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Listening to a ‘Great Read’: Reasons to Enjoy Audio Books With Your Kids

December 4, 2015

Do you and your kids ever listen to audio books?

With a long summer (and perhaps a car trip or two) ahead, this might be the perfect time to try one.

FB_Tile_RupertGrintSeveral families we know have shared enjoyable hours in the car listening to audio readings of favourite novels.  They create fewer squabbles than trying to agree on what music or radio station everyone likes, and are much less wearing on parental eardrums than kids’ DVDs!

And there are  wonderful recordings available – imagine enjoying Rupert Grint (Harry Potter’s Ron Weasley) reading Tom Gates or Kate Winslet reading The Magic Faraway Tree!

(Other ideal times for an audio book? One mum we know plays readings of favourite picture books to settle her young son down for his daytime nap. And for a busy mum who spends lots of time in the car, or hours breastfeeding, listening to a book can provide some rejuvenating ‘me’ time.)

The right audio book will give you goose bumps

Bolinda audio is an Australian business which publishes over 1,000 audio titles every year both locally and internationally.

Bolinda founder Rebecca Herrmann describes listening to an audio book as ‘a real sensory experience…With a book it’s very different: it’s your eyes, and your visual interpretation of the feelings. It’s like a movie for your mind listening to an audio book.’ She says ‘the right audio book will give you goose bumps!’

Treehouse audiosBetter Reading asked Herrmann about some of her favourite children’s audios. She nominated the Andy Griffiths books, because of the humour, the short story format and the combination of Griffiths’ text and Stig Wemyss’ readings (Wemyss is a popular performer in schools and libraries).

She added, ‘I love the classics, I love Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree and we got Kate Winslet to read that. I love Morris Gleiztman audio books as well: Two Weeks With the Queen is a heartwrenching story but a fantastic story as well.

‘And I love [the YA story] A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, it’s an amazing book, and we had Jason Isaacs read that for us who was also in Harry Potter [the films] – a beautiful voice.’

She mentioned that Bolinda are moving to using younger voices on children’s audio: ‘We have a lot of adults reading these children’s books which is fun, but it’s not how the kids would read it to themselves, in their own voice. So we’ve started experimenting with using a lot of younger actors  – 15 and 16 years old.’

Benefits of audio for kids

Keeping kids engaged with stories and books in any form is a great thing during the long weeks away from school.

audio infographic thumbnailAnd listening to stories on audio has benefits for young readers at any time, including improved comprehension, pronunciation, vocabulary and reading speed. (Click to enlarge the infographic at right for statistics about these and more benefits.)

Herrmann recalls: ‘My kids have grown up around audio books and the vocabulary that my 10 year old has, just from listening to audio books and the language and the ideas that she has been exposed to, is just incredible.’

Several studies have shown that kids can listen to and understand more complex stories and ideas than they are capable of reading for themselves. This is true of all kids, but may be especially so for dyslexic and visually impaired children. (For more on this see our story on reading aloud to older kids.)

Some people feel that offering kids books on audio rather than in print is a form of ‘cheating’. Herrmann firmly refutes this, and so does writer Katya Szewczuk, who says in an article for kidlitTV:

‘Audiobooks are literary resources which can help keep your child engaged in reading. If an audio version of a book unleashes their imagination and helps them understand the heart of the story, then it’s as valuable and as purposeful as a book.’

Some kids are auditory, rather than visual, learners. And Herrmann notes that for a reader struggling with blocks of dense text, ‘audio books expose them to all that language without intimidating them.’

Learning Ally, a U.S. non-profit organisation which helps visually impaired and dyslexic students, argues that ‘Listening to audiobooks can help bridge the gap between decoding words and assigning meaning. Receiving information both visually and audibly reinforces word recognition, improves fluency, builds vocabulary and supports the development of comprehension skills.’

From kids to teens

Does audio appeal to all ages? Definitely – and Bolinda offer a range of titles suitable for preschool all the way through the teen years.

However, Herrmann observes that while the preschool and primary markets are ‘massive’, ‘once you get to high school, the kids are either listening to it because it’s on the curriculum or listening to it because they don’t want to read it. They’ll be listening to the bestselling titles for example Hunger Games or The Fault in Our Stars when the movies are released. ‘

Bolinda publishes their audio books both digitally and on physical CDs. While digital is attractive because the recordings are accessible wherever you are, a lot of children’s books are still sold on CD ‘because kids love the tactile nature’ of them, and because they’re given as gifts.

Summer listening list

What’s on our Summer listening list?

Tom Gates audiosThe Tom Gates series – the books are already favourites in our family because of Tom’s cheeky, but not too over the top, observations of teachers and other adults. And who could resist Rupert Grint’s voice?

The Cleo Stories – we love these charming stories about an imaginative, ingenious little girl and think author Libby Gleeson would do an amazing job of reading them.

The Ranger’s Apprentice series – because we’ve missed a few of the books in this exciting fantasy quest series; a great opportunity to catch up while we’re in the car these holidays.

Charlotte’s Web – a classic we’ve been wanting to revisit for some time. We’re so excited that E.B. White himself reads the Bolinda version!

Bolinda audio are currently running a free audio book offer on their site and in participating stores. One of the titles on offer is a compilation of picture book readings from The Alison Lester CollectionGrugHairy MaclaryBaby MagicThe Leigh Hobbs Collection and Classic Magic.

They are also promoting a range of boxed sets in the lead up to Christmas, which include the Andy Griffiths Treehouse boxed set and a Hunger Games set.

Do you listen to audio books? Please tell us about your experience in comments.

Find out more about the rising popularity of audio books for adults.

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  1. Sarah Kearney

    My kids have been listening to audio books during car journeys for a couple of years now. They love them, and it stops fights between them. They are also great ways to get them interested in a series – they listened to the first Harry Potter, then read the rest of the series. All of the Andy Griffiths books have been a hit, as has the Rangers Apprentice. I wouldn’t go on a car trip without one!

  2. Bernard

    I’m a grandparent, and we have small read-along audios, which the smaller kids seem to enjoy.

    I’ve been enjoying them myself, though, for about the last six months or so. My work roster changed, such that I’m spending large swags of time in the car by myself. I tend not to listen to the so much drivel on the radio, and discovered some audio books in my local library. What a find! I read a lot, anyway, but this has boosted my reading time immeasurably.

    I recommend it.

  3. Kerri

    When my marriage broke down and my 8 year old twins and I had to spend long periods in the car to enable access we started listening to audio books because they did not have enough time to do homework and reading for school. It became a wonderful shared experience between us that bonded us closer although we had less time together than previously. When we listened to Isabelle Carmody’s ‘Little Fur’ we were so engagaed we made art works on the weekend that went with the story. We then met Isabelle at the Byron Bay Writers Festival and chatted about the art she inspired. I noticed a dramatic improvement in both children’s school results but in particular the twin who had struggled at school with learning and behaviour difficulties suddenly developed new skills, better focus, longer attention span with the added bonus of sky rocketing her reading comprehension results to the level of her sister. It was like watching a miracle unfold. I’m an avid supporter now of audio books as a part of curriculum in all schools.

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