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Growin’ up is hard to do, audiobook version

The preteen years are full of new experiences and challenges. These four audiobooks — three novels, and one book of advice — all involve aspects of growing up and exploring one’s identity.

For Archer Magill, main character of Richard Peck‘s 2017 Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book The Best Man, sixth grade is full of changes: the death of his famous architect grandfather, a new love interest for his uncle Paul (surprise, it’s student teacher Mr. McLeod!), plus the meanness and madness of middle school. Narrator Michael Crouch’s youthful voice hits all the right tones — humor, sadness, amazement, and uncertainty. The large cast of characters each receives a unique and distinctive voice, and in Archer, Crouch brings a fully formed personality to life. (Listening Library, 9–12 years)

Eleven-year-old Zoe G. Reindeer, protagonist of Brenda Woods’s Zoe in Wonderland, has problems. Her horticulturalist father’s Pasadena plant nursery, nicknamed the Wonderland, is struggling financially; her standout siblings make her feel like “just Zoe”; her only friend moves away; and her embarrassing last name isn’t helping. All these strands require many voices, and narrator Sisi Aisha Johnson is a solid impersonator. She becomes: members of Zoe’s tight-knit multigenerational African American family and community; an astronomer from Madagascar who visits the Wonderland and ends up changing Zoe’s life; and Zoe herself, whom Johnson makes sound like the self-conscious but winsome preteen that she is. (Recorded Books, 9–12 years)

In The Warden’s Daughter, Jerry Spinelli, a master chronicler of adolescent angst, recounts the story of angry, motherless Cammie during the summer of 1959. Cammie lives in an apartment inside the county jail along with her father, the warden. Carrington MacDuffie’s mature voice seems at first like a strange match for a first-person narrative told from a twelve-year-old’s perspective, but makes more sense when it becomes clear that a much older version of Cammie is telling the story. MacDuffie creates a wide range of additional character voices, from Cammie’s breathless, Bandstand-obsessed friends to the various inmates/mother figures who people Cammie’s life. (Listening Library, 9–12 years)

Newbery-winning verse novelist Kwame Alexander adds life lessons to his repertoire in The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life. The book’s four “quarters” cover such themes as grit, motivation, focus, teamwork, and resilience and are reinforced with wisdom from athletes and other notable figures. With introductions to each quarter, the rules themselves written in poetic form, and the profusion of quotations, attention to detail is required, and narrator Ruffin Prentiss III rises to the occasion, giving each quote the attention it deserves and presenting each rule with a confident but not overbearing emphasis. (Recorded Books, 9–12 years)

From the June 2017 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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Shoshana Flax About Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, assistant editor for The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons College.

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