Summertime and the Listening is Easy!

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Mystery audiobook family-listening favorites are featured in this Voices in My Head column. Use these suggestions to pack your vacation travel bag or load up the kids’ listening devices. May is Mystery Month here at Booklist, but why not take spend the whole summer with the very best narrators sharing great stories?


It’s no mystery that listening to audiobooks in the car drives audiobook circulation and sales. A 2012 survey by the Audio Publishers Association (APA) found that adults listen while commuting in the car and on vacation driving trips and that youngsters under the age of 18 also listen to audios with their parents while traveling around town or out on the open road. So what genre is the preferred choice? Mystery is the overwhelming favorite of 47 percent of all listeners. Nearly half the survey respondents listed “entertainment for a long drive or trip” as the reason for their first audiobook experience, and a strong proportion of listeners indicated that “listening to an audiobook is good entertainment for a long drive or trip.” Why should librarians care about these details? The APA survey found that 42 percent of audiobook listeners borrow titles from the library.

I’m sure your library is gearing up for summer-reading programs, so why not add in-car family listening to your promotions? No matter if the trip is down the block or across the country, shared listening is a great way to foster family bonding. Parents will welcome the idea that audiobooks help develop and maintain reading skills that often slump in the summer. Librarians can provide handouts and find information on audiobook publishers’ websites, including and, that highlight the educational advantages of audiobook listening. Capitalize on the appetite for mysteries by creating themed recommended-listening lists for family groups. An added plus for parents looking for a hook to captivate reluctant readers is the potato-chip effect of a mystery series. Listening to one title often spurs youngsters to devour the whole series on audio.

Looking for audiobook titles that will satisfy young listeners while maintaining adult interest? Adult fans of Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series will be happy to treat youngsters to The Great Cake Mystery: Precious Ramotswe’s Very First Case(Listening Library), and parents who remember Gertrude Chandler Warner’s Boxcar Children series can revisit the series through Oasis Audio’s Bicycle Mystery: The Boxcar Children and many other titles from this popular series. Also, intermediate-grade listeners will identify with narrator Tara Sands’ youthful voice that perfectly conveys the humor and suspense in Wendelin Van Draanen’s sassy Sammy Keyes series (Live Oak Media), which begins with Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief. The 39 Clues series (Scholastic), narrated by David Pittu, is a perfect fit for multimedia learners who will appreciate the online gaming aspect.

Middle-school listeners can acquaint their parents with the youthful exploits of two mystery mainstays, James Bond and Sherlock Holmes. Charlie Higson’s Young Bond series (Listening Library), including Blood Fever, narrated with cool British aplomb by Nathaniel Parker, and Death Cloud (AudioGO), the first title in Andrew Lane’s Sherlock Holmes: The Legend Begins series, narrated by Dan Weyman, fit the bill. The Case of the Gypsy Good-Bye (Recorded Books) is the newest entry in Nancy Springer’s series featuring Sherlock Holmes’ younger sister, Enola. Both adult and tween listeners looking for tongue-in-cheek humor will revel in Katherine Kellgren’s reading of all three titles in Maryrose Wood’s zany The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series (Listening Library). Matthew J. Kirby’s Norse saga Icefall (Scholastic) is a stand-alone historical mystery with a Norse princess and battle action mesmerizingly narrated by Jenna Lamia.

Adults traveling with teens can turn to YA titles with strong crossover appeal. Libba Bray’s supernatural mystery The Diviners (Listening Library), stunningly narrated by January LaVoy, is set in atmospheric 1926 New York City. If you have a taste for dark, disturbing mysteries, you’ll relish Charlie Thurston’s gripping reading of Barry Lyga’s I Hunt Killers (AudioGO). And Elizabeth Wein’s WWII thriller Code Name Verity(Brilliance/Bolinda), Booklist’s 2012 Top of the List audio selection, features superlative narration by Morven Christie and Lucy Gaskell. You can also share adult titles with teens, including Robin Slone’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (Macmillan), a charming literary mystery, or Steve Hamilton’s The Lock Artist(Brilliance), centering on the safecracking ability of a traumatized teen. Alan Bradley’s Speaking from among the Bones (Books on Tape) and other series titles featuring spunky 12-year-old Flavia de Luce is perfectly read by Jane Entwistle, whose voice is a good match for the intrepid young chemist.

A fantastic audiobook promotion to tie to your school or public library’s website and summer-reading clubs is Sync YA Listening, a program in which audio publishers donate two free weekly downloads throughout the summer. Check out for more information. The weekly offerings feature a teen title paired with a classic, and the 2013 lineup includes such duos as 2012 Odyssey Award winner, Rotters (Listening Library), by Daniel Kraus, coupled with Frankenstein (Listening Library), by Mary Shelley, and The Raven Boys (Scholastic) tied with Bless Me, Ultima (Recorded Books), by Rudolfo Anaya.

So prepare for the onslaught of parents searching for ways to encourage literacy when school is out, tweens looking for entertainment for vacation travel, and teens clutching summer-reading lists. Arm yourself with handouts detailing the benefits of audiobook listening, include audiobooks in your summer-reading lists and displays, and spread the word about Sync YA Listening. It will soon be summertime, and audiobooks make reading easy!




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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