Audiobooks » 2020 Audie Awards

The 2020 Audie Awards: Best Audiobooks for Young Adults

recommended by Mary Burkey & Robin Whitten

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka

WINNER

Hey, Kiddo
by Jarrett Krosoczka

Read

Audiobooks are a great way to keep teenagers entertained and informed. Mary Burkey, an expert on kids' audiobooks, and Robin Whitten, editor and founder of AudioFile magazine, talk us through the wonderful titles that were finalists in this year's Audie Awards in the 'young adult' category.

Interview by Sophie Roell

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka

WINNER

Hey, Kiddo
by Jarrett Krosoczka

Read
Buy all books

We’re talking about the best audiobooks for teenagers, books that made the shortlist of the 2020 Audie Awards in the Young Adult category. Stepping back a bit, can audiobooks be useful to parents and kids, or parents who are encouraging their kids to read?

Mary: There are huge benefits. Gifted readers can look at a graphic memoir like Hey, Kiddo and then listen to the same graphic memoir. They can do a lot of literary analysis between those two formats. Or they can read Shakespeare and then listen to Shakespeare. How do those formats—physical text and audiobook—differ? Gifted readers can find a lot to explore with audiobooks.

Struggling readers, meanwhile, can listen to books that their peers are already reading. They’re striving to get there in terms of reading ability, but with audiobooks, they can be on the same page. Audiobooks also help if you don’t know how to pronounce a word, or if books have foreign terminology. There are so many reasons that audiobooks are amazing.

I’d like to direct you to an initiative of the Audio Publishers Association, which is called Sound Learning, available for free. It spells all this out with lesson plans and suggested titles for different age groups. There’s all kinds of stuff.

Oh yes, I saw that and was blown away by it. I have a few more questions about resources for parents looking for audiobooks for their kids, but before we get to that, let’s go through the audiobooks for teens that were 2020 Audie Awards finalists. The winning title was Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka, which was also a finalist in the multi-voiced performance category.  

I’m going to talk about this interesting new intersection between audiobooks and graphic novels, because it is a very interesting alignment. It’s not brand new. If you know The Invention of Hugo Cabret, that a big fat book that won the Caldecott Medal in 2008 for its illustrations—how do you change all those illustrations into sound? Years ago, the audiobook of it was incredible. It recreated the book.

That same phenomenon is occurring now with full cast audiobooks that are made from graphic novels.

“Especially if we’re going to be home together for a few weeks or months now, it’s good to have something to discuss with your teen.”

Moving on to our winner this year, Hey, Kiddo is an amazing book. It won the Odyssey Award, which is given by the American Library Association for the best audiobook for children and teens—and it was originally a graphic memoir. The author worked with Scholastic Audio to recreate the book so that you could ‘hear’ the images with the full cast.

One thing that’s also really appealing is that there are children’s voices doing children’s parts. A youth listener will strongly identify with those youth voices.

There’s also a couple of other graphic novels/memoirs that have been turned into audiobooks with a full cast. Another one is New Kid, which won the Newbery Medal this year.

I’ve done interviews over the years with the producers and narrators of books that have won the Odyssey Award, and many of them, oddly enough, are from books that have strong illustrations or graphic content. What many of them say is that having an image as well as words on a page really helps them round out the sound of the book because they can see it. They can portray it in sound even more.

Let’s talk move on to the next audiobook that might appeal to teenagers. This is Lovely War by Julie Berry. The print book has had absolutely rave reviews; what do you like about the audiobook?

Mary: To me, Lovely War is one of those really strong representations of a multi-voiced production. It also is one of those crossover titles. As an adult, I loved it just as much as I think a teen would. It’s historical fiction, it includes those little cues of music because music is a strong component of the book. It lets you hear the cultural background of the characters. There’s just so many ways that it’s an amazing production, and one that’s for both teens and adults, in my opinion.

Which is good because as a family, you’re often listening together.

Mary: Yes, it’s true. With your teenager you spend a lot of time in the car and audiobooks are a great way to discuss literature together. Especially if we’re going to be home together for a few weeks or months now, it’s good to have something to discuss with your teen. One cool thing about audiobooks is when you’re playing an audiobook nobody owns it. When a mom is reading a book or a dad is reading a book you can tell their opinion, they can start and stop, the kid is the receiver and the parent is in control. But when you’re a family listening to an audiobook all of you are on the same level. You’re all sitting in the storyteller circle and it just gives a different dynamic.

Let’s move on to On the Come Up by Angie Thomas. Why is this a great audiobook for teenagers?

Robin: Before we talk about On the Come Up, we should perhaps talk about The Hate U Give. That’s Angie Thomas’s book that is so well-known and was read by Bahni Turpin. It received loads of awards, both for the print and the audiobook. On the Come Up was certainly a very moving and strong book, but I’m not sure it was quite at the same level.

Mary: As Robin says, The Hate U Give was one of those blockbuster books that connected with so many teens, no matter what their cultural background might have been. It let them see into another world and forged this super-strong connection with so many teens and adults.

Sign up here for our newsletter featuring the best children’s and young adult books, as recommended by authors, teachers, librarians and, of course, kids.

Replicating the same duo of author plus narrator—with Bahni Turpin again doing Angie Thomas’s book—there’s this nice alignment of an author-narrator team. That might bring continued listening by people who might not listen to every book in the world. So I think having that same team again makes a big difference.

Robin: It certainly does, you can hold onto teen listeners with something like this. The two stories are not exactly related, I don’t believe. So it’s not as if you had have to listen to one or the other. It’s just that it’s a great combination of narrator plus author.

Next, we have a book where the author and narrator are one and the same. This is With the Fire on High, written and narrated by the award-winning author Elizabeth Acevedo.

Mary: This author, Elizabeth Acevedo, had another book about a year ago called The Poet X. The coolest thing about her books is that they are novels in verse. Hearing poetry as it’s written and spoken by the actual author brings it to an entire different level. She’s one of those authors where you cannot imagine anyone else narrating her book. She is one of those ‘own voices’, where you hear her culture, you hear everything.

Robin: I completely agree. Both With the Fire on High and The Poet X are just spectacular listening for teens. Elizabeth is a performance artist, she writes in verse, she’s the whole deal.

Mary: Robin, has she ever narrated anybody else’s books? I would love to hear her.

Robin: Yes, she narrated Ibi Zoboi’s Pride, which we reviewed here. It’s a retelling of Pride and Prejudice.

The only finalist title for best young adult audiobook in the 2020 Audie Awards we haven’t talked about is Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian, which is set in 1980s New York and is about a teenage boy from Iran who is grappling with being gay in the midst of the HIV/AIDS crisis. As none of us has listened to the audiobook, I’m going to direct readers who want to know more about it to the AudioFile magazine review here.

Finally, Mary, you’ve already mentioned Sound Learning, an excellent initiative of the Audio Publishers Association to help kids in different age groups find books. It’s such a great way to find quality audiobooks for kids. Do you have any other suggestions for finding the best in audiobook listening?

Mary: We’ve been focusing on the Audie Awards, but I’d also like to mention resources from the American Library Association that recognise the best audiobooks of the year: ALSC’s Notable Children’s Recordings for children through age 14, YALSA’s Amazing Audiobooks for teens (from age 12 through adult titles with teen appeal), the Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audiobook Production for children and teens, and the Listen List for adult audiobooks.

One question. If you don’t have an unlimited budget, what’s the best way of getting lots of audiobooks for your teens to listen to?

Mary: I’m a former public librarian, so I would also send you to your public library where those titles are available for free.

So do you take out a CD from the library?

Mary: Many audiobooks aren’t even available now as a CD. That format is kind of last century. What’s really making the audiobook field boom is that we all have our phones in our pocket; those are audiobook listening tools. Libraries subscribe to many different services. You go to your library’s website, click on the service—whether it be Overdrive, Hoopla, or RBdigital—look for a title, and then download it to your device using your library card number.

Support Five Books

Five Books interviews are expensive to produce. If you're enjoying this interview, please support us by .

And, as a former school librarian, I’ll point out that many schools also offer free downloadable digital titles through their website, audiobooks included. There are long-established audiobook programs through educational and governmental sources that exist to serve those with disabilities, at no cost. Plus, you’ll find plenty of free classics for all ages on audio at Open Culture, Project Gutenberg, and Librivox. And if you are purchasing audiobook downloads, know that there are many suppliers—from mega vendors, to direct from publishers, to smaller companies that support indie bookstores.

Robin: The other thing we should mention is that AudioFile Magazine runs a free summer program for teens, giving away two audiobooks per week. It starts April 30, and it’s completely free, so you definitely should sign up for that.

Interview by Sophie Roell

Five Books aims to keep its book recommendations and interviews up to date. If you are the interviewee and would like to update your choice of books (or even just what you say about them) please email us at editor@fivebooks.com

Mary Burkey

Mary Burkey is an independent library consultant in Columbus, Ohio. She has served on all four of the American Library Association's audiobook award committees and currently serves as chair of the Audio Publishers Association's Audies Awards. In addition to writing the "Voices in My Head" column for Booklist, she is the author of Audiobooks for Youth: A Practical Guide to Sound Literature (ALA, 2013).

Robin Whitten

Robin Whitten is the founder and editor of AudioFile Magazine. Started in 1992, AudioFile reviews and recommends audiobooks as a multi-platform resource, publishing in print, e-newsletters, the AudioFileMagazine.com web site, and seasonal programs like AudiobookSYNC for teen audiences. AudioFile also maintains the Talent & Industry Guide, the sourcebook for audiobook professionals. Robin has served on the board of Directors of the Audio Publishers Association, and as an Audie Awards judge.

Save for later

Mary Burkey

Mary Burkey is an independent library consultant in Columbus, Ohio. She has served on all four of the American Library Association's audiobook award committees and currently serves as chair of the Audio Publishers Association's Audies Awards. In addition to writing the "Voices in My Head" column for Booklist, she is the author of Audiobooks for Youth: A Practical Guide to Sound Literature (ALA, 2013).

Robin Whitten

Robin Whitten is the founder and editor of AudioFile Magazine. Started in 1992, AudioFile reviews and recommends audiobooks as a multi-platform resource, publishing in print, e-newsletters, the AudioFileMagazine.com web site, and seasonal programs like AudiobookSYNC for teen audiences. AudioFile also maintains the Talent & Industry Guide, the sourcebook for audiobook professionals. Robin has served on the board of Directors of the Audio Publishers Association, and as an Audie Awards judge.