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Originally published Friday, April 15, 2011 at 7:14 PM

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Corner: Let's hear it for these winning audiobooks

Heard any good books lately?

Scripps Howard News Service

Heard any good books lately?

Listening to books — in the car, on an MP3 player, on a computer or e-reader, or even on a mobile phone — has become increasingly popular in recent years with both adults and kids. While most audiobook fans are adults, a growing number of kids and teens are reading books by listening to them, industry statistics show.

The most recent consumer survey by the Audio Publishers Association, for example, found that 45 percent of adult audiobook listeners who have children under age 18 report that their children listen to audiobooks as well. In addition, 23 percent of audiobook listeners are 18-24 years old, who are drawn to the ability to download their favorite reads, the survey showed.

Despite the increasing popularity of audiobooks, however, there still is a stigma attached to "just"listening to a book, instead of reading a print version. Reading experts, however, say that audiobooks are a great tool to expose all children to books, adding that the audio format can attract more young readers because it makes reading a "cool" activity.

Experts say other benefits of audiobooks include:

— exposing readers to new vocabulary and an appreciation for literary language, especially because kids can comprehend audio versions of books that are above their print reading ability;

— providing an understanding of the correct pronunciation of words;

— demonstrating fluent reading skills while helping students improve their listening skills;

— allowing young readers to multitask as they can listen to a book while doing other tasks (including chores!).

To help young readers get the most out of listening to books, however, it's important to choose wisely; the right reader (or readers) makes all the difference in an audiobook. Because there are several hundred audiobooks for kids and teens published annually, it can be hard to know which ones are worth the listening time.

So, three years ago, the American Library Association created the Odyssey Award as a way to spotlight the best audiobooks for kids and teens each year. In choosing the Odyssey winners, a committee of librarians listens to dozens of audiobooks and considers such things as the voice and diction quality of the reader (or readers), whether the performance is "dynamic" and reflects the text, and the sound quality, including any background music and sound effects.

Overall, "the audio must maintain and stimulate listeners' interest," according to the Odyssey Award criteria.


This year's Odyssey winner, as well as the four Odyssey Honor citations (or runners-up), are great examples of how wonderful audiobooks can be for kids and teens. Here's a closer look:

2011 Odyssey Award winner:

Narrator Bahni Turpin provides the perfect wisecracking voice for 12-year-old Gratuity "Tip" Tucci in "The True Meaning of Smekday" (Listening Library, $40, 9 CDs, ages 7-12), a book written by Adam Rex. But Turpin's true genius comes through in her audio portrayal of J. Lo, a renegade "Boov," or alien creature. She uses various vocal tricks to capture the whirring, clicking sounds J. Lo makes — as well as his eccentric grammar and accent — and seamlessly works them into the narrative.

As the Odyssey committee noted, the audiobook version is "a laugh-out-loud presentation of Rex's popular satire."

2011 Odyssey Honor books:

— Before this year, actress Katherine Kellgren had won an Odyssey Honor for each of the years that the award has been in existence. Now, with her performance in "Alchemy and Meggy Swann"(Listening Library, $28, 4 CDs, ages 10-14), Kellgren nets her fourth straight Odyssey Honor. In its citation, the Odyssey committee said: "Through her ability to sing in character, honk like a goose and capture the voices of a variety of Londoners, Kellgren transports audiences to Meggy's Elizabethan world."

— In "The Knife of Never Letting Go"(Brilliance Audio, $19.99, 10 CDs, ages 15 up), a novel written by Patrick Ness, a teen named Todd is on the brink of a birthday that will make him a man in the futuristic world in which he lives. But then Todd discovers a disturbing secret and must run for his life. The Odyssey committee said that narrator Nick Podehl's "gripping narration of this disquieting work of dystopian fiction is masterful."

— Two narrators — Emily Janice Card and Emma Bering — bring to vivid life author Jennifer Donnelly's centuries-spanning novel, "Revolution"(Listening Library, $54, 12 CDs, ages 14 up). As the Odyssey committee said: "Card and Bering portray both an edgy Brooklyn teen mourning the death of her younger brother and an eighteenth-century Parisian girl, caregiver to the doomed dauphin. The narrators' dramatic, forceful performances meld two emotional and wrenching plot lines."

— Two hugely popular writers for teens, John Green and David Levithan, teamed up to tell the stories of two teens who share the same name. Now, in the audio version of "will grayson, will grayson" (Brilliance Audio, $29.99, 7 CDs, ages 14 up), veteran readers MacLeod Andrews and Nick Podehl combine their narrative talents. The Odyssey committee said that "the narrators' dramatic, forceful performances meld two emotional and wrenching plot lines."

(Karen MacPherson, the children's/teen librarian at the Takoma Park, Md., Library, can be reached at

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