This list of #ownvoices middle grade audiobooks is sponsored by Macmillan Audio
One morning, Kim Brooks made a split-second decision to leave her four-year old son in the car while she ran into a store. What happened would consume the next several years of her life and spur her to investigate the broader role America’s culture of fear plays in parenthood. In the audiobook Small Animals, read by Brooks, she asks, Of all the emotions inherent in parenting, is there any more universal or profound than fear? Listen to an excerpt!
“Own voices” usually means that the author is from the marginalized group that they are writing from. However, with audiobooks we can hear literal voices speaking from marginalized communities. Narrators with cultural experience similar to the book can teach correct pronunciations and may easily use phrases specific to a particular community.
I’m using “own voices” in a broad sense. These narrators and authors are generally part of the same marginalized group as their main character, but they may not have the same specific identity as the character. I have also selected authors and performers who clearly state their identities and self-identify with the main character.
George by Alex Gino, performed by Jamie Clayton
Clayton is an actress currently starring in the Netflix show Sense8. Combined, she and Gino bring to life Melissa, a transgender fourth grader who really really wants to play Charlotte in her class performance of Charlotte’s Web.
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, performed by Sisi Aisha Johnson
Delphine and her sisters get on a plane from Brooklyn to spend the summer of 1968 with their estranged mother in Oakland, where she is a poet for the Black Panthers. Yale-trained Johnson and award-winning Williams-Garcia team up for a story that resonates with all-ages, especially if don’t know much about the Black Panthers.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin, performed by Janet Song
Minli lives a subsistence life with her parents near Fruitless Mountain, until the day she sets out on a magical adventure, encountering mythical creatures and allow readers to fold into each character’s story. Lin and Song combine to give us the magical road trip through Chinese folklore that we’ve been missing.
Ghost by Jason Reynolds, performed by Guy Lockard
Ghost joins the track team and finds his bumpy home life crashing into his new sports life. Jason Reynolds is a titan of an author out there changing the ideas of what makes a “reluctant reader,” by writing books that specifically appeal to the lives of many kids with that label. Guy Lockard brings his experience on BET, in the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and narrating many of Reynolds books to breath further life into Ghost.
First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez, performed by Trini Alverado
MaLu is the girl you want to be, even if you are not a 12-year-old Mexican American punk. When her mother moves them to Chicago for two years, MaLu has to explore her Mexican-side, and finds out just how she wants to live out her punk-ness. Perez is a college librarian and Alverado is known for her role as Meg from 1994’s Little Women, which mix together to make this delightful story somehow even more delightful.
It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas, performed by Firoozeh Dumas
Cindy, formerly Zomorod, is determined to make this fourth move a success. She picks out a name from TV and tries to settle into Newport Beach, California with her family who emigrated from Iran. But it’s the 1970s and Iran is all over the news in a negative way, and anti-Iranian attitudes catch Cindy and her family. Author and narrator Dumas was born in Iran, and spent her childhood in both countries. She is hilarious as she articulately nails how tough being a kid is, not to mention xenophobia.
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai performed by Doan Ly
A novel in verse, Lai and Ly give us the story of Hà, a 10 year old girl whose family must flee the end of the Vietnam War and re-settle in Alabama. Hà’s story is not about the trauma of but of the on-going struggle to fit in to a completely new home. Lai herself fled the Vietnam War and her clean punchy lines are beautifully delivered by Ly, a veteran actor who you may know from CSI and a small part in Firefly.
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor, performed by Yetide Badaki
Sunny is a 12-year-old Nigerian with albinism just entering both the sphere of the magic-wielding Leopard people and settling in to her new home at the same time a magical villain is on the loose. Here’s to hoping that the delightful Yetide Badaki is busy recording the follow up, Akata Warrior.
Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older, performed by Anika Noni Rose
Sierra Santiago is a Brooklyn teen who starts off her summer painting a mural, until magic and mystery and community come together including some walking corpses. Older is an advocate for diversity in fiction, stating that he writes about black girls in fantasy to make it more realistic. Rose voiced Tiana, from Disney’s The Princess and the Frog, and is herself a New Englander.
Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed, performed by Priya Ayyar
Young Amal lives in a village in Pakistan, her focus on her future plans to become a teacher, despite several setbacks until she must go live with the corrupt town landlord. Amal maintains her positive outlook as she works to take control of her life again and help those around her. Californian Ayyar brings lightness and a matter-of-fact voice to the cozy, but at times harsh, world Saeed has built.
Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper, performed by Heather Alicia Simms
Stella lives in the Jim Crow South, North Carolina to be exact, during the Great Depression. As the KKK rears up in her town, their actions cause her to decide if and how to use her voice. Draper is a multiple award-winning author, paired here with the soft, lilting voice of actress Simms. For fans of Simms, she also narrates Patina, Jason Reynold’s second Track book.
Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi, performed by Soneela Nankani
Aru doesn’t think that her tendency to stretch the truth is a problem until she ends up lighting a lamp and ends up waking a demon who will in turn wake the God of Destruction. Teaming up with a pigeon teacher and a spiritual sister, Aru must save the world, and most importantly, her own mother. Chokshi works her writing magic, bringing us into a world of Hindu Mythology. Nankani, with 100 narrations under her belt, strengthens Chokshi’s expert writing with strategic use of her low-voice to heighten the tension.
Wishlist: Own Voices Middle Grade Books That I Wish Had Own Voices Narrators
Drum Roll, Please by Lisa Jenn Bigelow
I always need more books about girls who love girls, and I always need more books about rock-n-roll girls. Melly is both, and while on her way to a 2 week rock camp, she finds out that her best friend isn’t coming and that her parents are divorcing. Dealing with all that, plus a cute girl at camp and self-doubt about the drumming that she loves, Melly finds that 2 weeks can change a lot. Bigelow self-identifies as queer, though I don’t know her drumming experience. I would love a queer lady drummer to perform this book. Maybe Kate Schellenbach or Patty Schemel might be free to do some recording.
The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich
While there is an audio version of The Birchbark House and it is great, I haven’t been able to find if the narrator is a Native woman. This is the story of Omakayas, an Ojibwe girl living in the the Great Lakes Upper Midwest in the 1850s, at the same time that Laura Ingalls Wilder was trekking the same area with her family. Erdrich helms this story with her considerable prowess as a writer. A Native narrator who could fully bring this story to life, as the voice of a Native girl, would be giving further voice to a community long treated as voiceless.
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