There’s nothing better than losing yourself in a great story. Sometimes the best way to do this is by listening.
Whether it’s a child learning to read by listening to a story and following along in the picture book, or an adult passing time during a long car trip, audiobooks are a great way to enhance the experience.
June is Audiobook Month, so now is the time to pick something out for whenever you want to listen to a good story. Here are a few youth and teen favorites to consider.
Thirteen Reasons Why
By Jay Asher, narrated by Joel Johnstone and Debra Wiseman
Listening Library, 2007
For ages 14 and up
When Clay discovers a mysterious package on his porch, he’s shocked to find a series of audio tapes inside it. The cassettes were recorded by Hannah Baker, a schoolmate who recently committed suicide. On the tapes, Hannah tells her story and describes the 13 people — and reasons — that led to her decision.
At times both horrifying and infuriating, this story is an excellent example of how bullying can never be taken lightly and often has repercussions that go far beyond the initial occurrences.
Listening to the story via audio makes it feel as if Hannah is whispering straight into the listener’s ear. It makes an already intense experience especially intimate. Listeners will find themselves wondering how things can get worse, until they do and Hannah’s fate is sealed.
While not everything in the story is believable (adults are largely absent across the board, for example), it still is a compelling story that will dig in and keep the listener thinking about it long after it concludes and the tapes leave Clay’s hands, on their way to the next person on Hannah’s list.
By Aaron Reynolds, narrated by James Naughton
Weston Woods, 2012
For ages 3 and up
Jasper Rabbit loves carrots. His favorites grow in Crackenhopper Field and he helps himself every day. Until one day he starts to notice he’s being followed. Slowly, everywhere Jasper goes, he sees menacing and creepy-looking carrots! They hide under his bed, they follow him home from school — what’s a rabbit to do?
As this tale builds to its hilarious and surprising conclusion, the narration ramps the tension higher and higher. Backed by spooky sounds and music that’s plenty creepy all on its own, the audio version definitely sets a mood. (Parents, please note that despite the ominous description, the story really is OK for all ages.)
By Kevin Henkes, narrated by Meryl Streep
Weston Woods, 1998
For ages 3 and up
The happiest day of her parents’ life was the day their daughter was born. They wanted a name as unique and perfect as their special darling one, and “Chrysanthemum” fit the bill.
Chrysanthemum grows up loving her name — she loves how it looks written on her birthday cake; she loves how it sounds when her mother wakes her in the morning. Then, she starts school and the other kids make fun of her different-sounding, overly long name, and it no longer seems special or perfect. Luckily, a confident music teacher (who also has a unique name) helps Chrysanthemum rediscover her confidence in a way as perfect as Chrysanthemum’s own name.
Meryl Streep’s versatile voice works wonders here as she flawlessly captures the different characters and their motivations. You can hear the pride shining through Chrysanthemum’s father’s voice. And you can hear the disdain in classmate Victoria’s voice when she makes fun of Chrysanthemum.
The story is backed by sound effects and background noises that help paint pictures in the listener’s mind as clear as Henkes’ gorgeous watercolor illustrations are in the printed book.
Fortunately, the Milk
By Neil Gaiman, narrated by the author
Harper Audio, 2013
For ages 8 and up
In this hilarious tall tale, two children are left in their father’s care while their mother is away. Despite her long list of detailed instructions, when morning arrives, there’s no milk for their cereal, or more importantly, for the father’s tea. He sets off to get milk but doesn’t return for a very long while.
While his children suspect he ran into someone he knew and lost track of time, the father insists this isn’t true. What REALLY happened is a harrowing story involving aliens who want to redecorate the planet, pirates without a plank to walk, a temperamental volcano, the intergalactic police and a time-traveling dinosaur scientist in a hot air balloon.
Author Neil Gaiman’s smooth English accent lends just the right note of believability. And he never hesitates to add in other accents — lisping vampires, a pirate’s blustery brogue, even a Scottish-sounding minor deity — and other sounds effects that make this such a charming adventure.
As the story builds to its Keyser Soze-style ending, adults and children alike will be enthralled.
Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon
By Patty Lovell, narrated by Donna Coney Island
Spoken Arts, 2000
For ages 4 and up
Molly Lou Melon knows she looks different than other kids. She’s short and has buckteeth and a singing voice that sounds like a bullfrog being squeezed by a boa constrictor. But her grandmother always told her to stand up straight, smile big and sing loud. So she does. But when she starts a new school and a bully picks on her, how will Molly Lou Melon react?
The upbeat narration never gives a moment’s hesitation to the answer — of course Molly Lou Melon will respond by being exactly herself and wowing her schoolmates with her fabulous uniqueness.
Wendy Dunn is a teen programming librarian for Fort Worth Library.