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Find more The Booklist Odyssey Interview
BKL: H.O.R.S.E. is like an aural basketball game, with two talented narrators bouncing with energy and enthusiasm. Does this synergy intensify the individual talents?
ARNIE: Collaboration leads to a richer audio experience. When engineer Rory Young and I work on the post-production edit and mix, it’s the back-and-forth sharing of ideas, opinions, and decision-making that creates a better overall audio production.
Dion and I had recorded Chris for We Are America (a book by him and his dad, the late Walter Dean Myers), and thought that his delivery was expressive and impressive. Once I discovered that Chris had based H.O.R.S.E. on his pick-up basketball friendship, I wanted him for the audio recording. I knew Dion would be perfect for the other voice and that he and Chris would feel comfortable working together again.
The text demands a back-and-forth interchange between two narrators. To achieve this banter, I placed Dion and Chris in the booth facing each other, recording at the same time, effectively creating the immediacy and improvisational tone of the audio.
DION: Chris and I already had a rapport, so it was an easy leap to build on that to channel two close friends playing H.O.R.S.E. Playful trash talk and creative flights of fancy are the name of the game. As director, my job was to keep it loose so all of that spontaneous kid energy could flow. As narrators, Chris and I had fun together from opening credits to page-turn instructions.
DEBRA: The interaction between Chris and Dion in the studio was electric and funny right from the start. Sometimes, I’m impatient with the process—so much time spent on reading and re-reading sentences, or sometimes a single word—to be sure to get it “right.” This time, the banter started from the moment these two guys came together. They became the two boys, trash-talking and one-upping and just loving the game.
BKL: What production factors take H.O.R.S.E.—and your other Odyssey titles—above and beyond the typical audiobook?
ARNIE: All three Odyssey winners had one thing in common: they were books that would be even better with an audio component. The illustration’s visual clues—a character’s physical makeup, facial or emotional expressions, the environment in which the action is taking place—are helpful in establishing the character’s voice and personality and in creating the music and sound effects that support the story.
DION: Chris is such an evocative artist; there’s so much wonder and wit in the artwork. One of the joys of narrating and directing a picture book is responding to the visuals. A gorgeous, insightful or hilarious moment revealed through Chris’ pictures offers terrific inspiration for me. Text, imagery, and sound—all three create a unique aural landscape that we hope listeners respond to.
DEBRA: While the recording process can often be incredibly tedious to me, the editing process seems even more so. I’d jump out of my skin if I had to sit with earphones on, as Arnie does. He listens to several takes of the same phrase and debates with our engineer, Rory, about which one to use, whether to add a sound effect or some music, and then listens again and again. I don’t think anyone realizes how many hours can be spent on a 10-minute production like this. Even I sometimes wonder why we all put so much time and energy and passion into these recordings. But when what seems to be just a simple recording of a brief text receives an award like the Odyssey, it’s especially gratifying, because it means the listeners really understand what they’re hearing on a deeper, visceral level, they “get” all that has gone into the production and know that what kids listen to does really matter.
ARNIE: We’re thrilled that librarians and educators on the Odyssey committees have enjoyed our work. When we’re producing an audio recording, we put blinders on and focus on our craft, without worrying about what other audio producers are doing, or even what other audiobooks sound like. Fortunately, that approach has worked over the years for our listeners and for us!
DION: The Odyssey is a great honor. We try to make excellent recordings that will stand the test of time. I’m grateful that the committee, librarians, and listeners enjoy H.O.R.S.E., but what would really make us grin is if some seven-year-old, 30 years from now, tells us, “I’m still smiling from listening to that book.” That would be a slam dunk!
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