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Booklist Editors’ Choice: The Year’s Top Audiobooks

The American Library Association’s review journal selects best media of 2012. Check out the complete list & linked reviews of 36 titles for children, adults, and teens – audiobooks, video, drama, children’s music, and storytelling:


 Bag ItBag It. 2012. 78min. Docurama, DVD, $29.95 (1-4229-9577-1).If plastic is recyclable, why is it filling our oceans and landfills? Packed with startling facts, eye-opening information, and much-needed humor, this documentary heightens awareness about our ubiquitous use of plastic bags, water bottles, drink cups, and food containers, among other items.Death and the Civil War. 2012. 2hr. PBS, DVD, $24.99 (9781608837595).

Melding extensive archival photos, sepia-toned period settings, and dramatically read excerpts with sensitive commentary, filmmaker Ric Burns’ gripping American Experience title concentrates on the quarter of a million American soldiers who died “under circumstances nobody was prepared for.”

The Dust Bowl. 2012. 4hr. PBS, DVD, $24.99 (9781608837182).

Brought about by a mixture of factors, including removal of native grasslands, excessive plowing and cultivating, scorching temperatures, and crippling drought, the Dust Bowl was the worst sustained environmental disaster in U.S. history. Archival footage, stills, expert commentary, and vivid eyewitness accounts paint an indelible picture of the catastrophic event that lasted for 10 years. Another masterpiece of filmmaking from director Ken Burns. (Top of the List winner—Video.)

Eames: The Architect and the Painter. 2011. 84min. First Run Features, DVD, $29.95.

This exquisite documentary profiles the work of eccentric husband-and-wife designers Charles and Ray Eames, whose artistry went way beyond the groundbreaking Eames chair. This treasure trove of archival footage, film clips, and revealing interviews etches a vivid portrait of the late couple’s endeavors.

Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion.2012. 13min. Weston Woods, DVD, $59.95 (9780545447539). PreS–Gr. 1.

Trixie’s beloved Knuffle Bunny goes missing when Trixie and her family travel to Holland to visit her grandparents. Black-and-white photos backing Mo Willems’ animated, color-splashed figures, lively background music, and the Willems’ family narration add flair to the poignant story with a surprising conclusion.

Me and My 500 “Friends”: Staying Safe on Social Networks. 2011. 20min. Human Relations Media, DVD, $149.95 (9781555489335). Gr. 7–12.

Featuring real-life examples, a teen host, dramatizations, and nicely shot interviews, this excellent title alerts teens to the potential risks of putting private information and other potentially harmful data on Facebook and other social-networking sites.

Pink Ribbons, Inc. 2012. 1.5hr. First Run Features, DVD, $27.95.

This thought-provoking documentary makes viewers question whether the October monthlong breast cancer pink-ribbon awareness campaign is more about product marketing and publicity than cancer research and development.

Semper Fi: Always Faithful. 2012. 76min. Passion River, DVD, $29.99 (1-9377-7209-8).

Focusing on U.S. Marine Corps Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger’s unrelenting efforts to expose the extreme cover-up of one of the worst cases of water contamination in U.S. history at Camp Lejune, this is an unforgettable film.

 Sing Your SongSing Your Song: Harry Belafonte.2012. 1.5hr. Docurama, DVD, $29.95 (1-4229-1870-X).

This inspiring portrait of musician, actor, and social activist Harry Belafonte is filled with candid reflections from Belafonte, interviews, archival footage, television clips, and more. A stirring testament to the power of the arts as a means of cultural enrichment and an instrument of resistance and rebellion.

Woody Allen: A Documentary. 2012. 3hr. Docurama, DVD, $29.95 (1-4229-4887-0).

Packed with film clips, commentary by fellow celebrities, and Allen’s on-screen presence, this profile of the musician, writer, playwright, comic, actor, and director traces his career from stand-up comic to successful Hollywood icon.

Audio for Adults

8. By Dustin Lance Black. Read by George Clooney and others. 2012. 2hr. LA Theatre Works, CD, $29.95 (9781580818896).

Featuring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Martin Sheen, and other well-known actors, this audio presentation of a play based on the closing arguments of a California court case to overturn a same-sex marriage amendment is marked by stirring performances and thought-provoking subject matter.

11/22/63. By Stephen King. Read by Craig Wasson. 2011. 31hr. Recorded Books, CD, $123.75 (9781461805830); DD, $89.75 (9781464015540).

In this trip back in time, a high-school teacher is shown a portal to 1958 and given the task of stopping the assassination of JFK. Wasson’s sympathetic voicing of King’s quirky, charming characters draws listeners into this carefully plotted tale filled with twists and turns.

American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens across America. By Michelle Obama. Read by the author and others. 2012. 4hr. Books on Tape, CD, $25 (9780449808580).

In friendly, comfortable tones, Obama reads the bulk of this title in which she talks about the White House “learning garden” and her motivation for creating the White House kitchen garden. The down-to-earth mood is enhanced with short segments read by the garden beekeeper and others.

The Art of Fielding. By Chad Harbach. Read by Holter Graham. 2012. 16hr. AudioGo, CD, $89.99 (9781611131840); DD, $69.99 (9781611131857).

Employing tones of bemusement leavened with wry detachment, Graham delivers both humor and angst in his reading of this compelling first novel set at a small Wisconsin college.

The Beautiful Mystery. By Louise Penny. Read by Ralph Cosham. 2012. 13hr. Macmillan, CD, $39.99 (9781427226099); DD, $23.99 (9781427226105).

Plainchants and an isolated monastery frame this eighth Inspector Gamache mystery. Penny’s gorgeous prose sings, thanks to Cosham’s masterful, hypnotic reading in accents appropriate to the French Canadian setting.

The Book of Jonas. By Stephen Dau. Read by Simon Vance. 2012. 8hr. Tantor, CD, $71.99 (9781452635972).

Vance masterfully reads this impressive tale of war, loss, and redemption that begins with 15-year-old Jonas coming to the U.S. from an unnamed Muslim country following an attack that wiped out his village.

 Casual VacancyThe Casual Vacancy. By J. K. Rowling. Read by Tom Hollander. 2012. 18hr. AudioGO, CD, $99.99 (9781619695948); DD, $74.99 (9781619695962).

Rowling’s first foray into adult fiction, set in a picturesque British village where Barry Fairbrother’s unexpected death causes a casual vacancy on the village council, is read in various British dialects by Hollander, who does a bang-up job with all of the characters.

Lady of the Rivers. By Philippa Gregory. Read by Bianca Amato. 2011. 13hr. Recorded Books, CD, $123.75 (9781461805823); DD, $64.75 (9781461840589).

Amato’s husky, mesmerizing British-laced reading draws listeners into this heartfelt, richly detailed novel chronicling the life and influence of Jaquetta Woodville, mother and grandmother of English queens.

Miles: The Autobiography. By Miles Davis and Quincy Troupe. Read by Dion Graham. 2012. 17hr. AudioGO, CD, $99.95 (9780792784814); DD, $69.95 (9780792784821).

In gravelly tones, Graham channels legendary jazz trumpeter Davis, enriching this profane, humorous, and insightful memoir.

Mortality. By Christopher Hitchens. Read by Simon Prebble. 2012. 2hr. Hachette, CD, $22.98 (9781619691889); DD, $19.98 (9781619691896).

Prebble’s pitch-perfect British-accented reading authentically fits Hitchens’ recollections of his “year of living dyingly” as he watches his body surrender to cancer and shares his hard-won wisdom.

NPR American Chronicles: Civil Rights. By Michele Norris. Read by Michele Norris and others. 2011. 3hr. HighBridge, CD, $24.95 (9781611745085); DD, $17.47 (9781611745092).

NPR reporter Norris’ soothing voice bridges 26 NPR interviews (with Rosa Parks and others), stories, and accounts in this riveting collection of defining moments of the civil rights movement.

The Pickwick Papers. By Charles Dickens. Read by David Timson. 2012. 32.5hr. Naxos, CD, $137.98 (9781843795551).

Timson tackles Dickens’ sprawling novel, filled with an eccentric cast of British characters, in a splendid performance that radiates warmth and humor.

Society’s Child: My Autobiography. By Janis Ian. Read by the author. 2012. 12hr. Brilliance, CD, $59.97 (9781469255552); DD, $39.97 (9781469255576).

Ian sings the lyrics that open each chapter of this mesmerizing memoir, which transports us back in time as we listen to Ian recollecting her personal and professional life and singing snippets of “At Seventeen” and “Jesse,” among other originals.

Audio for Youth

 Artemis FowlArtemis Fowl: The Last Guardian. By Eoin Colfer. Read by Nathaniel Parker. 2012. 7.5hr. Listening Library, CD, $37 (9780307991218); DD, $47 (9780307991225). Gr. 5–9.

The narrator of previous Artemis Fowl series titles, Parker fluidly changes accents (British, Irish, American) to portray teenage criminal mastermind Artemis and a huge cast of characters, including elves, dwarfs, and pixies.

The Case of the Deadly Desperados. By Caroline Lawrence. Read by T. Sands. 2012. 7hr. Listening Library, CD, $43 (9780307968845). Gr. 4–6.

In a convincing, albeit over-the-top, western twang, Sands reads this action-packed western, which opens with 12-year-old P. K. Pinkerton discovering that his foster parents have been murdered.

Code Name Verity. By Elizabeth Wein. Read by Morven Christie and Lucy Gaskell. 2012. 10hr. Bolinda, CD, $59.97 (9781742857640); DD, $39.97 (9781742857657). Gr. 9–12.

This audio depicting the horror of WWII, as seen through the eyes of two friends, double-agent Verity (one of many names she goes by) and fearless British pilot Maddie (code name Kitty Hawk), is masterfully voiced by Christie and Gaskell (portraying Verity and Maddie, respectively) in authentic accents, dialects, and expressions of emotion. Produced by Bolinda, the audio is distributed by Brilliance Audio. (Top of the List winner–Audio.)

Django: World’s Greatest Jazz Guitarist. By Bonnie Christensen. Read by George Guidall. 2011. 19min. Live Oak, CD, $29.95 (9781430109822). Gr. 3–6.

Guidall’s calm, assured reading of Christensen’s rhythmic verses recounting the story of jazz musician Django Reinhardt, lovely background music, and authentic sound effects combine in this exceptional read-along.

The Fault in Our Stars. By John Green. Read by Kate Rudd. 2012. 7hr. Brilliance, CD, $59.97 (9781455869879). Gr. 9–12.

Meeting in a cancer survivor group, teens Hazel Grace and Augustus fall in love and willingly “ride all the way up” on the roller coaster of life. Rudd expresses the teens’ humorous, sad, sarcastic, and realistic dialogue with deadpan precision in this moving, exceptional story.

The Great Cake Mystery: Precious Ramotswe’s Very First Case. By Alexander McCall Smith. Read by Adjoa Andoh. 2012. 1hr. Listening Library, CD, $15 (9780449011423); DD, $17.10 (9780449011430). Gr. 2–4.

Andoh brings joy to this fun mystery in which young Precious Ramotswe solves her first case when cake and other treats go missing from school lunches. Andoh’s British-laced reading, tinged with an African dialect, authentically denotes the Botswana setting.

High Dive and Other Things That Could Have Happened. 2011. 1hr. Round River, CD, $15 (9781878126573). Gr. 3–5.

Veteran storyteller, songwriter, singer, and funnyman Bill Harley’s album featuring both songs and stories begins with a hilarious story-song about a nine-year-old boy who tries to jump off the high dive in order to impress a pretty teenage lifeguard.

Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie. 2012. 1hr. My Kazoo Music, CD, $11.63; DD, $9.49. Gr. 1–4.

This engaging CD pays tribute to twentieth-century blues and ragtime music through 17 tunes performed by Randy Kaplan, whose bantering between songs with gravelly-voiced “Delta denizen” Lightnin’ Bodkins is wryly humorous and invigorating.

 On the Day I DiedOn the Day I Died. By Candace Fleming. Read by Ramon de Ocampo and others. 2012. 5.5hr. Listening Library, CD, $30 (9780307991102); DD, $33 (9780307991133). Gr. 7–10.

A terrific ensemble cast, including de Ocampo, MacLeod Andrews, Justine Eyre, and Amy Rubinate, reads Fleming’s creepy stories in which teenage ghosts, who lived in Chicago from the late nineteenth century to modern times, tell how they died.

Paper Covers Rock. By Jenny Hubbard. Read by Steven Boyer. 2012. 5hr. Recorded Books, CD, $46.75 (9781464021565); DD, $42 (9781464021657). Gr. 9–12.

Hubbard’s well-framed and exquisitely paced debut novel, set at an all-boys boarding school, is read with compassion and sincerity by Boyer, who voices a range of characters, including first-person narrator Alex, who witnesses his friend’s drowning during a night of underage drinking.

Satchel Paige. By Lesa Cline-Ransome. Read by Dion Graham. 2012. 21min. Live Oak, CD, $29.95 (9781430110880). Gr. 2–4.

Ragtime piano riffs, realistic sound effects, and Graham’s silky-smooth reading complement Cline-Ransome’s story of Leroy “Satchel” Paige, the first Negro League player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Tall Story. By Candy Gourlay. Read by Ramon de Ocampo and Jayne Entwistle. 2012. 6hr. Listening Library, CD, $45 (9780307968753); DD, $39 (9780307968760). Gr. 6–9.

Narrators de Ocampo and Entwistle bring the stories of half-siblings Andi and Bernardo to listeners’ ears through distinctive voices and accents (British and Spanish). Bernardo leaves his native Philippines, where he is a folk-hero giant, to reunite with his mother and pint-size, basketball-crazy Andi, in London.

Wonder. By R. J. Palacio. Read by Diana Steele and others. 2012. 8hr. Brilliance, CD, $64.97 (9781455844203); DD, $39.97 (9781455844227). Gr. 5–8.

Steele portrays 10-year-old Auggie, whose face is severely deformed because of a genetic disorder, with a raspy voice and self-deprecating humor; Nick Podehl channels Auggie’s friends and others; and Kate Rudd reflects Auggie’s teen sister in this compelling debut novel.



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.

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