Traveling this week? If you’re taking a long journey, make the trip go by faster with an audio book! Here are three that I’ve listened to and enjoyed this month.
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How Oliver Olson Changed the World
by Claudia Mills, Narrated by Johnny Heller
2 CDs, 1.5 Hours
Mrs. O’Neill, Oliver Olson’s teacher, is very fond of saying that one person with big ideas can change the world. Oliver isn’t sure that he believes that, but he does have lots of ideas.
When the class starts a huge unit on the solar system, each student is assigned a diorama of the planets. When Oliver tells his parents about the assignment, his mother immediately rushes out to buy a bag full of styrofoam balls and other craft materials, and his father starts planning things like the scale of the planets and the size of the box. Oliver spends a Saturday morning watching his overprotective parents work on his diorama. His ideas aren’t even taken into consideration.
But when he returns to school on Monday, Oliver’s idea about Pluto brings classmate Crystal to his side. Suddenly, Oliver is doing a diorama WITH Crystal. Not only does he have to try to figure out how to work with Crystal, but he has to explain to his parents why they don’t need to help! One idea may not change the world, but it’s sure gotten Oliver to change. Will Oliver and Crystal be able to work together and finish the diorama on their own? If an idea is big enough, can it change the world? Oliver is about to find out.
How Oliver Olson Changed the World is a short book, but definitely a fun one to listen to on a quick trip. The narrator is quite comfortable with the voice of a third grade boy; Oliver’s frustration and excitement both come to life. The illustrations in the book are quick line drawings, but give you a sense of who the characters are, so it might be good to look at the book while listening to the CDs. Oliver is in third grade, but his story would be great for kids in first through fourth grades, or for any kid who wants a good school story with a boost of self confidence.
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The Strange Case of Origami Yoda
by Tom Angleberger, Performed by various narrators
(Mark Turetsky, Greg Steinbruner, Jonathan Todd Ross, Julia Gibson, Charlotte Parry)
2 CDs, 2.25 Hours
Tommy has no idea how it works. One day Dwight, the oddball character of the entire sixth grade, came to school with a origami puppet of Yoda on his finger. No one really *asked* Origami Yoda for advice, but if someone placed a question out loud in his general vicinity, Yoda answered. And the advice was good! Even though Dwight spoke for Yoda, the problems didn’t seem like anything Dwight would be able to understand, let alone give helpful advice about. Soon the entire middle school is talking about Origami Yoda and his words of wisdom.
Tommy starts an investigation. He asks some of the other kids in the sixth grade to write the stories of their encounters with Origami Yoda, and the advice they received. Most of the kids do it, and give their write-ups to Tommy. He asks Harvey, the most skeptical kid he knows, to comment on each of the stories, then Tommy follows up with his own comments and thoughts on Origami Yoda’s insights, and how Dwight might or might not have information on the problem.
So IS Origami Yoda tapping into the power of the force? Or is Dwight less clueless than he seems? Tommy is going to find out…because he has a very important question he want to ask, and he needs to know if the advice will be worth taking.
I loved The Strange Case of Origami Yoda in book and in audio. In the audio, each of the case file stories is read in a different voice, as if the person who gave it to Tommy is reading their story aloud. Harvey’s comments are biting and sarcastic, and Tommy’s thoughtful observations follow. It’s a very clever way to ensure that the voices are true to the story. The printed book is full of sketches in the margins and artwork of school posters, so it’s well worth checking out. Tommy and his friends are in middle school, but this book on CD would work for kids in grades five through seven.
There is a sequel that just came out–Darth Paper Strikes Back. I’m looking forward to hearing what Dwight, Tommy and Origami Yoda are up to next!
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Dewey Marriss and his brothers and sisters never imagined that they’d be spending the summer without parents. But that’s exactly what’s happened.
When the Crunch came, the Marriss parents were off on what was supposed to be a week-long anniversary trip on Dad’s trucking route in the wilds of Northern Maine. Back at home in Massachusetts, Dewey is left in charge of the family bike shop assisted by younger brother Vince, while older sister Lil was in charge of the five year old twins, Eva and Angus. For a week, it would have been a snap. But the Crunch brought empty fuel pumps, stranded trucks and bike repairs.
Dewey and Vince go from a handful of bikes a week to dozens every day. New art student Lil goes to town for her scholarship class, only to learn that it’s been cancelled. The twenty-mile trip to town would have been too much, anyway. In lieu of her art scholarship, Lil decides to paint a mural on the whole side of the barn. The project practically takes over her life.
Living on the outskirts of town, with chickens, goats, dogs and a garden, Dewey and his family try to keep up with the chores and the bikes. But now that the bike shop is getting dozens of bikes a day, they’re running out of parts. A new volunteer worker might help, but Lil is very prickly about taking charity.
When Dewey starts to figure out that there’s a problem at the Marriss Bike Barn, he starts working on a solution. But is there really a problem? And if it is, will finding a solution cause even more problems? Nightly conversations on the phone with their parents help, but soon missing parts, nosy neighbors, midnight visitors and more and more bikes to be repaired stretch Dewey to his limits. Will he be able to keep both the Bike Barn and his family going until the Crunch is over?
Of the three audio books reviewed this time, Crunch was far and away my favorite. Dewey and his siblings are resourceful, brave and funny. I loved their sense of “us against the world” even as I wanted to shake Lil and tell her it’s not charity, it’s friendship. The mystery unfolds slowly, but there are enough clues to figure out the solution just before the characters do. But that’s not the end! There’s more for Dewey and his brothers and sisters to deal with before they’re through.
Crunch is a little difficult to classify, since it has elements of a lot of different genres. It’s almost science fiction because it’s set in the future…but not quite. It definitely contains elements of a mystery, but that’s not the main plot. There are lots animals, bikes, young entrepreneurs, survival issues and both new and old friendships. But most of all, Crunch is about a family of kids who appreciate their differences and work together.
The kids range from 18 year old Lil to 14 year old Dewey to 13 year old Vince to the five year old twins. It’s one of those rare books where almost anyone between those ages–five to eighteen–would enjoy it. Try Crunch on your next family car trip and see what your family thinks.
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And that’s it! Grab one of these books on CD or any others for your next trip…maybe this week. And have a Happy Thanksgiving!