the nuances, stresses, and breaks that the author intended. Additionally, the main protagonist comes alive as the story is told in first-person and the listener is allowed to witness her passions, frustrations, and disappointments by the the varying tones in which the story is told.
This novel tells the story of Emoni, a 17 year old mom. Emoni works hard to take care of her child and complete high school. Meanwhile, the only place she can truly be herself is in the kitchen creating different dishes with flavors representing her heritage. When Emoni finds out that her alternative high school is offering a culinary course it seems like an opportunity that she cannot pass up. But, the class culminates in a trip to Spain. How can she, a single mom living with her grandmother, afford such an extravagance? And even if she can find a way to pay for the trip, can she in good conscience leave her daughter to travel the world?
With the Fire on High is available for download on Overdrive for free with your library card from FCPL.
An American Marriage was an Oprah’s Book Club selection. Librarians may expect any book that Oprah chooses to be in huge demand. They are typically bestsellers and readers will be excited to get their hands on the title. Childress (2010) notes Wyatt in stating, “a book’s selection for Oprah’s Book Club typically resulted in sales of more than a million copies, a boon to authors and publishers where selling 20,000 copies of a literary novel is considered a success” (p. 17). Further, even a well-established author like Toni Morrison benefited as an Oprah Book Club selection. Childress notes that, “The number of mentions of Toni Morrison in U.S. newspapers more than doubled in the year following the selection of Song of Solomon as an Oprah Book Club novel” (p. 34). Certainly, libraries will want to ensure physical and e-copies of the book and audiobooks are available for checkout.
Marriage is the story of Celestial and Roy, newlyweds who are torn apart by the flawed American justice system. Roy is accused of rape, convicted, and sent to prison regardless of the fact that he was innocent and that Celestial was with him at the time of the crime. The novel follows Roy’s five years in prison, the time before the conviction is overturned, and Celestial making a life separate from him during that time. This audiobook features two actors as Celestial and Roy, juxtaposed throughout.
As with the audiobook for With the Fire on High, listeners are drawn into the story as the text is told with extrodinary expression. However, rather than the author, this story is told by two actors Sean Crisden and Elsa Davis. Sean Crisden is the narrator of more than 400 audiobooks. He has also performed for video games, animation, commercials, television, and theatre. Crisden is the winner of several awards including the 2019 Audiofile Earphones Award for “American Fairytale” and “American Dreamer”. (Crisden) Meanwhile, Davis is an exceptional writer in her own right, she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for her play “Bulrusher”. She has a lengthy filmography listed on imdb and is an awarded stage actress. (Davis) These two talented individuals tug at the emotional strings of listeners/readers telling the story beautifully.
It interesting to consider the “filters” listener/readers experience when consuming these two audiobooks. Since With the Fire on High is told by the author, it can be assumed that the reader first hears the story via the author’s interpretation, with her tones and nuances expressing different ideas. Still, upon listening the reader will add their own background to create a whole new interpretation. With An American Marriage the listener first receives an interpretation from the actors.
- Underprivileged Overachiever : A Crenshaw Story
- By Y.A. Salimu
- Narrated by Y.A. Salimu
- Published: August 31, 2020
- This audiobook is narrated by the author and reads like spoken word poetry. Listeners are treated to authentic emotions of a young man growing up homeless, raised by a mother with untreated mental health issues, and succeeds under seemingly unsurmountable odds.
Click here for sample.
- By Pam Munoz Ryan
- Narrated by David de Vries, MacLeod Andrews, Rebecca Soler, & Corky Siegel
- Published April 28, 2015
- Winner of the 2016 Audie Award for Middle Grade, this novel features several narrators and transitions with the music of a magic harmonica that travels through history changing lives.
Sample begins at 1:20
- You Should See Me in a Crown
- By Leah Johnson
- Narrated by Alaska Jackson
- Published by June 2, 2020
- This novel is told by a matter-of-fact sounding narrator that perfectly articulates Liz Lightly’s happiness, worries, sadness, and fears as she attempts to win Prom Queen which features a huge scholarship.
- Truly Devious
- By Maureen Johnson
- Narrated by Kate Rudd
- Published Jan. 16, 2018
- This intriguing mystery comes to life narrated by Rudd. She eloquently shares the historic mystery of Albert Ellingham, while also sounding believable as Stevie Bell, a teenager detective.
- Monday’s Not Coming
- By Tiffany D. Jackson
- Narrated by Imani Parks
- Published May 22, 2018
- This is a book best listened to. Parks perfectly builds drama and gathers the clues for listeners. Claudia returns home ready to start the new school year only to find her best friend Monday not there. When Monday continues to not appear Claudia searches, questioning why no one else seems concerned by Monday’s disappearance.
Acevedo, E. (2019). With the fire on high. Philadelphia, PA: Quill Tree Books.
Childress, M.J. (2010). The ‘Oprah effect’: A content analysis of media coverage of Toni Morrison and how the coverage changed post-Oprah. East Tennessee University. Electronic theses and dissertations. paper 1696. https://dc.etsu.edu/etd/1696
Crisden, S. The voice of Reason. http://www.seancrisden.com.
Davis, E. About. https://www.eisadavis.com/about/
Jackson, T.D. (2018). Monday’s not coming. Katherine Tegen Books.
Janson, A. (2019). Increasing leisure reading among university students using e-readers with audio. College and research libraries
Johnson, M. (2018). Truly Devious. Harper Collins.
Johnson, L. (2020). You should see me in a crown. Scholastic Press.
Jones, T. ( 2018). An American marriage. Aqonquin books.
Lamb, A. (2021). “Lesson 2: Resources Type: Audio”.
Maloney, J. (2016). “The stars align for audiobooks”. Dow Jones and Company.
Maughn, S. (2016). “Publishers move to cash in on digital audiobook book”. Publishers weekly.
Powers, R. (2006). Mark Twain. Free Press.
Ryan, P.M. (2015). Echo. Scholastic Press.
Salimu, Y.A. (2020). Underprivileged Overachiever. Telemachus Press.