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Audiobooks and Literacy: Explore Behind the Microphone for Lifetime Possibilities

Over the past two decades, American education has reduced teens’ exposure to careers they might find engaging and worthy of pursuit without a post-high school degree. As a result, many high school students would be hard pressed to name more than a dozen career options open to them, even though they may already possess both skills and interests that speak to over a thousand different job types.

MoonbirdThere are some outlets where students can learn more about their interests and develop skills. Libraries, who have makerspace areas for hands-on learning; community theatre groups; and social media platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, and Tumbler, allow for budding crafters, writers, artists, actors, and photographers to create their works and share them with others.

Audiobooks can be a great catalyst in the search for new interests and possible career paths. In addition to their content, high-quality audiobooks lead us to appreciate the several skills beyond the writing that have gone into them: acting, voice training, recording, sound engineering, and more—not to mention the publishing and marketing and publicity skills that get them into the ears of consumers.

The Art of GraceYoung people already interested in pursuing literary and performance arts can learn a lot by listening to a range of narrators. And because many narrators spend a lot of time and attention on new content before they record it, they also serve as model autodidacts themselves.

The Audio Publishers Association supports an initiative called Sound Learning that helps parents, teachers, librarians, and the general public access research in multimodal literacy and how learning to listen impacts both reading skills and civic engagement. It is a volunteer-driven effort benefiting from the work of audiobook-savvy librarians, youth-savvy audiobook publishers, and narrators who are also experienced as teachers and coaches. At their website, you can find carefully selected and regularly updated lists of audiobooks for children and teens of various ages, stages, and interests. (Most of the listed audiobooks connect to AudioFile reviews.)

On WritingNow, Sound Learning has added the opportunity for classes and library groups to sign up for a free Skype session with one of several professional audiobook narrators. This chance to interact with a narrator is a great resource for groups of adults or groups of teens, providing:

• Personal exposure to career options in acting, publishing, or audio production

• Evidence that reading skills and literacy interests apply to employability

• Awareness of the inclusivity of the audiobook performance job market

• Diverse opportunities for interacting with literature and finding intriguing and helpful information

Life and Death in the AndesMeeting a narrator on Skype may open a young person’s mind to skills and interests never considered before. And because professional narrators embody the concept that reading widely encourages both growth and options, these Skype sessions might lead to many a future vocation or avocation.

In addition to exploring Sound Learning’s website and offerings, share our nonfiction audiobook recommendations with teens in your life. While most were published for the adult market, all are accessible and should appeal to teens who want to know more and push themselves to refine what they already understand.

Audiobooks That Inspire and Inform

Philip Hoose, read by Philip Hoose
Brilliance Audio

Follow the life of a 20-year-old shorebird and the scientists who follow his activities in order to learn more about both the ecosystem and the human place in it.

Sarah L. Kaufman, read by Christine Delaine
HighBridge Audio

Both physical and social grace receive attention as these reflections explore physical movement in sports, dance, movies, and growing our capacity for kindness.

Stephen King, read by Stephen King
Simon & Schuster Audio

The master of horror tells his own life story, how it has informed his character creations, and the main role writing plays in his identity. Would-be writers: Pay attention to his sound advice.

Kim MacQuarrie, read by Jonathan Yen
Tantor Media

In this collection of short pieces by a historian of indigenous peoples and documentary filmmaker, listeners can learn about historical figures with ideas and actions that engage us today, and also why South America is a geographic wonder.

Ruth Reichl, read by Bernadette Dunne
Books on Tape

Culinary expert, restaurant reviewer, and independent woman—each of these aspects of the author receives explicit attention as she shares stories from her life as a food critic.

Tavis Smiley with David Ritz, read by Tavis Smiley
Hachette Audio

Poet, actress, and public educator Maya Angelou inspired talk show host Smiley through years of their friendship. Listeners can gain insights from both of their experiences in this memoir.

THE GLASS UNIVERSE: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars
Dava Sobel, read by Cassandra Campbell
Penguin Audio/Books on Tape

Women’s roles in interpreting astronomical observations made by male astronomers get center stage, along with attention to primary sources (personal letters and diaries from the 1880s and beyond).

This post has been adapted from the original Audiobooks and Literacy column from the December 2017/January 2018 issue of AudioFile Magazine.

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