When awards season rolls around, the main biggies are the most anticipated. Newbery, Caldecott, Printz. Who will win? How many honor books will each committee award? These are all really exciting for me, especially since I became a librarian about two years ago, but the one award I always wait for is the Odyssey Award.
For those of you who don’t know or haven’t heard of this honor, it goes to the best audiobook production of the year. As a big audiobook fan and listener, I’m always looking for the next one to bring with me on my 40-minute commute, or on my morning runs. The Odyssey Award helps me out in a big way. But what makes a great audiobook?
Of course, one of the biggest criteria is the narration. Without a good narrator, an audiobook is not worth the time. Anyone who has listened to a bad audiobook can tell you that. But it goes beyond just â€œgood;â€ factors like distinction between characters, effectiveness and accuracy of accents and pronunciation, clarity, and believability are all taken into consideration. Basically, listeners have to believe the narrator is the character, or if told in third person, believe they are in the world and know the characters they are describing. It has to feel genuine.
One of my very favorite audiobooks is The True Meaning of Smekday, written by Adam Rex and narrated by Bahni Turpin. I didn’t know until afterward that there were illustrations in the book, but it didn’t matter; Turpin is a master. Her voice for J.Lo and the other Boov aliens is priceless. I don’t know if I would have stumbled across this masterpiece if not for the Odyssey Award, which it won in 2011. I’ve listened to it twice since.
Sound quality is also something that has to be taken into consideration. Is there some weird humming in the background? Is the audio quality as good as it possibly can be? Is it consistent? The committee also takes use of sound effects and music into account. Are they well done, and do they work in the context of the story? An ill-timed use of effect or music can ruin the experience.
In the end, I would argue that it all comes whether the audiobook can do justice to the original in every way possible, and in fact enhance the experience of the book itself. Because that’s what listening to an audiobook is, right? It’s an experience, a new way to immerse yourself in the story and the writing and the lives of the characters. A truly excellent audiobook can take you right into the characters’ experience and suck you into their world, making you a part of it. Finding out what happens next is great motivation for hitting the pavement and trails, and I always look forward to driving anywhere because I know I’ve got a good story to keep me company.
-Tahleen Shamlian, YALSA Booklist & Award Marketing Task Force member