Ears on the Odyssey

Wrap Up and End of Year thoughts 2020

Hi happy listeners –  here are our 2020 award/ end-of-the-year thoughts! Don’t forget to join us for the Youth Media Awards for the announcement of this year’s Odyssey winner on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, at 8 a.m EST./5 a.m. PST. We will be “live tweeting” the action at @EarsOdyssey

Odyssey Contenders 

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frané Lessac, narrated by Lauren Hummingbird, Agalisiga (Choogie) Mackey, Ryan Mackey, Traci Sorell, Hogner-Weavil.

Ears on the Odyssey listeners noted that production team took great care in selecting the readers, music, and other contributors to this production. Sarah says each choice was made in order to preserve the authenticity of the work and show respect for the Cherokee people. This kind of attention is uncommon as it is time-consuming and expensive, but Live Oak has really shown us how high the bar can and should be set. 

Ears on The Odyssey Review here

Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost my Mother, Found my Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction, by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, narrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Richard Ferrone, Jeanne Birdsall, Jenna Lania, and a full cast.

Hey Kiddo is a stunning interpretation of this much lauded graphic novel. Eti notes in her review “If our goal is to seek out and spotlight productions that are innovative, demonstrating dazzling new heights for what is possible in this storytelling medium, then we have found the pinnacle of excellence.” Transforming graphic novels into graphic audios is not easy. Scholastic pulled out all the stops and created a production that is just as powerful–even more so–than the print version of the book. The many narrators and readers were thoughtfully selected (often with personal connections to the story), the soundscape is powerful and that music, well, it’s just so amazing that it connects with particular characters so that we are presented with theme songs in the best way possible. This is a tour de force, an audio that should be shared far and wide.

Ears On The Odyssey Review here

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, narrated by Meryl Streep and full cast

This full cast production brings forth a gentleness and warmth, while tying the many other pieces together into a whole.  Streep is brilliant as the primary narrator, bringing forth a gentleness and warmth, while tying the many other pieces together into a whole. The many other narrators–a true, all-star cast–are perfectly matched to each character, and their comments and observations are seamless woven together. With the many narrators and moving pieces, this production is not simple and straightforward, and yet, to the listener, it comes through as just that–a lovely, humble story that is a perfect gem. Natalie wasn’t sure the stunt casting would work for this, but Streep and the rest of the voice cast (seriously, everyone!) bring this story to life for a new generation.

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, narrated by Almarie Guerra with additional cast

This graphic novel adaptation also gets high marks. Full of authentic sounds, background noises, and music in order to create an immersive, full-bodied listening experience. The narration is top-notch, bringing Astrid’s prickly, grumbly, and ever-so-determined self into full relief. An absolute pleasure!

Ears on the Odyssey Review here

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus, narrated by Sophie Amoss and Kirby Heyborne 

Sophie Amoss and Kirby Heyborne are a perfect fit for this title and play off of each other really well. Plus the ending was spine tingling!! Really well done last line by Heyborne. This is also a high appeal title coming off of the success of McManus’ One of Us is Lying.

Ears on the Odyssey Review here

The Haunted by Danielle Vega, narrated by Holly Linneman

Holly Linneman performed this really well. I think the story/text may not be as much of a contender for the Odyssey because it is an outlier as a horror novel and because some of Vega’s other works are stronger. But this is one of the most enjoyable listens for me this year. Linneman got all the horror elements right and made this an enjoyably creepy listen.

Ears on the Odyssey Review here

Shadow School: Archimancy by J.A. White, narrated by Kim Mai Guest

Kim Mai Guest did an excellent job with a huge cast of characters. This is a really, really fun middle grade listen and shows off Guest’s talents as a voice actor.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, narrated by Rainn Wilson

Another celebrity narrator casting that can be tricky, but Wilson excels with this fantasy tale.

A very long list of promising possibilities

  • Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds, narrated by Jason Reynolds, Heather Alicia Simms, Chris Chalk, Bahni Turpin, Kevin R. Free, JD Jackson, Guy Lockard, January LaVoy, Adenrele Ojo, and David Sadzin
  • New Kid by Jerry Craft, narrated by Jesus Del Orden, Nile Bullock, Robin Miles, Guy Lockard, Peyton Lusk, Rebecca Soler, Dan Bittner, Phoebe Strole, & Marc Thompson
  • The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys, narrated by Maite Jáuregui
  • With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo, narrated by the Author
  • Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson, narrated by the Author
  • On the Come Up by Angie Thomas, narrated by Bahni Turpin
  • Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga, narrated by Vaneh Assadourian
  • White Bird by R.J. Palacio, narrated by Hillary Huber, Emily Ellet, Michael Crouch and a full cast
  • Dig by A.S. King, narrated by A.S. King, Mike Chamberlain, Tonya Cornelisse and Kirby Heyborne
  • Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia, narrated by Amir Abdullah
  • Internment by Samira Ahmed, narrated by Soneela Nankani
  • To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer, narrated by Imani Parks and Cassandra Morris


Graphic Novels

As you can tell from the many adaptations on our lists, outstanding graphic audios are really standing out this year. Publishers are really pulling out the stops and taking care with music, sound effects, choice of narrators/readers, and the inclusion of audio extras. So often, we compare graphic audios–are they as good as the book? Will you miss the illustrations? Can you really follow the story with just the audio, or should you use the audio as a read-along? It feels like the answers to these questions have increasingly become–you won’t miss the illustrations, because you have amazing music and sound effects and character voices! You can follow the story with the audio, because the producers include audio clues that fill in the blanks. Yes, you can listen and read, but you can also just listen. Or you can listen and read, and then just listen, and listen, and listen again. More than anything, yes, they are just as good as the book! We would love to see older titles (like Raina Telgemeier’s Smile!) get an audio version.

Full/Cast Dual Narrators

Listeners have also seen an uptick in multi perspective books or productions are utilizing dual narrators more. This trend is an immersive experience in the story and gives strong audio cues when listening to a novel that has different character perspectives.

Popularity rising = bolder choices
This applies to youth audio as well as to audio more broadly, that it is exciting (and relieving)  to see that audio productions are willing to learn from, borrow from and grow alongside (rather than against) the rising popularity of podcasts and what draws people to them. Darla think audio have really embraced sound effects, multiple narrators, dramatizations, and as well the inclusion of “real” audio in nonfiction titles. Continuing to expand and challenge the definition of what is an audiobook can only grow the listening audience.

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