Exploring The World Of Children’s Audiobooks

November 14, 2019

Two summers ago, I was particularly stunned by an eerie silence around the house that lasted for over fifteen minutes. I tiptoed and peeked into my children’s room, only to find my pre-kindergartener and second grader huddled around Alexa, intently listening (that’s right! Listening attentively) to a long tirade. Since the content seemed appropriate, I didn’t disrupt the peace. Later, I learned that my high-on-energy boys had been engrossed in what appeared to be a rather complex story about Thor losing his hammer.

This incident, in a nutshell, became our entry into the fascinating and previously unexplored world of audiobooks.

Personally, I’m not a gadgeteer. I’m a bit of a technology naysayer of sorts. More specifically, I’m a cautious (and lazy) user of technology especially when it comes to parenting. Sceptical at first, I started exploring and learning more about audiobooks and found them to be a rather useful accompaniment to physical books (you know, the ones that have pages you flip). For me, there were definite merits of introducing audiobooks to my children:   

  • Audiobooks engage kids without much adult intervention.
  • They are wonderful travel companions, or for when you need the time to hop on to that call you’ve been putting off forever.
  • Audiobooks are not screen time but listening time. For me, entertainment without screens is most appreciated, making the value addition of audiobooks a win-win. Audiobooks narrate stories, which works since children are interested in listening to the unfolding plot of a storyline. They learn to focus and pay attention. These are indeed important skills – something even adults could benefit from!
  • Just like when adults read to children to help build their vocabulary, audiobooks, I should think, serve a similar educational purpose. It’s also a great way to improve comprehension through a narrated story.
  • For us, audiobooks have become a cosy family activity. When an opportunity arises, like a long car ride, for instance, we all listen to a story together. Sometimes, we pick an unexplored literary genus like Greek mythology and discuss the story and learnings after.

Favourite Audiobooks

Once I was convinced of the merits of audiobooks, the next question for me was to come up with a repertoire of audiobooks for my kids. After scouring several sites like Amazon, Audible, and Scribd, for instance, I came up with a list. This was somewhat challenging, given that I had to cater to the interest of an eight-year-old as well as that of a five-year-old.

Some of our favourite audiobook stories and series were among those that not only exposed us to a formerly unchartered literary genus but presented stories that were intriguing and led to discussions after listening to them. Simply put, in compiling a list of audiobooks, I pretty much utilised the formula I would resort to if I were to pick physical books for myself or my children.

Keeping that in mind, for what it’s worth, our audiobook list includes:   

  • The first few among the ubiquitous Harry Potter For a complex and lengthy series like this one, it certainly helped that we had read them before. So, listening to the stories and ‘meeting’ the numerous characters became somewhat of a meditative and cerebral exercise of remembering and recalling. Having said that, had we not read this expansive series, we would have still had the books on our list. For us, it’s such a great way to unravel and revisit the mysteries of the wizarding world!
  • The enrapturing and ever-twisting plots of the Magic Tree House series are always interesting, whether we’re on the road or at home. These stories are filled with adventures that keep us guessing.
  • Frog And Toad stories are so innocent and easy to follow. This caters well to the intellect of our five-year old. Plus, they offer an endearing opportunity to revisit simple concepts like friendship and sharing and to talk about them afterwards. Frog and Toad’s exploits are silly and entertaining and meet the amusement quotient of everybody in our family.
  • Brown Bear And Friends used to be a favourite. It was great for our former toddlers, especially when they learned to identify different animals and revelled in their newfound achievement!
  • The Jungle Book has been one of those timeless stories that is soulful to read and to listen. For us, it has always managed to capture our minds with its intriguing anthropomorphic characters from the evil Sher Khan to the asinine Bandar log, from deeper concepts of belonging and acceptance to the importance of family.
  • The goofy Amelia Bedelia series, although silly and entertaining, drive home the point of using good judgement and working smart without getting into a pickle.

The Popularity of Audiobooks

Today, audiobooks are commonly available and widely accessed. They serve multiple roles in our modern-day busy lifestyle. Folks catch up on their ‘reading’ while on their daily commute or while  dealing with something more humdrum like cooking dinner. For me, audiobooks serve as a quiet, thought-provoking, intellectual activity not just for my boys, but for us collectively as a family.

Having said this, audiobooks by no means should replace physical books. Parents and caregivers aren’t off the hook to read to their children. As stated earlier, listening to stories and audiobooks certainly has its merits where children hear new words and build vocabulary. However, they don’t end up seeing what they’re listening to. That void is filled by looking at print. Visualisation of words and sentences helps with spelling and grammar, among other reading and writing skills. Moreover, it’s no secret that reading with children is a snug, adult-child bonding time that can’t be substituted by audiobooks. For example, while my boys were excited to independently learn about Thor and his hammer, I’d like to believe they were equally filled with joy at night as we curled up in bed to continue our reading of Alice’s curious adventures!     

Nonetheless, audiobooks are growing in popularity and are here to stay. Even for a tech cynic like me, I would have to agree (although grudgingly) that they are an innovative and easy way to introduce children to the vast and rich literary treasures out there. And more importantly, a great way to get the little ones thinking and talking!

Nidhi Kirpal Jayadevan

Nidhi Kirpal Jayadevan

Nidhi is an avid traveller and reader. A sushi and yoga lover. Her 'pre-kids' life was spent in the ever-dynamic field of Communication Sciences. After which, she chose to be a fulltime mom. Reading and playing with her two high energy boys has been a fascinating journey. They have (re)kindled in her a sense of wonder in all things small. Children’s literature has been an inspiring new discovery for her. She’s constantly seeing the world through little eyes, applying simple learnings to deepen life’s meaning for herself and her family.

Read her articles here.