Readers come in all shapes and sizes, from the voracious bibliovores who seem to inhale books on sight and need their own library card if you don’t want to break the bank, to those who, for one reason or another, just don’t ‘get’ books. For them, reading is, at best, a chore, equivalent to homework, or, at worst, an actual pain. Maybe they haven’t yet found the book that will ignite their imagination or nourish their hunger for facts; or maybe they haven’t yet unpicked the mechanics of reading signs, words, sentences on the page fluidly enough for an entire book to be anything other than an insurmountable ordeal.
For those readers, who may well be ready to enjoy the story of, say, Harry Potter, but can’t yet tackle the pages and pages of packed type, help is at hand. Audiobooks are a wonderful way for readers of all ages to get their fix of adventure, poetry, imagination, knowledge or whatever floats their boat. By leaving the mechanics of reading to a skilled narrator, audiobooks make hitherto unreachable worlds suddenly and instantly accessible. The listener is riding the Hogwarts Express like every other Potter-head, meeting the world’s worst children just like any David Walliams fan. They now are part of this great community of readers and can exchange with their peers on shared experiences.
Is it still reading if they’re not using their eyes? Of course it is. Reading is just about decoding marks on a page or screen. It’s about making sense of words, grasping ideas and making mental pictures out of them. Whether you listen to Jo Nesbo’s Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder or make your way through its pages, you are exposed to the same story, the same ideas, the same words. It’s the same book. And you have to do the same work of sequencing, thinking, visualising. With the decoding out of the way, you have more head space to get on with these other, equally important tasks. In some cases, listening to an audiobook can actually be more work. Think of something like Liz Pichon’s Tom Gates series where every single page is covered in doodles. The listener doesn’t have access to those and must make up their own, if they’re so inclined.
Whether you use the BorrowBox app (free with your local library card) or shop around online, you will find audiobooks for kids of all ages. Tiny tots strapped in their high-chair or car seat will love listening to picturebooks brought to life by a full cast of actors, like Dick Bruna’s Miffy books, or enhanced by great sound effects, like the Meg and Mog audio collection. Older readers of five and up will enjoy longer stories, including chapter books, such as Jeremy Strong’s My Brother’s Famous Bottom series or the silly antics of his Viking Sigurd. As for kids aged 9+, they can launch into sagas such as Martin Jacques’ Redwall or Chris Colfer’s Land of Stories.
Audiobooks let kids get through much longer books than their reading stamina would otherwise allow; they expose them to different accents and ways of speaking, thanks to the myriad of brilliant narrators involved; they help with focus and attention span; and they get those visualisation muscles working overtime. So yes, audiobooks count. Give them a go!
Have you tried audiobooks yet? Which were your kids’ favourites? Let us know!
Written by Juliette Saumande (@juliettesaumande), a children’s book writer whose latest audio title, The Wanderly Tales, is narrated by Daisy May and David Holt and published by Lunii.
Meg and Mog, written by Helen Nicoll, illustrated by Jan Pienkowski, read by Samantha Bond, 39 mins, Puffin, ISBN 9780241375785
Beloved characters Meg the witch, her cat Mog and Owl come to life in this brilliant adaptation of thirteen of their adventures. Bond’s great voice work combined with judicious use of sound effects makes the stories instantly accessible and immensely fun. Listen to Meg’s mysterious eggs crack in the middle of the night, to the waves licking the desert island beach she finds herself stranded on, the sound of Mog’s snoring and plenty of sparkly jingles as Meg uses her wand … with more or less success! Age 0–3
Blown Away, written by Rob Biddulph, read by Paul Panting, 4mins, HarperCollins Children’s Books, ISBN 9780008405144
‘A windy day/A brand-new kite/For Penguin Blue/A maiden flight’. This is how Penguin Blue’s adventure begins as the wind picks up and he is blown away! The short rhyming lines tell the listeners just what they need to know to picture action, landscape and characters, while the expressive narration brings suspense! peril! plot twists! and a happy ending in this fun caper. Age 3+
Viking in Trouble, written by Jeremy Strong, illustrated by Nick Sharratt, read by Nigel Lambert, 1h25, Bolinda/Audible Audio, ISBN 9781489071651
When Sigurd the Viking launched with his raiding party on the 10th-century seas, he was expecting pillage and plunder, not, as it turned out, time travel and late 20th-century life. But he’s made the best of it, finding a hotel called The Viking and starting a new life with the help of the family who runs it and their guests. But Sigurd has a lot to learn … Expect ridiculous situations, funny voices and wordplay, and the occasional drawing of a trusted sword (named Nosepicker). Age 5–8
Manolito Four-Eyes, written by Elvira Lindo, illustrated by Emilio Urberuaga, translated by Joanne Moriarty, read by Luci Christian Bell, 2h54, Bolinda/Audible Audio, ISBN 9781489059079
Manolito is your typical ten-year-old, that is to say, there is no one quite like him! From friendships and ennemiships, to family legends and owning your nickname, Manolito has plenty to say and he says it, without pausing to take a breath, in this very chatty, very fun audio version. It’s not for nothing his mother says he was ‘born chatting’! Listeners will recognise themselves or someone they know in the vignettes Manolito paints of his everyday life in Madrid. Funny, whimsical and surprisingly astute at times, this is a winner! (Age 9–12)
For more reviews check out Inis magazine which is published by Children’s Books Ireland, the national children’s books organisation whose vision is an Ireland in which books are central to every child’s life. On the website you will find themed reading lists and a whole lot more!