Two Audio Reviews: Friendship

Still catching up!  Here’s two new audio reviews.  And they were GREAT!  I’d recommend both of these stories to any reader.  Although you wouldn’t think of it by reading the two descriptions, these books have much in common.  The Night of the Howling Dogs is a story about survival and friendship, where Wonder is a story about friendship and survival.  But read on, and see what you think.

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The Night of the Howling Dogs
by Graham Salisbury, Narrated by Robert Ramirez
5 CDs, 5 Hours

Dylan Scout Troop is going camping!  And it’s not just camping, the middle school troop is taking all their gear and hiking to Halape, a deserted stretch of beach on the southern flank of Kilauea volcano on the Big Island of Hawai’i. The beach can only be reached by an eight-mile hike over lava flows and rough ground from the Hilina Pali trailhead.  Dylan’s best friend Casey will be there, along with his father, troop leader Mr. Bellows, a former Marine and current police detective.  Also on board are nine other scouts and one other leader along for the four-day trip.

It would be perfect, except for one thing.  Louie Domingo.  Ever since he joined the troop, Louie has been making things difficult for Dylan.  Dylan is convinced that it’s because of a confrontation between them a couple years ago, when he was a fifth grader and they didn’t even know each other.  But whatever it is, Louie seems to hate Dylan’s guts and doesn’t mind showing it.  Dylan and Casey have no idea why Mr. Bellows even let Louie into the troop or why he keeps telling the boys to give him a chance.

The hike into Halape is tough, especially since it’s over 90 degrees outside. But the boys eventually reach the beach, where they split up to find spots to camp.  The younger scouts go off with the troop leaders for the day, leaving Casey and Dylan to deal with Louis and his attitude.

Dylan doesn’t know that Louie is the least of his worries.  Before the weekend is over, Dylan, Casey, Louie and the rest of the scouts will be dealing with bigger problems.  Disaster-type problems.  Because the dogs howling on the beach are warning of big changes on Halape.  Earth-shattering changes. Ocean-moving changes.   And Dylan and Louie may never be the same.

The narration of The Night of the Howling Dog audio book is excellent.  I love the voices of the various characters, from the Hawai’ian dialect of the paniolos who join the scouts on the beach to the hispanic accents of other characters to the various voices of the other characters.  It’s easy to distinguish who is talking.

I also love the descriptions of Hawai’i.  Sometimes, when I’m reading,  descriptive passages of places don’t register as much; but when you’re listening to a book read aloud, this sense of place is much more real.  The heat, the smells, the beauty of the island come through clearly.  So does the danger the boys find themselves in.

The Night of the Howling Dogs is based on a true story of a group of scouts who found themselves facing nature’s fury in 1975.  One of those real scouts was Graham Salisbury’s cousin Tim.  Dylan’s story is all about survival, courage and friendship.  It’s  a great read for kids in fourth through eighth grade. It’s a wonderful audio book for a family car trip, for Boy Scouts, or for anyone who’s about to visit Hawai’i.

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By R.J. Palacio, Performed by Diana Steele, Nick Podehl and Kate Rudd
7 CDs, 8 hours, 12 minutes

Auggie has never been to school.  When he was a preschooler, it was because he was in the hospital too much. Later, it was because his medical needs made it easier to be home schooled.  But now, he’s ten, and with over a dozen surgeries behind him, he’s ready to move on.  Auggie is about to go into fifth grade.

Auggie thinks he’s a pretty ordinary kid…inside at least.  But outside?  He knows his appearance is anything but ordinary.  He was born with several rare conditions that interacted and caused his face to be…different.  As Auggie says “I know I’m not an ordinary ten-year-old kid. I mean, sure, I do ordinary things. I eat ice cream. I ride my bike. I play ball. I have an XBox. Stuff like that makes me ordinary. I guess. And I feel ordinary. Inside. But I know ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. I know ordinary kids don’t get stared at wherever they go.

“I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.”

But August isn’t a boy who is pitied. He’s a boy with incredible strength of character.  And this story isn’t just about his first year of middle school.  It’s a story about expectations, about bullies, about friendship, about school assignments and about how someone who’s never been to school figures out how things work.  How cliques work. How honesty is important. And how being yourself is the best thing you can be.

He may look different, but August is determined to be an ordinary student with an ordinary life.

Auggie’s story is told in both his own words and in chapters from his family and friends.  The audio book has three different narrators, but there are several different perspectives.  It was a little hard to get used to Auggie’s voice at first…the book describes him as having a “funny, raspy voice”, but the narrator sounded (to me at least) like a woman trying to sound like a kid.   Auggie’s friend Jack spoke with a strong Brooklyn accent that seemed kind of cartoonish; an unnecessary reminder that the book takes place in New York City.  But the story is so compelling that I forgot my initial reaction and just wanted to hear Auggie.

The chapters are short, and each character tells about their interactions with Auggie, and how he has woven his life into theirs.  When I was listening, I found myself cheering for Auggie and his friends.  There were a couple points in the narration where I had to turn off the CD player because I was on the verge of tears.  (Not safe when driving!)  Other times, I was laughing out loud at some of the antics in the Beecher Prep classrooms.  And I loved Auggie’s family, flaws and all.

Wonder is a book that I think every child should read.  It has the potential to open up some great discussions between parents and kids, teachers, and classrooms.  It’s probably a fifth through seventh grade reading level, but it’s a good book to share with everyone from third grade through high school…and even adults.

Auggie’s appearance may be different, but in his heart, he’s just an ordinary kid.  His story, though, is extraordinary.  Wonder came out this year, and I think it’s a serious contender for for the 2013 Newbery Award.  I really hope it wins.  Auggie and R. J. Palacio deserve it.

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Both these books are stories are highly recommended to read and to listen to.  If you have any other great suggestions for audio books to review, please let me know!



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