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Best & Brightest Children's Audiobooks of 2020


This Best & Brightest list was created by Denver Public Library staff to celebrate our favorite recently published audiobooks. Enjoy!

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Once Upon An Eid: Stories Of Hope And Joy By 15 Muslim Voices
Ali, Nujood.
3rd-7th grade. “Eid: The short, single-syllable word conjures up a variety of feelings and memories for Muslims. Maybe it’s waking up to the sound of frying samosas or the comfort of bean pie, maybe it’s the pleasure of putting on a new outfit for Eid prayers, or maybe it’s the gift giving and holiday parties to come that day. Whatever it may be, for those who cherish this day of celebration, the emotional responses may be summed up in another short and sweet word: joy.” --From the publisher. Voiced alternately by male and female narrators, this volume of short stories is ideal for bite-size listening. The sensory richness of spending holidays with loved ones saturates the actors’ joyful narration. Vocal changes and varied accents convey a diversity of cultural experience that affords engaging listening for all readers.
Letters From Cuba
Behar, Ruth, 1956- author.
4th-8th grade. “In 1938, eleven-year-old Esther joins her father in tropical, multicultural Cuba, where they toil together to rescue the rest of their Jewish family from persecution in Poland. Includes notes about the author's grandmother, on whom the story is based.” --From the publisher. Poignant narration animates Esther’s emotional journey in this epistolary novel. Soler’s bright tone ably conveys Esther’s wonder at new people and cultures in Cuba; expressive shifts paint Esther’s fear and outrage as anti-Semitism grows. This vibrantly voiced tale transports readers to 1930’s Cuba and delivers a dramatic resolution.
Strong Voices : Fifteen American Speeches Worth Knowing
Bolden, Tonya, author.
3rd-7th grade. "Introductions by acclaimed writer Tonya Bolden provide historical context and critical insights to the meaning and impact of every speech. Strong Voices includes a foreword by #1 New York Times bestselling author and celebrated journalist Cokie Roberts, as well as a timeline in the back of the book, along with letters to the reader from Tonya Bolden and Eric Velasquez.” --From the publisher. What better way to experience history’s pivotal speeches than with talented voice actors? Ardent, measured delivery by alternating narrators beautifully suits the oratory style. Performed by African Americans who at times voice calls for freedom and democracy made by white enslavers, this production embodies the contradiction, pain and promise of American history.
Santiago's Road Home
Diaz, Alexandra, author.
5th-9th grade. “Santiago’s future is uncertain until he meets the kind, maternal María Dolores and her young daughter, Alegría, who help Santiago decide what comes next: He will accompany them to el otro lado, the United States of America. They embark with little, just backpacks with water and a bit of food. To travel together will require trust from all parties, and Santiago is used to going it alone. None of the three travelers realizes that the journey through Mexico to the border is just the beginning of their story.” --From the publisher. This harrowing adventure illuminates the timely issue of child separation. Santiago’s kindness and compassion create a stark contrast to the emotionless immigration officials. The fear and hope that Santiago experiences when navigating isolation and disorientation in the detention center come to life through Pabon’s steady narration in this emotionally resonant tale.
Stella Endicott And The Anything-is-possible Poem : Tales From Deckawoo Drive Series, Book 5
DiCamillo, Kate, author.
Kindergarten-3rd grade. “Stella Endicott loves her teacher, Miss Liliana, and she is thrilled when the class is assigned to write a poem. Stella crafts a beautiful poem about Mercy Watson, the pig who lives next door — a poem complete with a metaphor and full of curiosity and courage. But Horace Broom, Stella’s irritating classmate, insists that Stella’s poem is full of lies and that pigs do not live in houses. And when Stella and Horace get into a shouting match in the classroom, Miss Liliana banishes them to the principal’s office. Will the two of them find a way to turn this opposite-of-a-poem day around?” --From the publisher. This short chapter book is packed with personality. Sharp writing and expressive narration quickly establish unique characters. Stella’s love of words introduces unfamiliar vocabulary, like entombed, ignoble and absconder, which are repeated naturally in the story — one of many details that make this audiobook a stand out for new readers.
Gino, Alex, author narrator.
3rd-7th grade. “Eleven-year-old Rick Ramsey has generally gone along with everybody, just not making waves, even though he is increasingly uncomfortable with his father's jokes about girls, and his best friend's explicit talk about sex; but now in middle school he discovers the Rainbow Spectrum club, where kids of many genders and identities can express themselves--and maybe among them he can find new friends and discover his own identity, which may just be to opt out of sex altogether.” --From the publisher. Nonbinary author Alex Gino voices their own writing in this touchingly narrated follow-up to George. The nonbinary timbre of Gino’s voice makes for a uniquely textured audiobook that suits this story of LGBTQIA+ identity. Throughout, Gino’s comforting, gentle narration creates a listening experience of queerness and caring.
Harrell, Rob, author.
3rd-7th grade. “Ross Maloy just wants to be a normal seventh grader. He doesn’t want to lose his hair, or wear a weird hat, or deal with the disappearing friends who don’t know what to say to ‘the cancer kid.’ But with his recent diagnosis of a rare eye cancer, blending in is off the table.” --From the publisher. As moving as it is funny, Wink is a unique middle school story. The narrators are well-cast; Crouch sounds earnest and youthful as Ross, and he is excellent at portraying supporting characters. Thompson has a slapstick comedic voice that meshes perfectly with sound effects to capture the “Batpig” comics Ross creates.
When Stars Are Scattered
Jamieson, Victoria, author.
4th-8th grade. “Omar and his younger brother, Hassan, have spent most of their lives in Dadaab, a refugee camp in Kenya. Life is hard there: never enough food, achingly dull, and without access to the medical care Omar knows his nonverbal brother needs. So when Omar has the opportunity to go to school, he knows it might be a chance to change their future...but it would also mean leaving his brother, the only family member he has left, every day.” --From the publisher. Excellent narration, quality production and a powerful story make this a must-listen graphic novel adaptation. Music and sound effects draw the listener into the environment, while a full cast of primarily Somali and Somali-American actors embodies this story’s raw emotions. Thorough backmatter provides more information and action steps.
Going Down Home With Daddy
Lyons, Kelly Starling, author.
Preschool-2nd grade. “Down home is Granny’s house. Down home is where Lil Alan and his parents and sister will gather with great-grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Down home is where Lil Alan will hear stories of the ancestors and visit the land that has meant so much to all of them. And down home is where all of the children will find their special way to pay tribute to their family history. All the kids have to decide what they’ll share, but what will Lil Alan do?” --From the publisher. Edwards's gentle, warm narration complements Lyons’ writing in this celebration of a multi-generational African American family and their connection to their land. Music that reflects each scene’s changing tone, and sound effects like a noisy tractor and dishes clanking infuse this audio picture book with atmosphere and life.
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story
Maillard, Kevin Noble, author narrator.
Preschool-2nd grade. “Using illustrations that show the diversity in Native America and spare poetic text that emphasizes fry bread in terms of provenance, this volume tells the story of a post-colonial food that is a shared tradition for Native American families all across the North American continent. Includes a recipe and an extensive author note that delves into the social ways, foodways and politics of America's 573 recognized tribes.” --From the publisher. Sonorous baritone underscored with acoustic music and sounds of sizzling, stirring and birdsong transports listeners to a cozy family kitchen. Well-paced tonal and melodic changes propel the story to a climactic, loving ode to Indigenous resilience. Include this one in your picturebook playlist, or enjoy it as a standalone listen.
My Papi Has A Motorcycle
Quintero, Isabel, author narrator.
Preschool-2nd grade. “When Daisy Ramona zooms around her neighborhood with her papi on his motorcycle, she sees the people and places she’s always known. She also sees a community that is rapidly changing around her. But as the sun sets purple-blue-gold behind Daisy Ramona and her papi, she knows that the love she feels will always be there.” --From the publisher. This rousing production is an ode to Quintero’s hometown of Corona, California, a one-time road racing destination and agricultural hub powered by immigrant labor. A soundtrack of castanets, engine-revving and rhythmic guitar fuels the story while well-timed pauses underscore wistful moments.
Black Brother, Black Brother
Rhodes, Jewell Parker, author.
4th-8th grade. “Sometimes, 12-year-old Donte wishes he were invisible. As one of the few black boys at Middlefield Prep, most of the students don’t look like him. Dubbing him ‘Black Brother,’ Donte’s teachers and classmates make it clear they wish he were more like his lighter-skinned brother, Trey. When he’s bullied and framed by the captain of the fencing team, he’s suspended from school and arrested. Terrified, searching for a place where he belongs, Donte joins a local youth center and meets former Olympic fencer Arden Jones. With Arden’s help, he begins training as a competitive fencer, setting his sights on taking down the fencing team captain, no matter what.” --From the publisher. The frustration, hurt and anger Donte experiences as a result of racism and colorism resonate in Rhodes’ straight-forward, first-person writing, and receive additional weight in a moving author’s note. Buckner’s crisp, well-paced narration highlights Donte’s tumultuous feelings and the strength and grace that draw Donte to competitive fencing.
Not Your All-American Girl
Rosenberg, Madelyn, 1966- performer. author
3rd-7th grade. “Sixth-graders Lauren and Tara have always done everything together, so it is only natural that they both try out for their middle school musical play, about an ‘all-American’ girl in 1958; Tara gets the lead role, as usual, because in the teacher's mind Lauren, half-Jewish and half-Chinese, does not fit the image of all-American girl. Lauren is hurt but resolved to support her friend, but her two grandmothers are furious, and they intend to do something about it.” --From the publisher. Lauren's struggle to find confidence in her voice (both literally and metaphorically) while navigating racial prejudice and a tenuous friendship creates a rich and engaging story, with moments of humor. Price skillfully depicts Lauren's beautiful singing voice and first-person narration. She deftly distinguishes characters, especially Lauren's opinionated, accented grandmothers.
Twilight Hauntings: Enchanter's Child Series, Book 1
Sage, Angie, author.
4th-8th grade. “Angie Sage, New York Times best-selling author of the Septimus Heap series, crafts a fantasy world where enchantment is illegal, Oracles knit octopuses, wizards run around in soggy underpants, and one girl is on a mission to save Enchantment and Enchanters, which might just save the kingdom.” --From the publisher. This fast-moving, magical adventure is captivating from the start. The complex plot with multiple storylines is full of danger, unexpected humor, friendship and backstabbing. Hardingham delivers a characteristically dramatic performance, and she excels at depicting the many different characters, helping the listener navigate the twists and turns of the story.
The List Of Things That Will Not Change
Stead, Rebecca, author.
3rd-7th grade. “Despite her parents' divorce, her father's coming out as gay, and his plans to marry his boyfriend, ten-year-old Bea is reassured by her parents' unconditional love, excited about getting a stepsister, and haunted by something she did last summer at her father's lake house.” --From the publisher. Spritely narration embodies Bea’s buoyancy and big emotions as she navigates familial change. Jacobs’ delivery of Bea is youthful but never cloying, and her varied intonation successfully animates the richly drawn secondary characters.
Clean Getaway
Stone, Nic, author.
3rd-8th grade. “Set against the backdrop of the segregation history of the American South, take a trip with this New York Times bestseller and an eleven-year-old boy who is about to discover that the world hasn’t always been a welcoming place for kids like him, and things aren’t always what they seem–his G’ma included.” --From the publisher. This fast-paced and funny road trip adventure deftly addresses challenging family dynamics and the history of race in the American South. Graham’s depiction of Scoob’s unconventional, 4’11”, white grandmother is hilarious and provides a stark contrast to the emotional turmoil biracial Scoob experiences as G’ma’s mental state declines.
Skunk And Badger
Timberlake, Amy, author.
Kindergarten-3rd grade. “The last thing Badger wants is a roommate, and certainly not Skunk, but since the house does not belong to him he does not have a choice; and soon everything in Badger's quiet and ordered life studying rocks is turned upside down (and where on earth did all the chickens come from?)--but after he drives Skunk and his chickens away, Badger starts to miss his roommate and sets out to find him and make amends.” --From the publisher. Boatman’s colorful narration deftly delivers the humor and emotion of this riotous fable. Listeners hear the self-importance Badger wears like a shield with every booming utterance of “IMPORTANT ROCK WORK,” while Skunk’s over-eager cheer shines with shifts in pacing and intonation. This witty, heartfelt tale makes for ideal family listening.
Feathered Serpent And The Five Suns: A Mesoamerican Creation Myth
Tontiuh, Duncan
Kindergarten-3rd grade. “This pre-Columbian creation myth tells the story of Quetzalcoatl, one of the most important deities in ancient Mesoamerica, and his quest to create humankind. The gods tried to make humans during each sun, or age, but each time failed. So when they grew tired, only one did not give up: Quetzalcoatl, also called the Feathered Serpent. Determined, the Feathered Serpent embarks on a dangerous journey full of fearsome foes and harsh elements, facing each trial with wisdom, bravery, and resourcefulness before confronting his final challenge at Mictlan, the underworld.” --From the publisher. Richly-accented narration, ambient sound and a mystical soundtrack combine to deliver a textured and immersive listen. Rodriguez pronounces the story’s many Nahuatl words with fluidity and confidence, while Tiedemann’s tenor creates a distinct voice for Feather Serpent’s dialogue. The glossary following the story is particularly useful in audio format.
Before The Ever After
Woodson, Jacqueline, author.
5th-9th grade. “For as long as ZJ can remember, his dad has been everyone's hero. As a charming, talented pro football star, he's as beloved to the neighborhood kids he plays with as he is to his millions of adoring sports fans. But lately life at ZJ's house is anything but charming. His dad is having trouble remembering things and seems to be angry all the time. As ZJ contemplates his new reality, he has to figure out how to hold on tight to family traditions and recollections of the glory days, all the while wondering what their past amounts to if his father can't remember it.” --From the publisher. Woodson’s poetic writing is crisp and rhythmic, creating a vivid picture of ZJ’s life. Paired with Lockhard’s pitch-perfect narration, which imbues every word with emotion, this is an intimate picture of a passion for football and the love, laughter and sorrow ZJ’s close family share.

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