Listening in on the past

These engaging audio productions of four excellent historical nonfiction titles give teens another entry point into the profound (and profoundly personal) tales of courage and determination they relate.

sheinkin_most-dangerous-audiobookSteve Sheinkin's Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War uses Ellsberg as a focal point to tell the story of the Vietnam War, making it accessible for young readers without losing any of the complexity. Sheinkin also achieves a striking balance between a journalistic point of view and the dramatic tension of narrative nonfiction; narrator Ray Porter mirrors this same balance in his reading. A composed tone, a measured cadence, and individualized voices make the audio version of the book a perhaps even more absorbing way to access this powerful story. (Listening Library, 12–16 years)

bausum_stonewall-audiobookIn Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights, author Ann Bausum combines impeccably researched facts with a compelling narrative as she traces the Gay Rights Movement from the Stonewall riots, through the dark early days of AIDS, to just prior to the Supreme Court's marriage equity decision. Tim Federle's conversational reading allows listeners to follow the timeline of events with perfect clarity. His nuanced pacing and inflection delineate the abundant primary source quotations and provide subtle characterization. Federle conveys his own sincere engagement with Bausum's reporting, inviting listeners to celebrate each social justice milestone. (Listening Library, 12–16 years)

hoose_boys-who-challenged-hitler-audiobookThe Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club relates how young Knud Pedersen and his brother rallied fellow schoolboys to perpetrate sabotage during the WWII German occupation of Denmark. The young men risked their lives pilfering weapons, destroying infrastructure, and standing up to their own government's cooperation with Hitler's regime, ultimately landing in prison but catalyzing the Danish Resistance. Author Phillip Hoose reads the body of the text, while actor Michael Braun voices Pedersen's interspersed first-person accounts. Actually hearing Hoose's genuine response to the events he uncovered and their place in history makes for especially rewarding listening. (Recorded Books, 12–16 years)

brown_boys-in-the-boat-audiobookAs the young readers' edition of Daniel James Brown's The Boys in the Boat: The True Story of an American Team's Epic Journey to Win Gold at the 1936 Olympics opens, an elderly Joe Rantz agrees to tell his story of winning the 1936 Olympic gold medal in rowing, but insists it must be the story of The Boat. And the boat is where the magic happens — both in the story and in the narration. The text can be poetic, and narrator Mark Bramhall's lilting intonation complies, pulling the listener right into the rhythm of the rowing. (Listening Library, 11–14 years)

From the September 2016 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, formerly editor of The Horn Book Guide, is a freelance children’s and YA editor. She's also a former bookseller who holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons University. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.


Community matters. Stay up to date on breaking news, trends, reviews, and more.

Get access to reviews of books, ebooks, and more