Growing up, reading was difficult for me. My parents bought me Hooked on Phonics cassette tapes for me to pour over and attempt to learn the sounds of each letter. I would have so much anxiety over learning to read that when they got out those Hooked on Phonics cassette tapes I would get physically sick. I felt like I was never going to learn to read, and my parents didn’t understand why everything they did not work. It was that year that I was finally tested and diagnosed with dyslexia.
With that diagnosis in hand, we finally had the answers. My teachers helped me by getting me audiobooks of the books my class read. While my classmates silently read their books, I went out into the hallway, placed huge headphones over my ears, and I listened to the book instead of reading it.
I hated this time. I felt like all the audiobooks I listened to were slow and boring. When our reading time was over, my classmates would tease that I wasn’t reading. I was listening to other people read.
As I grew up, I did learn live with my dyslexia, but I held onto the idea that audiobooks were boring and “not really reading.” It took me a lot of work and a long time to fall in love with books. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I started to question my own beliefs about audiobooks.
In a true librarian fashion, I did research. I started to listen to Odyssey award and honor books. When I listened to Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan, my beliefs about audiobooks were completely changed. I started to question where I would be if I had listened to an audiobook like this one when I was young. Here was an audiobook that enhanced the reading experience with music and different voices. It brought the story to life making the book more exciting and engaging.
If audiobooks could be like Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan or The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, could we make reading more fun for readers? With these new ideas, I made it my library mission to try to get readers to try audiobooks too. It was a mission to not only to help tweens with learning disabilities, but it was a mission to also help tweens create a lifelong love of reading.
As I introduced these audiobooks in reference interviews, I found that some were excited and enjoyed audiobooks as much as I did, but others made comments similar to what I heard growing up like “I want my child to actually read.”
I would always protest that audiobooks are the same as reading, but the parents seemed to shut down and brush me and my research off. I kept trying, and I discovered that it was not how I was trying to sell the audiobook but when I was trying to get the patron to check out the audiobook.
Tweens are busy. Their schedules are packed full of activities and school assignments. What I did not realize was that when a patron or tween denied my offer for an audiobook, it was usually due to a school assignment. Usually, a teacher would assign a book for the child to read, and the parent didn’t want the audiobook because it was not the assignment.
I found that the best time to get a family or tween to try an audiobook is during a holiday break or during the summer. It is then that most families are traveling and have more free time. This holiday season, I would like to challenge you to set out the best of the best audiobooks for patrons to try on their long drives and time at home. Maybe together we can help not only foster a love of reading but a love of audiobooks too.
Audiobooks for Tweens
Here are some of my personal favorite 2017 middle-grade audio books for tweens
See you in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng
Eleven-year-old Alex Petroski is obsessed with space, rockets, and Dr. Sagan.
Dr. Sagan launched a Golden Record into space in 1977 in the hopes of announcing human presence to any alien life.
Alex decides to follow Sagan’s example and launch an iPod into space, but to do so, Alex will have to travel from Rockview, Colorado to Albuquerque, New Mexico.
As he makes his journey from Colorado to New Mexico, Alex creates recordings of his own for his iPod. Some are of these recordings are memories and others document what life is like for Alex at the exact moment. The audiobook brings these recordings to life. With a cast of five voice actors and sound effects, readers will feel like they go on Alex’s journey with him. The resulting story is full of heart and fun for the whole family!
Refugee by Alan Gratz
Josef is a Jewish boy living in 1930s Nazi Germany, Isabel is a Cuban girl in 1994, and Mahmoud is a Syrian boy living in 2015. All of these people might not seem like they have much in common, but they are all refugees stretched across time trying to find a safe place to call home. Three different voice narrators bring emotion and help to differentiate each character’s experience and time period. Listeners will be captivated by this timely book as the audiobook helps bring a face to the refugee crisis.
Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart
Johnathan Grisby is sent to Slabhendge Reformatory School for Troubled Boys. Just as Johnathan is beginning to adjust to his new surroundings, an accident leaves all of the kids unsupervised. At first, the students are excited, but it not long that a new danger emerges. Narrator MacLeod Andrews bring this page turning book into a real-life adventure. Listeners will be drawn into MacLeod’s animated tone and hang on his every word until the end.
These are just a few of my favorite audiobooks for tweens from 2017. What are your favorites?