Ten: Books that Must Be Heard

There’s been plenty of debate in recent years regarding the legitimacy of “reading” a book by listening to an audiobook edition. Personally, I’m a huge fan of audiobooks. This is partly because they allow me to read while I wash the dishes — walk the dog — do the laundry — drive, and partly because, at least in some cases, audiobooks can add a lot to the experience of a book.* Have a reader who’s unsure about pronunciation? Who wants to know what people in a particular area sound like? Who has trouble pushing through difficult passages? Just want to recommend the best possible reading experience? Try these:

Life of Pi by Yann Martel, narrated by Jeff Woodman with Alexander Marshall
Woodman creates a very satisfying Pi Patel, but I was especially impressed with his handling of conversations between Pi and the French and Japanese characters toward the end of the novel. Pulling off multiple accents at the same time wins this one big points.

The Moor by Laurie R. King, narrated by Jenny Stirlin
Another title particularly notable for its accents. Jenny Stirlin does a fantastic job of all of the Mary Russell books (which should suit many older teens very well — picture a young feminist, partnered with Sherlock Holmes in a detailed 1920s setting, solving mysteries all over the world). But how often do you come across such a convincing portrayal of a Moorish dialect?

Unwind by Neal Shusterman, narrated by Luke Daniels
You can read about the story in the full review, but I will say that the most intense scene in the book is made by the audio presentation.

Feed by M.T. Anderson, narrated by David Aaron Baker
An abundance of (purposeful) coarse language means readers will probably want to listen to Feed with headphones. However, the choice to present the samples of the characters’ commercial feed like commercials is very effective. Continue reading

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The Unforgotten Coat written by Frank Cottrell Boyce and illustrated by Carl Hunter and Clare Heney

The Unforgotten Coat coverJulie’s new classmates, Chingis and Nergui, have a lot of stories to tell. Some are interesting, like the ones about their home in Mongolia — complete with Polaroid pictures! Some are strange, like the reason Nergui needs to keep his hat on in class. And some are downright scary. Is Nergui really being chased by a demon? Julie, the boys’ guide to life in Bootle, spends the most time with Chingis and Nergui, but even she can’t quite sort out the line between truth and fiction in their stories. Following the boys home one night reveals some of the answers, but new questions arise when their whole family disappears the same night. A final twist, courtesy of the now-adult Julie, provides the explanation for the book’s title.

The Unforgotten Coat offers a portrait of immigration — specifically illegal immigration — through the eyes of children. Julie’s host-child voice, pleased to welcome but openly curious, creates a familiar frame for the more complex perspectives of the two boys, struggling to comprehend the relationship between the old home and the new, and the threats associated with each, even as they interpret that relationship for their classmates. The surprising source of their photographs of home adds an intriguing layer to the story’s mystery, and might well inspire a bit of experimenting on the part of readers. I’ll let you discover that secret for yourself!

Read reviews from Publishers Weekly or Auld School Librarian.

Find out about The Reader Organisation, which The Unforgotten Coat was originally written to support, and a bit about the background of the story.

Also, check out this article on Frank Cottrell Boyce’s Perfect Weekend, just because it’s so lovely.

Ten: Fathers and Mothers, Daughters and Sons

It’s not uncommon for parents to play a minimal role — or no role at all — in children’s and YA fiction. It gives the protagonists additional space and agency to explore themselves and their world, and allows readers to do so vicariously. Even so, the parent-child relationship remains an important one for young readers, and plenty of books offer insight into both its challenges and its potential. This week’s Ten suggests that even when parents are distant, even when they break trust, there is a place for hope in love and the possibility of restoration.

A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban
Zoe’s dreams and her father’s psychological limitations come into conflict, introducing new tension into a quirky but loving father-daughter relationship. Growth in both characters makes this a very satisfying story. Continue reading

Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Cosmic coverLiam is twelve, but he looks a lot older. Old enough to be allowed on the big rides. Old enough to be mistaken for a teacher on his first day of middle school. Old enough, when the opportunity presents itself, to play classmate Florida Kirby’s dad when four winning parent-child pairs are invited to try out a brand new, top secret amusement park in the middle of the Gobi desert. As it turns out, the main attraction of this new park is a space shuttle intended to be pilotable by guests of the park — specifically, that is, by children. Although the original plan is for the invited children to test the shuttle alone, Liam manages to secure himself a place as chaperone on what proves to be, not surprisingly, a disastrous trip.

The core of Cosmic is an exploration of what it means to be “dadly.” As an oversized child, Liam is able to look at the role from a range of perspectives — that of a son, certain his father will protect him; that of one of several fathers competing to prove themselves the best dad; and that of one temporarily responsible for parenting four other twelve year olds in the midst of a dangerous situation. The resulting portrait is complex and ultimately affirming, both to parents and to the preteens for whom the book is written.

One more thing, and one of my favourite bits of this book: Boyce’s writing style in general is enjoyable, but he has a real knack for analogies. Watch for passages like this one:

“It was so dark we couldn’t tell who else was there. There was just a bunch of yawning, stretching shadows. Even the Possibility Building didn’t look that solid, until the Sun rolled up and peeled a strip of shadow off its back, as though it was a huge red banana. And then it tore up all the other shadows like tissue paper and there was everyone unwrapped on the tarmac, like surprises.”

Read reviews from Educating Alice and Kirkus

Watch the official book trailer: