• Happy birthday Ariane Dewey (The Last Laugh, Herman the Helper).
  • It’s the birth date of Gene Stratton-Porter (1863-1924) A Girl of the Limberlost, and Myra Cohn Livingston (1926-1996), Celebrations.
  • Davy Crockett (1786-1836) was also born on this day. Known (starting in the fifties) as “King of the Wild Frontier,” he was a soldier, politician, and became an American folk hero. Read his autobiography Davy Crockett: His Own Story and Davy Crockett: A Life on the Frontier by Stephan Krensky, illustrated by Debra Bandelin and Bob Dacey.
  • In 1907 Pike Place Market, the longest continuously running public farmers market in the U.S., opened in Seattle. Read Salt and Pepper at the Pike Place Market by Carol A. Losi, illustrated by Amy Meissner.
  • Weird Contest Week begins in Ocean City, New Jersey, which includes sculpting competitions using French fries and saltwater taffy (but not at the same time).
  • It’s National Thrift Shop Day. Read The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens.

August has been designated Audio Book Appreciation Month. Certainly one of the great changes in children’s book publishing during my career has been the increase in superb audio recordings of novels. Since in August many families spend time in the car going to and from vacation spots, I am going to talk about my two favorite audio books of the last decade. Both record sophisticated novels and hence provide a lot of listening pleasure for everyone in the family.

In 1999 Listening Library issued a nine-disc recording of my favorite Philip Pullman novel, The Golden Compass, unabridged, narrated by Pullman and a cast of actors.  Pullman proves to be just as graceful a narrator as he is writer, and the assembled cast bring all his characters to life.

In The Golden Compass readers encounter a parallel world—it seems like our own but it is Victorian in its details. All humans possess a daemon, a companion, who takes the form of an animal and stays with them at all times. In childhood the daemon can change shapes; when adulthood comes, it settles on a form. Eleven-year-old Lyra Belacqua and her daemon Pantalaimon live in Jordan College at Oxford, under the care of the master of the college. But in Oxford and other areas around England, children have been disappearing. When Lyra’s friend Roger vanishes, she gets swept up in a mission to save him and others—taking her on a journey to the far north. Along the way, she must come to terms with her father, her mother (the evil Mrs. Coulter), and an armored bear, who becomes a trusted friend.

The entire book has been written with grace and finesse. Pullman brings you into the story immediately, knows how to create tension in each chapter, and shows the gradual change of Lyra from a wild child to one with a conscience and purpose. Throughout her journey, her daemon, Pantalaimon, provides some pretty snappy observations to keep her on track.

Action, adventure, mystery, intrigue—Pullman works all his magic and writes beautifully descriptive scenes and creates fascinating characters. I’ve listened to the audio book twice over the years and always find I hear details in the story that I have missed. So even if everyone in the family has read The Golden Compass, which works for ten-year-olds on up, this audio version will keep you at the edge of your seat.

Be sure to keep a copy of the book nearby. You will probably want to savor some of the passages after you hear them read. Happy trails to all on the road this August.

Here’s a passage from The Golden Compass:

In many ways Lyra was a barbarian. What she liked best was clambering over the College roofs with Roger, the kitchen boy who was her particular friend, to spit plum stones on the heads of Scholars or to hoot like owls outside a window where a tutorial was going on, or racing through the narrow streets, or stealing apples from the market, or waging war. Just as she was unaware of the hidden currents of politics running below the surface of College affairs, so the Scholars, for their part, would have been unable to see the rich seething stew of alliances and enmities and feuds and treaties which was a child’s life in Oxford. Children playing together: how pleasant to see. What could be more innocent and charming?

In fact, of course, Lyra and her peers were engaged in deadly warfare. There were several wars running at once.


Originally posted August 17, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Adventure, London, Magic
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The Golden Compass


  1. What memories just washed over me as I read it is Davy Crockett’s birthday! My first “newspaper” reading was when the Little Rock paper serialized the story of the life of Davy Crockett and I got so engrossed in it that my mother and I made a scrapbook of the parts….treasured that scrapbook for years and years!

  2. Star says:

    Love this novel. Love, love, love it. And you mentioned Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop…another favorite. I love reading your Almanac because it reminds me of all the books I’ve loved and haven’t picked up in ages, and exposes me to new treasures I’ve yet to read. I can’t tell you how many times I read the Almanac, and pick up the phone to call my mom to remind her of a book we used to love to read together. Thanks for that!

  3. Gail Terp says:

    I listened to this novel (plus it’s sequels) and consider them some of my favorite books. I often find myself thinking about them and their ideas. This is a good reminder – time to listen again!

  4. Jessica says:

    This series is one of my all time favorites! Pullman is a fabulous writer, and I love that he is not afraid to get kids thinking about big, important, messy philosophical questions.

  5. Bookjeannie says:

    Golden Compass is one of my very favorite series. I’ve realized that it is the reason I picked up a new book called Harry Potter. GC was THAT book that really immersed me in the fantasy genre. Now I can’t wait to hear it by the man himself. I just finished the audio version of MOON OVER MANIFEST and it was superb! I could not get into Jane Austen even though I watched every Austen movie I could get my hands on. But then someone recommended I try an audio of Austen. I chose Pride & Prejudice. As I listened, I got used to the rhythm and loved it! I recommend audio books to my students, too.

  6. G.Perry says:

    I love this book. I’m quite fussy about the reading voice of books I love that are used for a CD version. I’m especially skeptical when an author reads for his or her book on CD, but in this case, Pullman and cast are superb.

    I’m a Golden Compass fan and I loved the movie as well. Loved them!

    The story is so good, I was thunderstruck from the first page to the last. A friend says it’s Harry Potter for grown ups. The one thing I was confused about for a time, was the symbol meaning of the daemon that traveled with Lyra, and others. I did work it out.

    And oh boy! I love Pullman including a string theory aspect to the story. Meaning, two parallel universes, and that it’s possible there’s multiple versions of you out there running about, which you can’t see. Yikes!

  7. Ellen Myrick says:

    I agree–this is the most magnificent audiobook trilogy ever created and nothing has eclipsed it in the years since it first came out. What comes close? The Bloody Jack series by L. A. Meyer read by Katherine Kellgren and Jim Dale’s superb Harry Potter audiobooks.

  8. Anita says:

    Ellen: Wonderful to get your take on audio books, as always. I consider you one of the great experts in this area.

  9. Next year will mark the 150th anniversary of Gene Stratton-Porter’s birth in northern Indiana. I know of one Indianapolis bookstore that is already planning an anniversary celebration. I’d encourage people to read or reread GSP’s books – fiction and nonfiction – in the coming months. She was a remarkable woman, way ahead of her time. I had the privilege of writing a youth biography of her for the Indiana Historical Society Press. Nature’s Storyteller: The Life of Gene Stratton-Porter (Indiana Historical Society Press 2010).

  10. Anita says:

    Barb: Thanks for reminding us of the 150th. I love your biography and often use it in my history of children’s book publishing class. Gene Stratton-Porter was the favorite author of my grandmother. Today I own a collection of first editions of Porter’s books in memory of my grandmother.

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