By August 10, 2009 3 Comments Read More →

Audiobooks minus illustrations: great or ghastly?


Subtract the illustrations from The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, add the author’s narration and what do you get? This year’s Odyssey Award-winning title recognized as the best in audiobook production. Audiobooks for young listeners have long featured the audio rendition of text plus added music & effects. But what about audiobooks of titles for older readers minus the illustrations, as in the Absolutely True Diary or Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules? Even the Caldecott-winning, 550 page novel in words and pictures, The Invention of Hugo Cabret was re-imagined as an audiobook featuring music & sound effects. The Booklist audiobook  review addresses some of the concerns of this comment about Hugo posted on an eariler Audiobooker post:

Is it just me, or is there something really off about the idea of an audio version of Hugo Cabret? Half of the book’s glory (hell, half of the book period) is the illustrations.

There was a similar reaction when the Hugo audiobook was debated on Roger Sutton’s blog, including the response post by author Selznick below on the topic:

I’m never quite sure if an author is supposed to comment about their own work on a blog, but I’ve enjoyed Roger’s blog in the past and just came across this discussion of the audiobook. I wanted to say that I had the same reservations about the idea of an audio book for Hugo…it seemed that the whole point of the book is that it is told with pictures to reference it’s relationship to early movies. But I’ll tell you the reason I said yes (and worked hard with the producers) on this audio project. In 1931, sound was a new thing to the movies (having been introduced of course in The Jazz Singer in 1927), but directors such as Rene Clair thought that sound might ruin movies. He believed that movies were essentially a visual medium, and that sound would make the storytelling too easy. So (for example) in a movie he made in 1931, Under the Roofs of Paris, he used sound sporadically, experimentally, and left the rest of the movie “silent.” This actually was part of the inspiration for having the bursts of images in Hugo (it would parallel the bursts of sound in Clair’s film). SO, when the idea of the audio version of the book was introduced, I was intrigued by the idea of how to use sound the way Clair did. The structure of the audio book is very much like the actual book, in that there are two distinct ways of storytelling working together (hopefully) to tell the tale. We worked really hard to make listening to Hugo its own distinct experience. Yes, it’s different from the book, but the ultimate goal of it was the same, and for me I know I wouldn’t have undertaken the project if there wasn’t something unique that the audio book could do that was different from the book.
Oh, and the DVD is completely separate from the storytelling. It’s a half hour interview with me about making the book, and there is a section where you can see the picture sequences while I talk about the research and ideas that went into drawing them, kind of like a director’s commentary on a movie DVD. But the DVD is really just a bonus. The story exists entirely on the audio CD.
Hope this clarifies some of the ideas behind the audiobook.

Author Augusten Burroughs discusses his re-imagined adult audiobook “A Wolf at the Table” in this video from Macmillan Audio. I’m glad that audiobooks for grown-ups are experimenting with adding music & sound effects. But what are your feelings about titles that depend solely on sound, music, or the voice of a great narrator to convey the spirit of an illustrated tale? Great or ghastly? Does the listener’s impression depend on whether they listen with fresh ears or have experienced the print title first? I am curious in what your comments will say about titles like The Book Thief or The Wright 3 !



About the Author:

Mary Burkey is an independent library consultant in Columbus (OH). An enthusiastic audiophile, she has served on all four of ALA's audiobook award committees as well as the Audies. In addition to writing the "Voices in My Head" column for Booklist, she is the author of Audiobooks for Youth: A Practical Guide to Sound Literature (ALA, 2013). Follow her on Twitter at @mburkey.

3 Comments on "Audiobooks minus illustrations: great or ghastly?"

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  1. Mary says:

    From Audiobooker on Twitter @mburkey

    From @ProfessorNana: BOOK THIEF worked well in audio minus illus. Many picture books do (DOOBY DOOBY MOO). However, does it make diff in response?

  2. Mary says:

    From Audiobooker on Twitter @mburkey

    From @dogearedcopy Audiobook adaptations different but great cf America the Audiobook by Jon Stewart et al

  3.' Laurie says:

    I listened to The Book Thief without knowing that the print was illustrated. It worked wonderfully as an audiobook.

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