This is another of the Newbery audiobooks I’d purchased for my library’s collection. It has the 1989 winner, Joyful Noise, as well as an earlier, similar book by the same author, read aloud by anywhere from two to five voices.
The most effective poems, though, were those read only by two (as the author intended) that also had few or no contrasting words spoken simultaneously. I found the overlapping in the latter often difficult to understand, especially when read aloud by more than two voices. In Joyful Noise, poems about insects, five voices were used on “Cicadas” (its concluding line is the source of the book’s title) and “Whirligig Beetles.” All this did was make the poems too loud (they seemed to be shouting) and too difficult to understand.
One of my favorite poems was “Fireflies.” I enjoyed the metaphors (”Light is the ink we use, Night is our parchment,” “Insect calligraphers practicing penmanship,” “Six-legged scribblers of vanishing messages, fleeting graffiti, Fine artists in flight adding dabs of light, bright brush strokes Signing the June nights as if they were paintings”) and the alliteration.
The other favorite was “Honeybees.” The two voices here were quite successful, even when overlapping, and particularly as voiced on the audiobook by a boy (the worker) and a girl (the queen). The boy was especially effective in expressing the malcontent of the worker bee’s life, portraying frustration in lines like “then I put in an hour making wax, without two minutes time to sit still and relax,” “..I’m on larva detail feeding the grubs in their cells, wishing that I were still helpless and pale,” and “Then I build some new cells, slaving away at enlarging this Hell, dreading the sight of another sunrise, wondering why we don’t all unionize.”
I also enjoyed “Book Lice” for the humor and author references (although I agree with Sandy D.’s review that most children won’t get them). “Water Boatman” was funny for the repetition of the word “Stroke!” evoking images of a racing boat.
The running time of this audiobook would have been too short with only Joyful Noise, so Fleischman’s 1985 I Am Phoenix, poems about birds, was included. Even then, running time is only 35 minutes. I thought the poems in I Am Phoenix were less effective; most seemed to simply be naming species of birds.
Nevertheless, both books benefit from being read aloud; neither book would be as effective if read silently by a single person. The only plus of the paper books are the lovely penciled illustrations by Eric Beddows (working as Ken Nutt on I Am Phoenix).
I would recommend this audiobook for a poetry unit in a classroom, combined with the print version so the students could both hear and see what the author intended.
[Also posted on my book blog, Bookin' It.]