Matching the right student to the right book is at the heart of the reader’s workshop, and lucky for one and all, there are plenty of great books to go around–even for the most reluctant readers. As a reader’s workshop leader, teachers must be well versed in a variety of genres to do their jobs well: young adult, nonfiction, and even the classics. But what about audiobooks?
Admittedly…I’m a book snob. I was dedicated to paper books for years, until I got married and my early-to-bed husband complained about my reading lamp’s brightness. Enter my very first e-reader, with which I quickly fell in love. I reasoned that even though I wasn’t reading a book, per se, I was still reading. I still wasn’t on board the audio train, though; after all, listening isn’t the same as reading.
Enter my best friend’s move to Virginia Beach, then a 10-hour drive away from our native Cincinnati. What was I supposed to do for 10 hours whilst driving to visit her?! “Listen to an audiobook,” she suggested. “Duh.” So, I grabbed Thirteen Reasons Why on CD from our library, and (12 hours and a one-state detour thanks to being so caught up in the book that I wound up in Maryland later) I was hooked on audiobooks.
It’s important to note that listening skills are not the same as reading skills, but in the battle to build literacy, one is a scaffold to the other. While decoding can only happen when a reader is looking at text, the analysis of universal themes, practice of reading strategies, and ability to make connections can happen with any text, written or oral.
“Understanding the message, thinking critically about the content, using imagination, and making connections is at the heart of what it means to be a reader and why kids learn to love books.” –Denise Johnson
Were it not for audiobooks, my own reading life would almost certainly be suffering right now, as I’m so busy and sleep-deprived with an infant, but I love listening to my favorite murder-mystery series in my spare moments. In countless conferences with my student athletes, I’ve come to realize that their practice and travel schedules keep them incredibly busy on nights and weekends, and audiobooks have helped them remain readers in their busiest seasons, too.
I strongly believe that audiobooks can save, strengthen, and supplement any rich reading life, and as such, I take great pains to recommend this medium to my students, often in the following categories.
Series – A great way to immediately get students hooked on audiobooks is to recommend a series they’ve already started. Sequels to titles like The Maze Runner, The Knife of Never Letting Go, Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, Legend, Divergent, City of Bones, and more are great gateways to the world of audiobooks.
Books read by their own authors – Many writers read their own audiobooks, and it’s fascinating to hear the nuances of Michael Pollan’s or Malcolm Gladwell’s writing as he reads it aloud. The likes of Maya Angelou, Neil Gaiman, Barbara Kingsolver, and even Barack Obama have deigned to offer themselves to readers in audio form. It’s endlessly fascinating to me to add a new dimension to “reading like a writer” when I listen like one, too.
Humor – Similarly, so many amazing essayists, comedians, and satirists read their own audiobooks. Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, David Sedaris, Mindy Kaling, Neil Patrick Harris, and more are just a few of the folks whose movies or TV shows I’ve watched, and who’ve then joined me in my car or at the gym in audiobook form.
Challenge Books – Books that for one reason or another–length, difficulty, topic, multiple narrators–are challenging are great candidates for audiobooks. I don’t think I could’ve made it through Unbroken, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Thinking Fast and Slow, or other lengthy, difficult tomes had I not listened to them rather than read them. Their tough topics and intimidating lengths would have been much too off-putting for me, and many students find themselves in similar situations. Audio is my favorite way to scaffold students up to the level of a slightly too difficult text.
Whatever’s always checked out – No one could ever find Winger, Crank, Paper Towns, Because I Am Furniture, My Book of Life By Angel, Boy21, Red Queen, or The 5th Wave this year–they were just way too in demand. Instead of waiting for those titles to be returned, many students opted to download the audio version instead.
What are your thoughts on the world of audiobooks? Which titles are your favorite?