Audio Books Encourage Readers

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Audio books for kids are all the rage. New titles are being produced with full productions and all-star casts. Hooray!

When it comes to kids and reading, most of the discussions of late have centered around just getting kids to read. While plenty of parents are successful at building young readers, once kids are old enough for video games and the like, it becomes all too easy to drop that black-and-white tomb covered in letters. That’s why graphic novels lured some in and e-books with interactive dimensions for others. But now hear this: audio books are on the rise for kids — and it’s the most exciting thing to happen to reading in years.  Full-scale productions can turn a Roald Dahl gem into a marvel of music, fun voices and sound effects.

While educators have used audio books with struggling readers and kids with other learning issues for years (following the printed text with a fingertip while listening to the audio version), it’s great for all kinds of readers today, including reluctant ones who’d just as soon be playing Xbox. Audio books are more tempting now: With the tap of the iPad, a kid can be transformed into a blissful state of listening to a book unlike ever before. For parents eager to see their children engrossed in a book, today’s audio reads are the answer to the dream. Most parents want their kids to know the deeply satisfying pleasure found in a good story … and through that, stronger academic readers can be built.

Until recently, audio books haven’t been used with average or gifted readers, says Denise Johnson, a professor of reading education and writer for Reading Online, a publication of the International Reading Association.

With pediatricians now encouraging parents to read aloud to their babies and toddlers (the American Academy of Pediatrics released guidelines for this in June of this year) in an attempt to bridge the literacy gap among kids, storytelling is front and center. While highly educated parents may already read to their kids (and have their kids read to them), research shows that many more parents don’t and that the development of literacy skills is lacking for a vast number of kids.


While kids’ love affairs with technology may have dealt reading a heavy blow, the rise in audio books hasn’t made it a lethal one. The sale of audio books has skyrocketed, mostly because of multi-tasking adults intent on getting in some reading while commuting or cooking dinner. Audio books for kids are surging, too. In 2012, while total industry sales in the book business were down, audio books alone rose by more than 20 percent.

Today, any kid with a reader and ear buds can listen to a remarkable book with a splashy production using dozens of narrators, or bedtime can mean cuddling up with the entire family on a bed to hear a favorite tale or a longer classic; simply bookmark where you want to leave it so you can all pick it up again the next night.
And it keeps getting better: Audio book producers are coming out with bigger and better productions all the time complete with celebrity readers, music and sound effects harkening back to what grandparents may call the golden age of radio. Audio producer giant Audible (owned by Amazon) even offers technology to allow kids to sync their ebooks to their audio books in order to switch seamlessly from text to audio without dropping a word.


While purists may be hand wringing that listening to a book isn’t reading a book, audio books aren’t meant to replace the important decoding entailed in learning to read. That work still needs to be done. But a young child can follow a print edition while listening to the audio and learn new words he hasn’t known before. For struggling readers, audio books can provide a sort of “eureka” experience. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, audio books are multi-sensory events that provide in-depth stimulation for greater interest. With so much access at a kid’s ears, audio books have risen to the challenge at hand: competing with all the graphics of a video game by having a better story to tell: classics become renewed hits instantaneously.


So what happens when a kid sits down to give a book a listen? For starters, he doesn’t have to sit. Reading doesn’t have to be so sedentary, since the eyes are free. Tuck an iPhone in a kid’s pocket and he can clean his room while reading or help Mom with the dishes or pulling weeds. Mundane chores are a lot less monotonous when Harry Potter’s in your ears.
And something else: teachers often ask kids to visualize what they’re reading — easier for some learners to do than others. Today’s dramatized audio books make the images come easily, and many adult readers have noticed that books become more picturesque when narrated out loud. Suddenly different neurons are firing in the brain providing a deeper experience beyond plain text.
It may not happen overnight at your house. But for those of you who lament non-reading kids, try audio books. It just may be that, eventually, when you ask them to put in their 20 minutes of reading a day … they’ll come running.


Audi Awards: Top Kid’s Audio Books of 2014

Ages 7 and younger

Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake
by Michael B. Kaplan
Narrated by Katherine Kellgren
Live Oak Media

Creepy Carrots
by Aaron Reynolds
Narrated by James Naughton
Weston Woods

The Dark
by Lemony Snicket
Narrated by Neil Gaiman
Hachette Audio

Hooray for Anna Hibiscus
by Atinuke
Narrated by Mutiyat Ade-Salu
Recorded Books

Nelson Mandela
by Kadir Nelson
Narrated by Forest Whitaker
Weston Woods

Stink and the Freaky Frog Freakout
by Megan McDonald
Narrated by Barbara Rosenblat
Brilliance Audio

Ages 8 – 12

A Long Walk to Water
by Linda Sue Park
Narrated by David Baker and Cynthia Bishop
Full Cast Audio

Magic Marks the Spot: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates
by Caroline Carlson
Narrated by Katherine Kellgren

by Roald Dahl
Narrated by Kate Winslet
Penguin Audio

by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Narrated by Bahni Turpin
Brilliance Audio

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp
by Kathi Appelt
Narrated by Lyle Lovett
Simon & Schuster Audio

Susan Swindell Day is the editor in chief of Nashville Parent and the mom of four amazing kids.

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