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Audio can add another layer to a story, whether through the addition of story-enhancing music, through a narrator’s command of tricky jargon, or the way he or she can make even the prickliest character seem lovable. Here are four audiobooks recommended for older intermediate and middle school readers.

ryan_echo audioAs Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan begins, three princesses are bound by a witch’s spell, cursed to wander the forest until they can save a life through a special harmonica. Three children in turn acquire the instrument, which profoundly changes their lives. The audiobook version is ably narrated by Mark Bramhall, David de Vries, MacLeod Andrews, and Rebecca Soler; music by Corky Siegel allows the story’s theme — that music can enrich our lives — to play sweetly throughout and heightens the emotion through selected songs. (Scholastic Audio, 10–13 years)

kelly_curious world of calpurnia tate audioIn The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate, Jacqueline Kelly’s second book about her turn-of-the-twentieth-century heroine, Callie assists the town’s new veterinarian, showing the scientifically minded girl a possible way to escape the domestic drudgery that looms as her future. Reader Natalie Ross’s smooth pacing and natural characterization draw listeners into Callie’s world, evoking both her unrefined brothers and the gruff, iconoclastic grandfather who mentors her ambitions. When the scientific vocabulary starts to fly, Ross dives in without hesitation — a convincing touch that brings young naturalist Callie to life. (Macmillan Young Listeners, 10–13 years)

graff_lost in the sun audioLisa Graff’s Lost in the Sun has a dark premise: a boy filled with guilt and rage after accidentally killing another boy makes friends with a girl whose face is scarred. Yet the first-person narration is so engaging and funny that listeners empathize with protagonist Trent even when he is clearly about to say something really wrong. In this way, Graff manages to make a boy who often makes bad choices someone to root for. Narrator Ramón de Ocampo gives the audience a powerful feeling of listening in on Trent’s thoughts, capably capturing the struggles of middle-schoolers trying to understand themselves and others. (Listening Library, 10–13 years)

nielsen_we are all made of molecules audioIn Susin Nielsen’s We Are All Made of Molecules, Stewart’s widowed father and Ashley’s divorced mother have decided to move in together, forcing vapid, popular Ashley to live with gifted but socially awkward Stewart. As the story unfolds, it becomes easy to get lost in the kids’ middle-school torments. Jesse Bernstein’s Stewart is intelligent but naive, while Jorjeana Marie’s Ashley is none too bright, unlikable, and occasionally funny. That the listener can finish the recording with a love for the characters is a testament to the strength of Nielsen’s novel and the abilities of the narrators. (Listening Library, 11–14 years)

From the November 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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. She is a member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee.

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