Grade 3-5 – Common Core

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Bud, Not Buddy
Narrator:James Avery

Imprint: Listening Library
Grades: 7-8

Release Date: September 24, 2002

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2000 Newbery Medal Winner, Common Core text exemplar for grades 2-3

Writing with a remarkable combination of authentic historical information, solid characterization, and considerable humor, Curtis tells the story of 10-year-old Bud, an African American child who flees an unbearable foster home to find the man he believes to be his father. Depression-era hardships and the racism of the times are not diminished, but Avery makes the most of Bud’s amusing banter and pulls the listener through the darkest moments with skillful pacing. While independent listening ability varies among students, this fits well at the upper range of third-fifth grade instruction and pairs well with the following title.

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Bird in a Box

Imprint: Listening Library
Grades: 7-8

Release Date: May 10, 2011

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In the midst of the Great Depression, three preteens thrill to the exploits of boxer Joe Louis as they struggle to overcome adversity and define their places in society. Bahni Turpin as exuberant Hibernia, S’Von Ringo as physically and emotionally damaged Willie, and J.B. Adkins as grief-stricken Otis establish the differing points of view and developing friendship through superb pacing and inflection. Andrea Pinkney’s author’s note provides an interesting look at how writers undergird fiction with research and, in this case, sweat and hard work as she actually learned to box to ensure accuracy in her portrayal of fight scenes.

Common Core Standard

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.5.9 Compare and contrast stories in the same genre (e.g., mysteries and adventure stories) on their approaches to similar themes and topics.

African American life during the Great Depression links these two excellent works of fiction for middle grade students. Time Photos offers an excellent array of images from this period and Amistad Digital Resource provides a thorough historical survey on the impact of these times on African Americans.

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Charlotte’s Web
Narrator:E.B. White

Imprint: Listening Library
Grades: 7-8

Release Date: February 27, 2001

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A girl, a pig, and a spider might not be the usual combination for a story, but this familiar tale about Fern, Wilbur, and Charlotte, stands the test of time, celebrating over 50 years of listening and reading pleasure.  The audiobook is greatly enhanced by the author’s wonderful narration; E.B. White tells his own story with humor and deadpan New England pacing.  The real routines of farm life, the connection between humans and animals, and the central theme of friendship demonstrates universal appeal. Students will experience the delight of listening to stories as the plot unfolds, revealing how the narrative drives to its heartwarming conclusion.

Common Core Standard

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.3 Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events.

This classic story won a 1953 Newbery Honor and has long been a topic of discussion, over the last fifty years, as the winning title has not gained the devotion and long-standing admiration as Charlotte’s Web.  This fact can lead to investigating the ways that stories connect with the listener, whether they are current titles or 50 years old.

Students may also want to look at the long list of Newbery medal winners and honor titles to find others that will bring listening pleasure, such as King of the Wind and My Father’s Dragon (1949), Ramona and Her Father (1978), Ramona Quimby, Age 8 (1982), Because of Winn-Dixie (2001), The Tale of Despereaux (2004), and more.

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Lincoln: A Photobiography
Narrator:Robert Petkoff

Imprint: Listening Library
Grades: 7-8

Release Date: December 02, 2008

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A fascinating subject, a narrative that pulls the listener into history, and premier non-fiction author Russell Freedman – what more could an audiobook contain?  This 1988 Newbery Medal winning biography was a groundbreaking format for elementary students.  The weaving of the compelling life of Lincoln with extensive period photographs, charts, and facts is definitely an engaging combination.  This title also serves to demonstrate that an informational text can be very interesting without the graphics and photographs. Petkoff’s narration gives an excellent portrayal of our 16th President, with the interesting details delivered in a voice that invites the listener to admire all of Lincoln’s accomplishments. Lincoln: A Photobiography delivers a high level of both information and storytelling, giving listeners concise and fascinating background about the Civil War president. The addition of a bonus CD presents author notes and photographs, making this audiobook a complete package for instructional use.

Common Core Standard

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.2 Determine the main idea of a text; recount the key details and explain how they support the main idea.

The print edition, at the time of its publication, served to introduce the idea of using extensive historical photographs, maps, and other illustrations to complete the text.  If students listen to this title, having a copy of the print version would be valuable.  To search for more historical and graphic information about Lincoln, the Library of Congress’ American Memory web site features the ability to search for many topics related to Lincoln, including many additional photographs.  Also, using the search term, Abraham Lincoln on the Teacher’s link, highlights a number of classroom activities related to Lincoln.

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Secrets of a Civil War Submarine
Narrator:J.R. Horne

Imprint: Listening Library
Grades: 7-8

Release Date: April 24, 2007

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This captivating story of the Civil War submarine, H.L. Hunley, won the 2006 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal.  Delving into mystery, history, and archeology, the narrative uncovers the unexplained 1864 disappearance of the Confederate submarine. As the narrative of the Hunley’s recovery unfolds, the painstaking work of archeologists slowly but surely reveals the secrets that had been hidden in the submarine for over 130 years.  This is an informational narrative that belies the routine dry facts – bones, gold, and other discoveries give the listener more than a sample of Civil War history.  Horne’s narration breathes suspense into the story as the Hunley gives up her long-hidden story.  A bonus CD features photographs, maps and illustrations from the print edition.

Common Core Standard

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.8 Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text, identifying which reasons and evidence support which point(s).

There are two intriguing online resources that can be accessed to extend the instructional value of this Civil War submarine story.  PBS’ NOVA has a Lincoln’s Secret Weapon web site,, that provides numerous links to information about Civil War submarines, including the Hunley.  The Office of Naval Research also has resources about the History of Submarines, that includes Civil War submarines.  Both resources offer additional information for students to research.

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Disasters are always a popular topic with middle grade students, especially boys. The following two titles make an outstanding pairing of informational material, with plenty of primary sources, drama, suspense, and tragedy.

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Titanic: Voices From the Disaster

Imprint: Listening Library
Grades: 7-8

Release Date: August 14, 2012

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A full cast of narrators makes the plight of passengers, crew, and builders of the Titanic seem as if the disaster happened recently, rather than over 100 years ago. Hopkinson has collected reminiscences from survivors, allowing listeners to hear the hopes and the fears of those connected with the ill-fated maiden voyage. Filled with primary source materials, this works well for classroom use and also makes for excellent family listening and discussion.

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Blizzard of Glass
The Halifax Explosion of 1917
Narrator:Paul Michael

Imprint: Listening Library
Grades: 9-12

Release Date: August 14, 2012

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On December 6, 1917, a munitions ship carrying 2,925 tons of explosives collided with another ship in Halifax Harbor, causing the largest, most destructive man-made explosion in history, topped only many decades later by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Shock waves from the blast traveled 5,000 feet per second – nearly five times the speed of sound – and heat from the ensuing fires reached 9,032 degrees Fahrenheit. Walker carefully sets the stage by introducing us to ordinary Halifax citizens, including children, who were going about their daily business in the days, hours, and minutes leading up to this disaster, and whose lives were irrevocably altered by the event. Michael’s pacing and intonation is skillfully aligned with the events of the story, describing the horrific aftermath of the explosion without allowing his narration to become maudlin. Interestingly, the method of cataloging the personal effects and bodies from this disaster were developed in Halifax five years earlier to deal with the remains of those who perished on the Titanic.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.5 Compare and contrast the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events, ideas, concepts, or information in two or more texts.

What makes these two disasters so tragic is that both could have been avoided. Students can delve more deeply into the circumstances surrounding both at two excellent websites. History.com has a wealth of information about the Titanic, including photo galleries, the coroner’s report, and interactive pages that allow students to explore the history of the ship. The Canadian Broadcasting Company’s site, The Halifax Explosion, features in-depth stories of the region, the ships, and the victims, with interactive pages for students, as well as information for teachers.

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Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
Narrator:Janet Song

Imprint: Listening Library
Grades: 7-8

Release Date: February 16, 2010

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Growing up in the shadow of Fruitless Mountain, listening to the tales spun by her father, Minli is a believer in the power of stories. Spending one of her last two coins on a goldfish with magical powers, Minli sets out to find the Old Man of the Moon, with the help of the fish and a dragon. In the end, she gains friendship and wisdom and saves her impoverished community. Song’s hint of Chinese inflection and cadence adds to the authentic feel of Lin’s original folktale, transporting listeners to another time and place in this 2010 Newbery Honor book.

Common Core Standard

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.4.9 Compare and contrast the treatment of similar themes and topics (e.g., opposition of good and evil) and patterns of events (e.g., the quest) in stories, myths, and traditional literature from different cultures.

Students can learn more about the tradition of Chinese folktales by visiting ThinkQuest’s website, which not only includes information about Chinese cultural history, but also suggests ways to perform some traditional folktales.

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