Audiobooks & 2020 ALA Youth Media Awards by Robin Whitten & Emily Connelly
Every year, we’re excited to see the winners of the American Library Association youth media awards—announced in January—and especially to celebrate the audiobook winners and audiobook versions of print winners. The 2020 Odyssey Award for the best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults went to Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction, the graphic memoir by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, performed by an ensemble of actors. A brilliant aspect of this audio adaptation was the casting—with Krosoczka taking the main narrative of his memoir and family members and friends voicing their own parts. Three professional narrators, Jeanne Birdsall, Jenna Lamia, and Richard Ferrone, assure a polished production, using their acting talents to enhance this deeply personal and authentic listening experience.
Another graphic novel, New Kid by Jerry Craft, took the top honor for the Newbery Medal. Also available in a lively full-cast audio edition, New Kid lets listeners peek into the life of Jordan, a young Black kid moving to a new private school. Another successful adaptation from graphic novel to audio, the audio uses scene-setting sound effects that reference the images of the sequential art in the print book. New Kid was also honored with the Coretta Scott King (author) Award.
Listeners will be pleased to find that the three honor books in this King category are also on audio. Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia and read by Amir Abdullah and Jason Reynolds’s Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks each received Earphones Awards for their audio versions. AudioFile raved about Look Both Ways and the impressive ensemble cast—ten narrators, including the author, perform the ten stories of kids heading out of school after the last bell rings. Reynolds’s long-standing involvement with his audiobooks and his recent appointment as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature are gifts to audio listeners. In Tristan Strong, narrator Amir Abdullah conjures a dynamic cast of characters including Gum Baby, whom younger listeners will find especially hilarious. Junauda Petrus’s love story, The Stars and the Blackness Between Them, is told in three distinct voices, with the author, Bahni Turpin, and JD Jackson turning in pitch-perfect performances.
The Coretta Scott King–Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement was given to Mildred D. Taylor. Taylor’s audiobooks have long been at the top of our lists. Taylor’s Logan family saga began with Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (the 1977 Newbery Medal winner) and concludes with her newest All the Days Past, All the Days to Come. Narrator Allyson Johnson recorded six audiobooks in the series. She reflects Taylor’s impeccable insight and great fondness for the Logan family. Johnson also impressively ages the characters throughout the saga. Listening to Johnson’s work in the audiobooks makes for dynamic family listening and discussion opportunities.
Back to the Odyssey Honor audiobooks—we’re delighted that Traci Sorell’s We Are Grateful: Otshaliheliga was recognized this year. An AudioFile 2019 Best Audiobook, Live Oak Media’s lovely production celebrating Cherokee culture and traditions is a great addition to any family or school library. Clear pronunciations from the author and other Cherokee tribal members along with bright illustrations of modern Cherokee families make for a winning combination. Grateful was also an American Indian Youth Literature honor title. Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly, read by Abigail Revasch, an insightful look at deaf culture for middle-school listeners, is another Odyssey Honor audiobook. We’re Not from Here, a funny sci-fi adventure by the author of the Tapper Twins and read by Dani Martinek, and the tender novel-in-verse Redwood and Ponytail by K.A. Holt and read by Cassandra Morris and Tessa Netting, round out the Odyssey honors. Inaugurated in 2008, the award has impressively raised the profile of audiobooks among the many other ALA Awards.
Checking through the many titles celebrated, we always like to find as many audiobook versions as possible. The Pura Belpré Awards that celebrate the Latino cultural experience included Sal and Gabi Break the Universe, another AudioFile 2019 Best Audiobook, by Carlos Hernandez and read by Anthony Rey Perez. It’s a goofy and heartfelt book that mixes realistic and fantastical elements to address grief, friendship, and changing family dynamics, and Perez is especially outstanding at portraying 13-year-old protagonist Sal Vidón.
In the Asian/Pacific American Award group, we’re pleased to see David Yoon’s Frankly in Love. The audiobook performed by Raymond J. Lee was another 2019 Best and explored both first love and the complexity of relationships between first- and second-generation immigrant families. The Sydney Taylor Awards are given to books that portray the Jewish experience. Someday We Will Fly by Rachel DeWoskin and read by Jayne Entwistle was honored as the Young Adult winner.
One more place to seek out great listening is the Alex Awards list, adult books chosen for their appeal to teen audiences. All but one have been released as audiobooks and reviewed by AudioFile—two were featured on AudioFile’s list of 2019 Best Audiobooks. Ramón de Ocampo narrated Casey McQuiston’s warmly hopeful love story Red, White & Royal Blue, in which the first son of the United States and England’s Prince fall headlong into a very secret romance. In Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys, JD Jackson captures the aftermath of America’s buried legacy of racism and violence. Two young Black men serve time in a segregated reform school, and Jackson’s deep, gravelly voice remains steady while navigating a harsh story. Angie Cruz’s Dominicana has been making waves, and hearing Coral Pena narrate makes this an excellent #ownvoices choice.
There are many audiobooks that listeners can dive right into, but one of the best things about these ALA Awards is that many of the other titles are now being snapped up by publishers to become audiobooks. Among many, one that we’re looking forward to is an audiobook of The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and illustrated by Kadir Nelson—the 2020 Caldecott Medal winner.
As Editor and Founder of AudioFile magazine, Robin Whitten comes across a LOT of audiobooks. She started AudioFile in 1992 and has championed the audiobook format to engage multiple audiences.
Assistant Editor at AudioFile, library school student, and substitute librarian, Emily Connelly spends a lot of time surrounded by good literature. Emily enjoys working behind the scenes to help keep AudioFile’s blog and podcast platforms running and discovering new audiobooks to love.