Ears on the Odyssey

What is the Odyssey Award?

If you’re not a regular audiobook listener, or maybe even if you are, you might be asking yourself “what is the Odyssey Award anyway?” Today, we wanted to let you know a little bit more about this award and how it’s given out.

The Odyssey Award has been given each year since 2008 “to the producer of the best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults, available in English in the United States.” There are a couple of key details to notice about this award brief:

Children and/or young adults

The award is for both children and/or young adults, so right away you can tell that’s a wide range of titles, since many literature awards are for specific age ranges or groups. In real terms, that means the Odyssey Award has been given to titles ranging from picture book read-alongs to books for teens and young adults. That’s a lot to cover and compare when handing out awards.

Production

The second detail is in that word: producer. The Odyssey Award is for excellence in production, which is a topic we’ll break down in future blog posts here. For now, the important thing to know is that this means that it’s not about the quality of the story, its literary merit, or how well it adheres to a particular theme or topic. What matters is how well the production represents the work. Is the narrator (or narrators!) clear and understandable? Is the sound quality consistent and free from errors? Do the extras (sound effects, music, disc or track change cues) fit seamlessly into the whole product? It pays to be picky if you’re evaluating for the Odyssey Award, and it’s hard to switch this off later on.

Each year

So how is the Odyssey Award given out each year? There’s a selection committee, chosen from among both school and public library staff, for every award year. The committee is made up of half ALSC members and YALSA members. ( This makes sense since remeber the award covers both children and teens) Over the course of this year, the committee will listen to hundreds of hours of audiobooks, which are either requested by committee members or suggested by publishers. The committee members listen to the titles critically, trying to decide if they have the superior production value needed to be considered for the Odyssey Award. Committee members will talk via email and other online methods, but might only meet in person twice, so good communication and teamwork is key. The in-person meetings take place at the American Library Association’s Annual and Midwinter meetings. At the Midwinter meeting for the award year, the titles that have emerged as the best candidates are listened to again in detail, reviewed, and discussed face to face, until an Odyssey Award winner is named. If the committee feels there are titles which are superior but not quite at the level of the winner, they can name Odyssey Honor titles as well. The Odyssey Award winner is revealed as part of the press conference held at the Midwinter meeting to announce to winners of ALA’s various media awards. Some of the most well-known include the Caldecott Medal, the Newbery Medal, and the Printz Award. Usually a brief clip from the Odyssey Award winning title is played.

As we said before, future blog posts will over specific aspects of audio production, as well as the kind of critical evaluation that goes into picking an Odyssey winner, and our thoughts on why this all matters. For now, we hope this has answered the basic questions you might have about the Odyssey Award.

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