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February 1, 2016 BOOKLIST
Find more Voice of Choice
Few audiobook narrators achieve in such a short time the heights of Katherine Kellgren, our 2011 Voice of Choice. In seven years, she has narrated just over 150 books and received numerous awards and accolades, including eight starred reviews in Booklist, 20 Audie Award nominations (including 11 this year), and 4 Audie Awards (including Best Solo Female Narration). She is the only audiobook reader who has narrated four Odyssey Honor audios, beginning with Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary “Jacky” Faber, Ship’s Boy, in 2008, and concluding with Alchemy and Meggy Swann, in 2011. Younger listeners recognize her as the distinctive voice of Faber, a girl posing as a boy who embarks on rousing historical maritime adventures, or as Sherlock Holmes’ clever young sister, Enola, in Nancy Springer’s series (see the review of The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline). Teens and adults appreciate the polished accents and spot-on interpretations she brings to such titles as Madeleine Wickham’s clever novels of women’s lives, The Wedding Girl and Sleeping Arrangements, and Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters’ popular mash-ups, including Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. As a child, Kellgren was obsessed with spoken-word recordings by masters of British theater, including John Gielgud. Her pleasure in listening led her to study acting at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, where she mastered a wide range of regional British, Irish, and Scottish accents. She confesses that when she returned to the U.S. after 12 years in London, she needed a dialect coach to brush up on her American accent.
Her interest in audiobooks developed when she used a handheld tape recorder to make her first recording, which she sent to her ill father in New York. Upon returning to the U.S., she continued reading aloud to him, and so audio narration seemed like a logical field to pursue.
What makes Kellgren so special—and successful? Reviewers praise her “verbal gymnastics” and ability to embody a wide range of characters and to juggle accents that reflect locales, class differences, genders, and character traits. In the Bloody Jack series, her portrayal of Jacky’s exuberant Cockney contrasts with her voicing of the upper-class tones of Jacky’s fiancé. Kellgren’s commitment to authenticity has sent her on searches to find the sea shanties referred to in the Jacky Faber novels. Her flexible, adaptable voice expresses a wide range of characters, historical and contemporary, from all stations of life. Her carefully researched readings mirror the cadence and style of the time in which the books are set. In the Booklist review of Katherine Howe’s The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, Mary Burkey notes that Kellgren gracefully “transports listeners back . . . employing . . . a brisk modern tempo or deliberate Old World pace.” Authentic regional accents always “reflect both area and era.”
Reviewers and listeners praise Kellgren’s skillful characterizations. She carefully prepares every manuscript before reading. She highlights each name and keeps a sound file of continuing characters so all voices are consistent. She imbues them all with believable characteristics and idiosyncrasies. Whether her tones are ringed with ice, warmth, sophistication, or naiveté, they are always mesmerizing. Booklist’s fourth annual Voice of Choice winner brings both skill and personality to her performances. From read-alongs and older youth titles to sophisticated adult novels, each receives Kellgren’s inimitable interpretation. She says she enjoys “getting to speak beautiful, well-written words, putting yourself into the author’s world. There is something about being read to that you can find in no other medium.” Her audios allow us to emotionally connect with the characters and participate in their adventures and relationships. Kellgren’s passion for authenticity and complex characterizations creates not-to-be-missed listening experiences.
Kellgren will appear at the 2011 Odyssey Awards program at the ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans. See the editor’s note in this section for details.
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