Speaking of Audio: The Dreaded Summer Reading List

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By Robin Whitten

Yikes! The dreaded Summer Reading List is almost upon us. Teachers want to keep building their students' skills and parents want their children to excel, so the list arrives like clockwork every June. Kids, however, wish it would just disappear. But savvy booksellers make plans now to help out.

From the point of view of the average student, there is nothing worse than school work during summer vacation. Yet, here's a magical solution: You can turn the summer reading assignment from persecution to pleasure by suggesting that kids choose audiobooks.

And you should know that many teachers today find listening acceptable for summer reading lists, because the latest research shows that listening improves comprehension, vocabulary, and fluency -- not only in struggling readers, but also in those who read at or above grade level. Additionally, research has demonstrated that kids can listen to and absorb literature that may be far beyond their reading ability. In other words, audiobooks provide a level "reading field" for those with varying degrees of proficiency.

Audiobook producers have definitely keyed into the fabulous writing of the young adult market. More publishers are bringing out young adult books simultaneously in print and audio. The material is up-to-date and exciting, and the quality of the narrators can't be beat.

Sharon Grover, youth services collection specialist at the Arlington County (VA) Library System, has created the 2004 edition of "Audiobooks on the Go" for AudioFile magazine. It's great for summer, but is versatile enough to have a long life in bookstores. Grover considered current school reading lists, award winners including ALA Notable Recordings, AudioFile Earphones winners, and Audie Award finalists. The list is organized thematically in categories such as "Other Times & Places" and "Family & Community" and features plenty of titles sure to appeal to fifth- through ninth-graders.

Find the best of the best in children's audio -- mostly new titles, but also a few older ones that have held up particularly well at "Audiobooks on the Go" at www.audiofilemagazine.com/abotg.html. There are 100 titles in all on the AudioFile Web site. The list is available in PDF format, and printed copies with annotations can be ordered, at no charge, for bookstores.

So many choices, so little time ... here are some personal picks:

2004 Audie Award Finalists
(Check out all the 2004 Audie Award finalists, with sound clips, at www.audiopub.org.)
Naked in Baghdad, Anne Garrels (Audio Renaissance, CD)
Brick Lane, Monica Ali (HighBridge, CD and Cassette)

Must Have the Audio Version
Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss (Penguin, CD)

Book Sense Bestsellers on Audio -- Fiction
The Birth of Venus, Sarah Dunant (Random House, CD and Cassette)
The Known World, Edward P. Jones (Harper, CD and Cassette)

Book Sense Bestsellers on Audio -- Nonfiction
Loud & Clear, Anna Quindlen (Random House, CD and Cassette)
Caddy for Life, John Feinstein (Time Warner, CD and Cassette)

Top of the Children's Book Sense Lists
Eragon, Christopher Paolini (Listening Library, CD and Cassette)
The Tale of Despereaux, Kate DiCamillo (Listening Library, Cassette)

Robin Whitten is the editor and founder of AudioFile magazine, the source for comprehensive reviews, news, interviews, and comments on audiobooks (www.audiofilemagazine.com).

Comments and suggestions for future "Speaking of Audio" columns may be e-mailed to Robin@audiofilemagazine.com.