Eugene Weekly : Books : 2.19.2009


Of Audio and Awards
by Suzi Steffen

I’m a latecomer to audiobooks, but I’ve fallen hard. I felt disappointed in the hype around Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell when it came out in 2004; it seemed mildly good. Listening to narrator Simon Prebble read it, however, has painted the scenes in much more vivid detail. The audiobook is 32 hours long, and worth every minute.

For a shorter and more recent audiobook, especially if you have 8-to-13-year-olds, check out the two Skulduggery Pleasant audiobooks. These Irish adventure tales, written by Derek Landy and read by Rupert Degas, fill the ears with magic and skeletons and courage and fighting — not to mention the dry wit of both the 12-year-old protagonist, Stephanie, and Skulduggery himself. The first audiobook won an Odyssey Honor (the Odyssey is the American Library Association’s audiobook award, like a Newbery for audiobooks).

Some other recent books (of ink, paper and binding) to brighten the day of a kid you know or to add new characters, voices and ideas to your own world: First is Port Orchard, Wash., author Anjali Banerjee’s Looking for Bapu. The 2006 book recounts the story of Anu, a boy living in the Seattle/Olympic Peninsula area, whose grandfather suffers a fatal stroke. Anu really wants Bapu back, and the tale of his quest leads to complex questions about life, spirituality, grief and love. 

Those issues, for older readers, also come into play in the book that won Arthur C. Levine Books another Batchelder Award this year. That award, for publishers who translate books into English, went to the kick-ass Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, by Nahoko Uehashi. Luckily, Guardian is but the first in a series of 10 books, the next of which is due out in the fall.

For baseball fans, there’s nothing like Kadir Nelson’s multiple award-winning We Are the Ship (bad title, great book), which recounts some of the history of the various Negro Leagues. Nelson both writes about and paints the portraits of the players from Satchel Paige to Josh Gibson to even better (!) athletes, who never got the recognition or pay they deserved.

Another narrator who deserves more is Osh, the 16-year-old girl at the heart of Mitali Perkins’ The Secret Keeper. Full of thoughtful, complex characters and details about life for  Bengali families in 1974 India, this bittersweet book paints a picture of a strong personality forced by adverse circumstances to hide her light and make painful choices to help her family.