David Potter is no audio newbie. But when it came to listening to his The Left Behinds series on audio—he was nervous. He shares his reaction to hearing two-time Odyssey Award winner Kirby Heyborne’s narration for the first time:It sure doesn’t take long to go from starry-eyed innocent to battle-bruised veteran.
Which is not necessarily a good thing. A few weeks ago I received the audio version of THE LEFT BEHINDS: ABE LINCOLN AND THE SELFIE THAT SAVED THE UNION, the second in my middle-grade time-travel adventure series. The multi-talented Kirby Heyborne again performed the honors, and did his customary outstanding job. He portrayed every voice, every character, and every scene with his unique wit, charm, and high-energy voicing. An A+ from start to finish.
But did you notice the expression I just used – “customary outstanding job?” Since when is this customary?
Things were a lot different a year ago, when I received Kirby’s treatment of the first book in the series, THE LEFT-BEHINDS: THE IPHONE THAT SAVED GEORGE WASHINGTON.” I did not play it the first day it was in my hands, because I was too nervous. I would know, from the very first paragraph, whether Kirby nailed it or not. Both books in the series are first-person accounts told by 12- year-old Mel, who’s a combination smart history nerd, wiseguy, and vulnerable kid. In fact, I wasn’t even sure how to start these novels when I first conceived of them a few years ago, let alone complete them. I had the idea, and the basic premise—a group of modern day kids go back in time to pivotal points in American history—but how to begin? How to get the reader involved from the get go? I very clearly remember the day I sat down at my writing table and told myself I didn’t have to write a whole novel that morning, I just had to write the first sentence. A paragraph, maybe. If I was feeling it, maybe a whole page!
And then—in the next ten, fifteen minutes—out it flowed: the voice of Mel. I knew right away it was the voice I wanted, and, just as important, a voice I would be able to sustain to the novel’s end.
I lived with that voice for three years before Kirby had anything do with it. What if he got it wrong? What if it was completely different than the voice in my head? Could I, a little cog in the big maw of the New York publishing industry, ask for a do over?
And I have to say, I’m no newbie to the world of audiobooks. I am, in fact, a long-time devotee of the spoken word. The medium changes—from cassette tapes to CD’s to streaming—but as far as I’m concerned, listening to a story far predates reading a story. It’s a more communal experience, and harkens back, way back—Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, for example, likely originated from shared stories told around a friendly fire pit before anyone thought to write them down.
As an adult, I must have listened to hundreds of novels or non-fiction books while driving or exercising, so I have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t, what’s good and what isn’t.
What I have never done, of course, was listen to something I myself had written! What if it’s…lower your voice…bad? I was just not ready for it that first day.
On day two, I braced myself. Old boy, I said, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. I put the CD in the tray, hit play, and crossed my fingers…
I need not have worried. I could tell from the first words that Kirby got it. He got Mel, he got the humor, and he got the sometimes serious aspect of things as well. Such a relief! And then, as I kept listening, I noticed something else, something strange: was Kirby doing a better job voicing everything aloud than I had in my head? Was he not making the story more vivid, funnier, more compelling? It was as if the book that I had written alone in a room had somehow taken on a whole new life, even new meaning. At the end, I could think of just one word: wow!
There was no such nervousness the second time around, though—battered-bruised veteran that I am now. Kirby already earned my trust—and appreciation—in full. His characterization of Abe Lincoln, somewhat baffled by the eccentricities of his wife Mary Todd, are priceless, as are the shenanigans of young Tad Lincoln running around the White House with Mel and his modern-day friends. At the end of listening to Book Two I could think of three additional words: thank you Kirby!
—Author David PotterInvite young listeners to time travel with Mel and his friends to meet America’s most famous presidents. Combining historical facts and events with plenty of action and humor, these engaging adventures put a fun twist on history that history buffs and reluctant readers alike will love.
“[Kirby] Heyborne’s talent for creating distinct voices shines, with his dignified-sounding Benjamin Franklin and the gruff, no-nonsense Washington standouts…Heyborne brings an urgency to the action scenes that will captivate listeners. Ultimately, this production will have kids seeing that gadget they use every day, the iPhone, in a brand-new way.”—Booklist
“Heyborne’s voice is youthful and his narration full of urgency. Both are a perfect fit for this novel of young 21st-century sleuths who travel through time…Heyborne switches between characters with aplomb…never losing the forward momentum of the story. With the approach of the final day of battle, listeners will be on the edge of their seats.”—AudioFile
“[The] action-filled plot with humor, adventure, and drama makes for an engaging sci-fi/historical narrative.”—Horn Book Guide
“A skillful blend of humor, history, mystery, and adventure makes for a fun, fast-paced tale that will leave readers a little wiser.”—School Library Journal
“Mel’s first-person narrative is engaging, the plot is fast-paced, and plenty of history is woven into the tale.”—Kirkus
“This is Magic Tree House all grown up, and kids who once loved that time travel conceit will be delighted all over again.”—The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books