Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction, produced by Scholastic Audiobooks, written by Jarrett J. Krosoczka and narrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Jeanne Birdsall, Jenna Lamia, Richard Ferrone and a full cast.
Eti: I screamed so loudly when this audiobook was awarded the Odyssey award. This groundbreaking full-cast adaptation of Krosoczka’s 2018 graphic memoir about addiction, family, identity, and art truly shows the power and depth of this storytelling medium – and the care and craft put into producing this masterpiece. More than 40 performers bring this story to life, many of whom voice themselves or people close to them, which adds so many layers to the listening experience. They perfectly cast Jenna Lamia, as Jarrett’s mother, Leslie, Jeanne Birdsall, as his grandmother, Shirley, and Richard Ferrone, as his grandfather, Joe; each gave an outstanding, nuanced performance. The environmental effects and music were expertly designed to create a sense of time and place, underscore emotions, and immerse the listener in the narrative. It’s clear that accessibility was a vital concern in creating this production, ensuring that more readers can experience this story – and know they are not alone. It is an act of love to tell and listen to this story.
Redwood and Ponytail, written by K.A. Holt, narrated by Tessa Netting and Cassandra Morris and produced by Hachette Audio.
Natalie: I always find it interesting when under-the-radar audios appear on the Odyssey list. I thought it was especially cool that this year’s committee chose Redwood and Ponytail as an Odyssey Honor title. In our end of year thoughts post, we talked a little about the rise in popularity of dual narrators and full cast audios. This title functions as a little bit of both. Tessa Netting and Cassandra Morris are the main narrators Tam (Redwood) and Kate (Ponytail,) two seventh grade girls with diametrically opposed interests who meet cute as friends and develop a deeper relationship as the story continues. Taylor Meskimen, Katie Zieff, and Tomasina Sanders round out the cast as a Greek Chorus of students commenting on the main characters’ story. This touches on our discussion of bold or unusual choices in audio production as well. Though I enjoyed this audio when I listened to it earlier this year, I would not have considered it an awards contender because I found it difficult to distinguish between the voices of the two main narrators. However, I think one of the greatest benefits in the continuing rise of quality audio productions for children and teens is the variety we’re seeing in the titles produced and recognized; a robust field of contenders means something for everyone!
Song for a Whale, written by Lynne Kelly, read by Abigail Revasch with the author and produced by Listening Library, an imprint of the Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group.
Sarah: Well, if this audio doesn’t make you want to run out and learn American Sign Language and listen to whale songs, I don’t know what will! I ended up spending hours investigating various whale songs, and I hope that you will, too. Narrator Abigail Revasch does an amazing job in conveying twelve-year-old Iris’ struggles as the only deaf girl in her school. When she hears of a special whale who, like her, is singing a song that no one else understands, she knows that she must do whatever she can to help. Revasch’s voicing of Iris is simply exquisite, bringing forth her frustration, impatience, and anger, but also her tenacity and hope. In her hands, Iris transcends stereotypes and becomes a fully fleshed young woman in her own right. A powerful audio that is going to stick with me for some time to come.
We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, written by Traci Sorell, narrated by Lauren Hummingbird, Agalisiga (Choogie) Mackey, Ryan Mackey, Traci Sorell and Tonia Weavel and produced by Live Oak Media
Eti: I was a huge fan of We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga when it was published last year and was so excited to hear how it would be adapted by Live Oak Media, who are known for their multi-faceted and beautiful productions. I’m so glad it received an Odyssey Honor! I was thrilled the book also received a 2020 American Indian Youth Literature Award – Picture Book Honor. This production can serve as a masterclass on how to do this work well with authenticity and accuracy, as we learned from the interview with producer Arnie Cardillo and author Traci Sorell. This gorgeous picture book follows a contemporary Cherokee family throughout the year, expressing gratitude with each season with their community. Traci cast fellow Cherokee citizens as the narrators, casting Tonia Hogner-Weavil, the Educator Director for the Cherokee Heritage Center, Ryan Mackey, the Curriculum Supervisor with the Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program, and young narrators, Agalisiga (Choogie) Mackey and Lauren Hummingbird, who graduated from the Cherokee Nation’s language immersion school. Traci herself joined the production, too, reading the extensive back-matter, the definitions, author’s note, and the note about the Cherokee Syllabary. Each narrator brings something special to the text with their individual performances. It is a sound-rich audiobook that masterfully weaves the narration, sound effects, and music together to create an immersive listening experience. The illustrations are brilliantly expressed through sound effects, providing ambience to set the scene within each season. It is a powerful audiobook to share all year round!
We’re Not from Here, written by Geoff Rodkey, narrated by Dani Martineck and produced by Listening Library, an imprint of the Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group.
Sarah: What a delightful story! This audio is a real treasure. I am so happy that it was recognized as an Odyssey Honor, as I might not have taken the time to explore it otherwise. I was expecting a goofy little story, and it is that, of course (in the best way!), but it is also heartwarming and a little frightening, and it brings up some really timely and relevant issues. I absolutely loved it! Non-binary narrator Dani Martineck gives voice to a wide range of characters, from floofy, marshmallow-type extra-terrestrials to buzzzzzing insect-like creatures. The voices are all well-done, but not overdone, which was a relief. Above all, however, Martineck shines when voicing the main character, Lan, whose deep kindness and determination may be the key to saving humankind. This is a lovely listen for grown-ups and kids alike!