There seems to be a proliferation of adult mystery and suspense writers dipping their toes–or taking the full plunge–into writing for younger readers. John Grisham has kid lawyers, Ridley Pearson brings a young James Moriarty to life, Kathy Reichs and her son created a “pack” of young crime fighters–one of whom is the grandniece of Reich’s Temperance Brennan–and James Patterson has an entire imprint for children with books spanning the age range.
These mysteries aren’t limited to American writers either. The Scandinavian rage that’s captured the adult side of the genre is present on the YA shelves as well. Salla Simukka’s AS RED AS BLOOD, the beginning of The Snow White Trilogy, is a prime example.
And while the classic stories as well as the newer generation of mysteries continue to hook youth on reading and listening, the same stories are captivating adults as well. What is it about these audiobooks that make them so magical to audiences of all ages?
I talked with actor and narrator Peter Berkrot who’s performed some YA audiobooks. I wanted to know how he approaches an audiobook intended for young listeners and if he does anything different from the audios he performs for adults. For the most part, his preparation is the same, but he says, “in the acting choices and in honoring the writing, I find that good YA books tend to strip away any excess writing and leave us with an essence of each character. Not to say that YA novels aren’t as sophisticated or intelligent as their adult counterparts. On the contrary, young readers are incredibly insightful and can detect inauthenticity when authors get too clever or complex. There is often a parable-like quality to good YA, allowing direct access into the spirit of the character. Just as in real life, young people have not developed a capacity for self-deception and complex psychology; novels of this sort take us more instantly into the truth of the characters. So I trust the writing and stay out of its way.”
I’m not sure I broke it down enough to notice that before, but he’s absolutely right. I’m sure that’s what I found so intriguing about Charlie Thurston’s narrations of Barry Lyga’s I HUNT KILLERS trilogy. And the fat was definitely trimmed from Bill Cameron’s PROPERTY OF THE STATE, which isn’t on audio but I’d love to see recorded.
I also had the chance to chat with Kirby Heyborne about narrating for younger listeners. Since he’s been so successful in this realm of audiobook recording I wanted to know his secret to narrating for children and young adults. He told me he took some cues from story time with his own kids: “I found that when my kids were little and I read to them for bedtime, they preferred me not reading down to them. They were more interested when I was invested in the characters and made them sound fun and believable.” Isn’t that really what we all hope for in a good audiobook performance? No wonder the books that are intended for younger audiences strike a chord with adults as well. By the way, Kirby is also a fan of THE WESTING GAME, “My all time favorite mystery novel. In fact, it’s one of my all time favorite books of any genre.” Mysteries have that effect on many people!
A conversation I found especially fascinating was the one I had with Amy Rubinate. “I’ve been directing a lot of middle grade, YA and picture books lately, and it has caused me to look more closely at my approach to the work.” Amy has narrated books for young readers for a long time and has developed an instinct for the characters and plots in these stories. “But when I’m directing, I have to put more thought into it in order to convey that information to the actors. The best thing I can do is cast the books well – then not a lot of direction is needed; the narrators lock right into the work. But we also spend time in session weighing how to approach subtle aspects of character that would be reflected in the narration; for example: how much innocence/wonder would still be present in the voice and spirit of the spunky 12-year-old protagonist, given the hardship he has endured.” I think it would be especially fun to be a fly on the wall in those sessions!
When I asked Amy about her favorite mystery from childhood, I was reminded of a story I, too, adored, “My favorite audio mystery/thriller when I was a kid was a ‘story record’ of the Disney movie, The Rescuers. I listened to it hundreds of times, and mimicked all of the voices. They did a novelization of the movie with wonderful narration, interspersed with dialogue cut from the movie. Bob Newhart, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Geraldine Page…it never failed to enchant me. I think the repetition of great work like this is one of the things that made me able to handle dialogue easily many years later.” I think I’ll be picturing the little dragonfly, Evinrude, all day today. What great memories.
There are a lot of wonderful titles out there making selections for young–and young-at-heart listeners–explode. How about you and your young audiobook fans? What titles have captured your imaginations and entertained you lately? Do you ever listen to a title together? Feel free to share your experiences and recommendations in the comments today.
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