I have been an avid consumer of audiobooks since I started my professional career. Secret: I never took children’s literature in library school. It was never offered at the times when I could attend classes 45 miles and a 90 minute (each way) commute away from the library where I worked. So when I started my first job as a children’s librarian, I had to catch up quickly. Not having learned my lesson about long commutes, I listened to books on cassette to familiarize myself with wonderful books like The Planet of Junior Brown by Virginia Hamilton and Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George while driving from one side of Dallas to the other every day. Based on my experience with self-education through audiobooks, I was privileged to join the Notable Recordings committee a few years later (where I also picked up the multitasking talent of crafting while listening). Since those early days more than 30 years ago, we’ve seen audiobooks move from phonographic “books for the blind” through audiocassettes of classics and read-alongs to today’s downloadable audio files and self-contained audio players like Playaways.
About eight years ago I started writing a column about audiobooks and ways to use them with children in libraries and classrooms for a professional journal. One of the first topics I tackled was the importance of using audiobooks to foster literacy. A major question that came up time and again was whether “listening is cheating.” Teachers and librarians debated whether listening to an audiobook should count as reading. Now, within the last year two professional books have been published on audiobooks. We have the Odyssey Award to recognize excellence in audiobook production. Some books are even being produced first for audio and, according to the Audio Publisher’s Association, children’s audiobooks are a major, and formidable, part of the publishing market. Young people are listening not just for school work, but for enjoyment. Families are listening together in the car. We’ve come a long way!
All this is leading up to a recommendation that you check out Audiobooks for Youth: A Practical Guide to Sound Literature by Mary Burkey (an ALSC member and audiobook blogger for Booklist) as part of your professional reading. Following a pretty thorough and interesting history of children’s audiobooks, Burkey deals with the question, Why Listen?, before moving on to an overview of the path written material follows as it becomes an audiobook. While the chapter on developing and maintaining a collection provides solid advice for locating audiobooks and developing policies, the best part of this book is the chapter on listening with a critical ear. Burkey clearly outlines the qualities of good audio production and provides a lexicon of the unique language of audiobooks (so you understand the difference between a straight read and a full-cast narration) that will help any librarian be a better user of audiobooks. Especially interesting are some embedded essays by producers, authors, narrators, and experts, particularly Dr. Teri S. Lesense’s reflections on audiobooks and intellectual freedom.
The book is short, less than 100 pages, and you’ll have to look elsewhere for “core lists” and recommended selections, but even audio aficionados who have listened for years will learn a lot from Audiobooks for Youth. Only one problem: an audiobook version is not available!