Sunday, May 30, 2010

Top 20 Children's Audio Books

Creating the following list was much less wrenching than the compiling of my Top Ten Children’s Novels a few months ago. For one thing I had the luxury of making it twice as long, and for another there were more elements to the criteria.

I had to have listened to the audio book, naturally. And although my public library system does an adequate job of feeding my greedy consumption of this medium, I do not by any means have unlimited access all that is available. For instance the Davis County Library system to this date has not seen fit to purchase Clementine in audio form – a failing that cannot be justified.

I also had to have enjoyed the work in its original form. Let’s face it; a weak book cannot be redeemed by the most talented reader.

And finally, the reading must bring to the experience that something extra that was not present as it rattled about in voices in my own head. As someone who spends hours a day reading aloud, I have the deepest respect, not to mention the eye-gouging, hair-pulling, shin-kicking envy, for those that do it with aplomb.

20.  Inkheart by Cornila Funke.  Read by Lynn Redgrave.  The dulcet Ms. Redgrave does such a lovely job reading this first book in Funke page-escaping trilogy, it's a wonder the schizophrenic Brendon Frasier was turned to, to do the others.
19. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. Narrated by the author with a full cast of British Actors. For the most part I find full-cast audio books irritating at best, and lobotomizing at worst; but for whatever reason this version is divine. The actress reading Lyra is captivating.
18. Tadpole by Ruth White. Narrated by Kate Forbes. The Appalachian accent brought to this reading is tangible.

17. Maniac McGee by Jerry Spinelli. Narrated by S. Epatha Merkeson of Law and Order fame. There is something about this favorite of mine, being read in the dry but compassionate voice of Merkeson.

16. A View from Saturday by E. L. Konigsberg. Narrated by Rick Adamson, L.J. Ganser, Agnes Hermann, Aasif Mandvi, Barbara Rosenblat, Jeff Woodman. This incising interconnected tale told by 4 different narrators has the bonus of showcasing the greatest of all audio book readers, her most exalted Barbara Rosenblat.

15. Sammy Keyes by Wendelin Van Draanen. Narrated by Tara Sands. The light young voice of this narrator suits to perfection the savvy, middle-school detective in this series.

14. Wee Free Men by Terry Prachett. Narrated by Stephen Briggs. The brogue brought to this tale of hard-drinking, hard-talking, blue fairy boys is a giggle a minute.

13. Holes by Louis Sachar. Narrated by Kerry Beyer. It is hard to imagine any telling of this flawless book not working. The narration here kicks the sublime up a level.

12. Bloody Jack: being an account of the curious adventures of Mary “Jacky” Faber, Ship’s Boy by L. A. Meyer. Narrated by Katherine Kellgren. The vocal ability of Ms. Kellgren to take us from the cockneyed streets of 18th century London to the highs seas in the British navy is dizzying delight.

11. Because of Wynn-Dixie by Kate DiCammillo. Narrated by Cherry Jones. Cherry Jones’ expressive, slightly-lispy, voice is so right for India Opel and company.

10. Good Masters, Sweet Ladies by Laura Amy Schiltz. Full cast of narrators. Sure I’d read the book before it won the big award, and sure I was mighty impressed with Schiltz’s skill with words. But hearing it how it was meant to be heard, moved it from a grand award-winner to pure genius.

9. Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary. Narrated by Stockard Channing. Not only can Ms. Channing voice regal indignation as the First Lady in The West Wing, but she can voice the same indignation as a five- year-old.

8. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Narrated by the author. I’m not sure if a children’s book should sound this sexy, but I will happily take my ghost stories with this kind of verbal velvet.

7. Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer Holm. Read by Emmy Rossum. The young narrator used to tell this tomboy romp brings such a delicious texture to this captivating character.

6. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery. Narrated by Barbara Caruso. At first I was put off by the old fashioned feel of the narration but then I realized Caruso was pulling me back in time with her voice to the red roads of P.E.I.

5. Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos. Narrated by the author. It goes to figure that Joey’s papa would be able to give Joey the perfect frenetic pitch.

4. Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck. Narrated by Lois Smith. I don’t know who this Lois Smith is, but in my world she will have closet full of Lane Bryant dresses and a passel of shenanigans up her sleeve that would do Grandma Dowdel proud.

3. Roll of Thunder Hear my Cry by Mildred Taylor. Narrated by Lynne Thigpen. The power and authenticity that Thigpen brings to Taylor’s story of depression era racial issues is breathtaking.

2. Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Read by the author. The “Rez” accent is not essential to appreciate this adolescent chronicle of straddling two worlds, but is sure doesn’t hurt.

1. Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling. Narrated by Jim Dale. I know I’m not very original but I can’t deny that I’ve listened to the vocal acrobatics of Jim Dale too many times to put Harry, Hermione, Dobby, and the rest, at the top of the list.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

READING WHILE DRIVING, WHILE WALKING, WHILE CLEANING THE TOILET: how a dyslexic can get through 6 books a week.

I am, at times, asked how I have time to read all the books I do. The answer is two-fold:

#1 – My priorities are skewed. Many of those asking, find that taking care of a household and family and having social life should precede the siren’s call of the unread page. I on the other hand will allow all sorts of duties to be neglected in order to satisfy my compulsion to see what happens next, in whatever plot I am presently enmeshed in.

#2 –Two words - Audio Books. I don’t technically read every book I check-off on my Goodreads bookshelf. Many are books brought to me by the good people at Recorded Books (the one company that I'd beg for a government bailout of, if they were about to go under), Listening Library, Full Cast Audio, or other kind, talented, and enterprising folks in the business of transferring print to the versatile commodity of sound waves.

Most of my close acquaintances are aware that the process of reading was not an easy thing for me to master. I have come to terms with the truth that I will never be the person who can sit down and knock off a 200 page book in the time it takes to wait through a dentist visit. What takes many of my reading friends, and indeed many of my students, a mere moment in an evening to read through, will take me two or three times as long. This, however, does not stop me from forever weighing down my purse with my current book, along with a backup; in the event I might need to kill time in a waiting room, movie theater, or grocery store queue.
Long ago I discovered the best way to keep my brain entertained while about menial tasks was to engage the old neurons with audio books. This also has the added benefit of increasing my total pages read. From the time I first drove a car with a cassette player in the console, having an audio book in the vehicle has been as necessary as having an adequate amount of oil surging about the engine. Back in the days when I lived more in the adult reading world, the cases rattling between my mini-van seats were likely to be:  Dick Francis being read by the precise Simon Prebble, Jan Karon's Mitford in the folksy, warm relaxed voice of John McDonough, and the unsurpassible Barbara Rosenblat doing Sharyn McCrumb, Diane Mott Davidson, Mrs. Pollifax and of course Amelia Peabody.

Now that my reading selections have permanently regressed to pleasing my inner twelve-year-old, I find no shortage of fabulous audio selections at my disposal. Having a conveyor-belt feed of audio material, continually moving my direction by way of my county library card, insures that I am armed and ready for the most mundane or daunting tasks. I have gladly run errands with Charlotte Doyle on the high Seas. I have taken my morning constitutional with Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy melding my Rocky Mountain sunrises with crisp New England air. I’ve mowed acres with Jim Dale and the Hogwarts’ gang. Shoveled snow frenetically with Joey Pigza. I even gathered the courage to climb to the roof line and clean the frightful gutters with the help of Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching and Nac Mac Feegles.

Since SLJ's Battle of the Kids Books and Fuse #8's 100 top Children's Novels have announced their champions I've been suffering serious book related competition withdrawal.  I've mention before on this blog my unhealthy obsession with countdowns and lists.  We will overlook what that says about my psyche at this time, and dive into yet another best-of list.  The Recorded Books K-12 blog,  is compiling a Top 20 Children's Audio Book List.  It's like the blogging world is either conspiring to make all my dreams come true, or is holding some heinous addiction symposium geared to suck me away from any sort of productive life  Regardless I am hooked and am furiously compiling my own submission, which I hope to post at this location as soon as possible.

What’s that you say?

The garage needs cleaning?

 Don’t mind if I do!

Come along Matilda, Harriet, and Gilly - let’s get crackin’.