Four topnotch audiobooks provide hours of entertainment for middle-grade listeners.
In Geraldine McCaughrean’s Glorious Adventures of the Sunshine Queen, when a diphtheria epidemic hits 1890s Olive Town, Oklahoma, twelve-year-old Cissy and her friends are sent away to stay with their former, beloved teacher, now an actress in a traveling theater troupe housed in a dilapidated steamboat. As the company travels down the flooded Missouri River, adventures ensue — and keep on ensuing — in a book that’s both a paean to Mark Twain and entirely original. Narrator Lorna Raver is a fluid and accomplished reader, more than a match for the story’s tall-tale tone, fast pace, and large cast of colorful characters. (9–12 years)
Lucky for Good, the last installment in Susan Patron’s Hard Pan trilogy, takes Lucky to the brink of junior high. As ever, she is both a highly particularized character (how many eleven-year-olds live in welded-together trailers in the California desert with French chef mothers who adopted them at the request of ex-husbands?) and a universal Everygirl (she loses her temper when a show-off older boy tries to bully her; she struggles with large questions of life and death, religion and science). Narrator Cassandra Campbell brings us inside Lucky’s heart and head, letting all the novel’s humor, depth of feeling, and thoughtfulness shine through. (9–12 years)
Next up is an excellent audiobook production of Clare Vanderpool’s multi-layered 2011 Newbery Medal winner, Moon over Manifest. Parked for the summer of 1936 in the small town of Manifest, Kansas, twelve-year-old Abilene Tucker goes looking for clues to her father’s past and ends up finding her own future. In contrast to the many secrets and mysteries Abilene discovers — some revolving around letters she finds from 1918, others centered on present-day Manifest — she herself is an endearingly transparent character, and narrator Jenna Lamia channels her to perfection. (9–12 years)
The narrator of the Harry Potter audiobooks reads another novel full of wizardry, brave orphans, evil villains, and hair-raising adventure. John Stephens’s The Emerald Atlas is set in America, though, and once the listener gets over the shock of hearing the distinctively British Jim Dale say “Baltimore” or “Albany,” they will be entranced by his animated presentation and amazing ability to inhabit and differentiate a huge cast of characters. Listeners will cheer Kate, Michael, and Emma on as they discover a magical book, travel through time to try to rescue the children of Cambridge Falls from a witch, and investigate the secrets surrounding their parentage. (10–14 years)