I was curious how Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano’s A Black Hole Is NOT a Hole (Listening Library, May 2013) would translate as an audiobook. The print book (Charlesbridge, February 2012), which received a starred review in the Horn Book Magazine’s May/June 2012 issue, was praised for its use of “reasoning and analogies that are perfectly attuned to the comprehension levels of the target audience.” Illustrator Michael Carroll included “illustrations of stars, black holes, and other space phenomena; historical images of astronomers, helpful diagrams; and humorous text bubbles that add levity” to “underscore major concepts.” This raises the question: without its eye-catching and informative visual aids, is it still possible to get the whole picture?
While it’s helpful to have scientific terms such as “quasar” and “Sagittarius A” read aloud (although none of the voice actors seems to be able to enunciate while reading the titular line “a black hole is not a hole” — it sounds like “a black hole is not a hoe” every time), it’s also disappointing to hear about false-color images when you can’t see any. And it goes without saying the illustrations are a huge asset in terms of explaining and reinforcing scientific concepts introduced in the text. It falls on voice actors Tara Sands, Maxwell Glick, and Everette Plen to explicate black holes. Unfortunately, Sands sounds like an adult version of The Magic School Bus’s know-it-all Dorothy-Anne, but much more patronizing and sarcastic. Glick fares slightly better as the nerdy narrator. Plen is the most natural, but his quips fall flat without the cartoon images for context.
One thing the audio version does better than the book is convey that black holes are invisible and can only be visited through “thought experiments.” But without the groundwork laid by text and image, it’s much harder to visualize black holes through audio information alone. I’d love to see an app version of the book with animation.
This post is part of Audiobook Week on Out of the Box. For more, click on the audiobooks tag.