Autumn Allen

For Tarana Burke, the explosion of the #MeToo movement in 2017 was a unique emotional journey. As the founder of the movement, she reacted to the use of the hashtag on social media—initially without her awareness or involvement—with alarm, dismay and fear. But she soon moved beyond her protective instinct to a place of gratitude and openness, as she recognized how people were benefiting from the phrase’s transformative power. 

Burke narrates these moments in her memoir, Unbound (7 hours), then goes back in time to her childhood experience of sexual assault and her journey to liberation and activism. Her steady, grounded voice commands the listener’s attention and moves us through time, through emotions, through visceral experiences and psychological breakthroughs. The pain, confusion, vulnerability and, ultimately, power in her story are rendered all the more potent and compelling by her confident voice, distinguishing Burke as a woman who has found her strength and her path to help others heal. This is a listening experience not to be missed.

Read our starred review of the print edition of ‘Unbound.’

In the audio edition of Unbound, the pain, confusion, vulnerability and power in Tarana Burke’s story are rendered all the more potent by her confident voice.

It’s hard to believe that author Dawn Turner isn’t the narrator of her memoir, Three Girls From Bronzeville: A Uniquely American Memoir of Race, Fate, and Sisterhood (12 hours); the woman reading the audiobook sounds so honest as she recalls growing up in the historic Bronzeville section of Chicago that surely she must be Turner. But award-winning voice actor Janina Edwards’ confident storytelling commands attention and enhances the tale. Her wise, knowing tone allows the listener to fall under the spell of the story, envisioning each episode and trusting that the details will weave together meaningfully.

The listener is transported into the past to experience the closeness of Turner’s family, the excitement of growing up together and the emotional toll of their disparate fates. With a range of tones and speech patterns, Edwards acts out the truths of Turner’s life, from the memorable words of both child and adult personalities to the clear, precise diction of a person raised with strict insistence upon proper speech. This remarkable audio production intrigues and entertains.

Listeners will fall under the spell of Dawn Turner’s memoir through Janina Edwards’ confident storytelling and wise, knowing tone.

Two picture books explore the art and craft of writing and storytelling, offering advice and encouragement for budding young writers.

In How to Make a Book (About My Dog), Chris Barton answers a question that children often ask him when he visits schools as a children’s author: “How do you make your books?” 

Barton guides readers through the process from start to finish in great detail, using his dog, Ernie, as a hypothetical subject for a nonfiction picture book. He begins by discussing the research he must do even when he’s working on a familiar topic. He describes drafting and revision, explains how illustrators come on board and contribute, and then ends with the nitty-gritty of copyediting, printing and shipping books. Along the way, he introduces the team of people who help to transform ideas into books that readers can hold in their hands, including literary agents, editors, art directors, typesetters, proofreaders, publicists, warehouse employees and more. 

How to Make a Book (About My Dog) perfectly addresses the intense curiosity many children have about the mechanics of writing and publishing a book while shining a light on many stages in the process to which readers are not often privy. Barton’s narration is engaging and full of personality, and Ernie becomes a fun character in his own right. The book’s extensive back matter provides a detailed timeline that reveals exactly how long it took to create this very book, beginning when Barton and his family adopted Ernie from a rescue organization and touching on an early concept for a different book that ultimately didn’t work out. 

Illustrator Sarah Horne dramatizes each step with bright, cartoonlike scenes and characters. Infographics, panels and charts; arrows, stars and other visual icons; and a wide variety of hand-lettered fonts transform what could be a dry nonfiction text into a friendly and appealing journey. This guide showcases the challenging but rewarding work of bookmaking with humor and optimism.

Author (and BookPage contributor) Deborah Hopkinson and illustrator Hadley Hooper’s The Story of a Story takes a poetic approach to the question of where inspiration comes from. In rhythmic free verse, Hopkinson addresses a child with “endless curiosity, / and a deep longing / to create, to write, / to say something about the world—to tell a story.” 

Hooper’s illustrations show the child coming inside on a snowy day, taking off their coat, hat and boots, and sitting down at a table in front of a big window. Everything the child needs is at hand: paper, pencils, a snack and even a faithful dog at their feet, but “the words won’t come.” Darkness falls and crumpled papers pile up around the table. While taking a break to eat a cookie, the child notices a chickadee outside the window who is also eating. Inspiration doesn’t so much strike as emerge slowly, and the child returns to the blank page, picks up their pencil and begins again, writing “just one word. And then another.”

Hopkinson’s use of the second person gives the text an intimate feel, and her short sentences draw readers into the push and pull of the blank page, capturing the way that inspiration is so often a series of starts and stops. Hooper uses a spare color palette dominated by blues and whites, with occasional pops of yellow, brown and red, conveying both the wintry setting and suggesting the calm stillness of mind required for creativity to flow. 

As much about perseverance as it is about creativity and storytelling, The Story of a Story has a wonderful focus on process over product. It offers lovely encouragement to young writers, urging them to push beyond obstacles in their paths and discover the stories that only they can tell. 

Two picture books explore the art and craft of writing and storytelling, offering advice and encouragement for budding young writers.

The essay collection Black Nerd Problems (8 hours) presents the opinions of William Evans and Omar Holmon, creators of the website by the same name. The two explore geek culture topics ranging from the frivolous to the serious, from the shifting definition of nerd to deep dives into Black superheroes.

The think pieces in this collection beg to be read aloud, and Evans and Holmon deliver high-energy performances with humor and verve, making this audiobook a real treat for fans of pop culture critique. It won’t surprise anyone to discover that the authors are poets as well, and the conviction behind each of their declarations makes the listener feel like they’re hearing a lively podcast or sitting around a table arguing with friends.

Whether you disagree with their opinions, find them insightful and thought-provoking or are indifferent to the subject matter, you will undoubtedly be entertained by Evans and Holmon’s performance.

The authors of this essay collection perform their audiobook with humor and verve. It’s a real treat for fans of popular culture critique.

“I wake up with my head down,” says D. He overslept because no one woke him up, and now Dad says they have to hustle. He walks to school feeling “scrunchy” as a cloud hovers above his head. “It can still be a good day,” he says. “Any day can be good if you try.” But D faces one disappointment after another: It’s gym day, and he forgot to wear his gym uniform, so he can’t play kickball. In writing class, he gets the laptop with the sticky space bar. When he calls out the correct answer in math class, the teacher criticizes him for not raising his hand instead of praising him for having the right answer. When he accidentally makes a mess that leads to a meltdown during show and tell, D must go to the principal’s office. Once there, his day takes an unexpected turn.

Keep Your Head Up is the debut picture book by journalist Aliya King Neil, with illustrations by Coretta Scott King Award winner Charly Palmer. Throughout this touching portrait of a child doing his best to manage a difficult day, D’s feelings of frustration and discouragement are palpable and create a sense of rising tension. Palmer’s illustrations feature thick, textured brushstrokes, and his impressionistic style enhances the emotional narrative. Pops of blue and pink complement D’s deep brown skin.

Parallels to Judith Viorst’s classic depiction of another boy and his “no good, very bad day” are obvious, but Neil never plays D’s troubles for laughs. Instead, she explores how the supportive adults in D’s life, including his parents and Miss King, the school principal, empower him to make positive decisions when it’s not easy to do so.

Reading Keep Your Head Up would be an excellent way to begin a conversation about how to process the highs and lows of life. It’s a simple and powerful reminder to not let bad days get us down.

Keep Your Head Up is a simple and powerful reminder not to let bad days get us down.

In You Are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience (6.5 hours), Tarana Burke (creator of the #MeToo movement) and Dr. Brené Brown curate a collection of personal essays by Black writers and activists in an effort to apply Brown’s work on shame, resilience and vulnerability to the Black experience in America. Burke and Brown’s conversational preface feels like an engaging podcast as they explain the process of their collaboration.

The contributors, who include Jason Reynolds, Austin Channing Brown, Kiese Laymon, Laverne Cox and Imani Perry, read their own essays, infusing the listening experience with a range of voices and styles. These performances require the listener to reckon with poignant, often painful experiences that speak to the ways in which white supremacy adds an extra barrier to the process of overcoming shame. By narrating their personal stories, the contributors, along with Brown and Burke, demonstrate what is gained by bringing one’s authentic self to the work of deconstructing oppressive power structures. At the end of each essay, the authors’ biographies are read by actors Mirron Willis, Bahni Turpin, J.D. Jackson or L. Morgan Lee.

The production of this audiobook allows the listener to feel that the political is personal.

Tarana Burke and Brené Brown demonstrate the power of bringing one’s authentic self to the work of deconstructing oppressive power structures.

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