Ears on the Odyssey

2021 Winners Round Up

2021 Odyssey Award Winner

Winner: Kent State, produced by Paul R. Gange, Scholastic Audio, written by Deborah Wiles, and narrated by Christopher Gebauer, Lauren Ezzo, Christina DeLaine, Johnny Heller, Roger Wayne, Korey Jackson, and David de Vries.

On May 4, 1970, four Kent State University students were shot and killed by the National Guard during a protest against the Vietnam War. This book in verse, emotionally narrated by a full cast, gives voice to many different perspectives of people who witnessed the events of that fateful May 4th and still struggle in its aftermath. Listeners will hear—will feel—the anger and frustration of the students, the confusion of the townspeople, the sorrow, the horror, and, tying it all together, the importance of reaching out to find common ground. This is not an easy book to listen to, and short as it is, it is so intense that some listeners may need to pause before diving back in again. A timely listen, one that challenges us all to truly consider the costs that come from dogged polarization, lest a similar tragedy be repeated in our time.

Honor Audiobooks

Clap When You Land

Clap When You Land, produced by Caitlin Garing for HarperAudio, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, written by Elizabeth Acevedo, and narrated by Elizabeth Acevedo and Melania-Luisa Marte

One can easily hear why this title was an honor book! Melania-Luisa Marte narrates the main character, Camino, and Elizabeth Acevedo narrates our other main character, Yahaira. Both girls are dealing with the loss of their father due to a plane crash, learning that he had two families, and the discovery that they have a sister they did not know about: Camino is in the Dominica Republic and Yahaira is in New York. We listen to the angst of two young women working through their grief and also how their father represented more than just family. When they finally meet, the narrators also join together and narrate on the same track, even talking at the same time. Clap When You Land is a fantastic production with lots of smart choices for each character to bring Camino and Yahaira’s story to life.

Fighting Words

Fighting Words, produced by Karen Dziekonski for Listening Library, an imprint of Penguin Random House Audio, written by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, and narrated by Bahni Turpin

Della and her teenage sister Suki, whose mom is incarcerated, have just been placed with foster mom Francine after a traumatic incident. Della, who is 10, works up to sharing details of what happened with the listener as she takes us through her struggles to find peace at home and at school as her already-unstable world continues to be rocked. Bahni Turpin, true to form, strikes the perfect balance of emotion in this performance which leaves your heart aching for Della and Suki. Listeners should be aware that this title contains themes of sexual abuse and suicide, which are handled with much care by both author and narrator.

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-Winning Stamped from the Beginning

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, produced by Robert Van Kolken for Hachette Audio, written by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, and narrated by Jason Reynolds with an introduction by Ibram X. Kendi 

The subtitle of Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You often gets overlooked, but listeners will want to make special note of it: “A Remix of the National Book Award-Winning Stamped from the Beginning.” Jason Reynolds’s adaptation of Ibram X. Kendi’s groundbreaking Stamped from the Beginning is a remix in the basic sense of the word, a re-working and streamlining of the book, meant for younger readers. But the word “remix” also brings to mind audio mixing, dance clubs, and DJs—energy, creativity, movement, and rhythm. And that is what listeners will experience while listening to this outstanding audiobook. It is intimate, rhythmic, engaging, and perfectly paced, a vital book that reveals the roots of embedded racism and how important it is for young people to become critical, questioning thinkers and activists. This book is tailor-made for listening, and it is not to be missed.

When Stars Are Scattered

When Stars Are Scattered, produced by Kelly Gildea and Julie Wilson for Listening Library, an imprint of Penguin Random House Audio, written by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed, and narrated by Faysal Ahmed, Barkhad Abdi, and a full cast

The producing team, who previously worked with Victoria Jamieson on the Roller Girl audiobook, return for this outstanding full-cast graphic novel adaptation, bringing Omar Mohamed’s story of growing up with his younger brother, Hassan, in Dadaab, a refugee camp in Kenya, to life. The craft, attention to detail, and sensitivity to authentic representation is clear throughout this production. I highly recommend checking out this Bookpage behind-the-scenes interview to learn about the casting, recording and production process. Actor Faysal Ahmed portrays Omar with raw emotion, hope, and vulnerability. The entire cast is outstanding, which  includes Robin Miles and Bahni Turpin, creating a community of voices and stories. The lush soundscape with music, sound effects, and background narration is the result of the hard work of Ted Scott and Heather Scott, who the producers collaborated with for the edit and mix, transforming the visuals into an immersive auditory experience. The audiobook concludes with  Omar and Victoria narrating their own author’s notes, adding emotional resonance to this true story by hearing from the creators themselves. 

Members of the 2021 Odyssey Award Committee are Chair Maryanne Olson, Queens Public Library, Queens, New York; Kelsey Bates, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri; Scott Businsky, New Castle County Libraries, New Castle, Delaware; Sharon Deeds, Utah State Library, Salt Lake City, Utah; Paige Bentley-Flannery, Deschutes Public Library, Bend, Oregon; Doris Gebel, Rutgers University, Melfa, Virginia; Jeanette Johnson, Oak Avenue Intermediate School, Temple City, California; Rita King, Baker & Taylor, Spring Lake, Michigan; Maryann H. Owen, Oak Creek Public Library, Oak Creek, Wisconsin; Suzanne Temple, NoveList, Durham, North Carolina; and Margaret Tice, Magen David Yeshivah, Brooklyn, New York.

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