(printed in the News and Observer and Charlotte Observer 12/23/16)
“Wolfie the Bunny,” Ame Dyckman (Vox): Three narrators and musical accompaniments recreate the engaging quality of the picture book in an all-in-one book-plus-audio. Robin Miles, the primary storyteller, describes the Bunny family’s surprise at discovering a “bundle outside their door.” Piano riffs add a playfully ominous tone. The interplay continues throughout and Dot, the worried stepsister, is a showstopper as she is in the book.
“Thunder Boy Jr.,” Sherman Alexie, (Hatchett): David Alexie energetically portrays the imaginative character of Thunder Boy Jr. and uses rhythms that emphasize his father’s poetic writing. Sherman Alexie joins in at audio’s end. His deep, sonorous voice harmonizes with David’s, mirroring the shared love of the two protagonists.
“The Princess in Black, Books 1-3: The Princess in Black,” Shannon and Dean Hale (Listening Library): Julie Whelan’s fairytale voice draws young listeners into the first three books’ magical adventures as Princess Magnolia transforms into the Princess in Black to defend her kingdom from monsters. Whelan also accents the subtle irony that darts in and out of the three tales.
“Waylon! One Awesome Thing,” Sara Pennypacker (Recorded Books): Christopher Gebauer captures the two sides of Waylon Zakowski, an engaging fourth grader who is the “scienciest kid in the whole school.” Gebauer’s neutral tones convey Waylon’s passion for all things science while more anxious inflections describe his empathic side. Gebauer gets the balance of humor and warmth just right.
“Wild Robot,” Peter Brown (Hatchett): I love an audio that starts vividly. The first several tracks abound in magical music and plentiful sound effects as Kate Atwater describes how the fantastical blossoms in the natural world when a robot, ROZZUM unit 7134 (Roz), crashes on a small island.
“Ghost,” Jason Reynolds (Simon and Schuster): Guy Lockhart captures the rhythms of language and emotions of middle-schooler, Castle (Ghost) who began running to escape his father’s threats and is now on a team. Lockhart balances the humor and lighter details with Ghost’s more troubling thoughts.
“Some Kind of Courage,” Dan Gemeinhart (Scholastic): Andrew Eiden’s western twang accents the colorful vernacular, idioms, setting and imagery of 12-year-old Joseph’s narrative as he travels 1890s Washington State seeking Sarah, the beloved horse that’s been stolen from him. Eiden’s narration has as much longing and growth as drawl and adventure.
“Blood for Blood,” Ryan Gradin (Blackstone): Fans of the audios of Gradin’s first Wordl War II alt-history “Wolf By Wolf,” will again be wowed by Christa Lewis’ skill at expressing dramatic intensity. Shape-shifting heroine Yael has murdered a Hitler doppelganger and the police’s discovery has Yael and her companions fleeing their brutal torture. Tension, suspense, intrigue and plot twists creates tension anew that doesn’t abate until the end.
“Lockwood & Co. The Creeping Shadow,” Jonathan Stroud (Listening Library): The quirky mix of chills and humor continue in this fourth adventure as Emily Bevan deepens Lucy’s character while the heroine fights ghosts alone before being reunited with her colleagues. Bevan’s rendition of the wry moments are as laugh-aloud perfect as the suspenseful ones.