Looking for gift-giving ideas that go beyond the next-big-assembly-required toy? Consider giving audiobooks! There are some incredibly engaging and entertaining children’s audio books that would make fantastic gifts.
In our home, it all started with the Harry Potter series. As my son worked his way through the first book, we listened to its audiobook (the version read by Jim Dale) all the way through. Twice. It’s amazing how different details in the narrative are highlighted when we experience stories aurally instead of textually. We were hooked after finishing Sorcerer’s Stone, and we ended up reading and listening to all seven books. Loved them all. If we listen to them again, maybe we’ll try the Stephen Fry versions just to mix it up.
An added benefit of audiobooks is for reluctant readers. Reading along while listening, or first listening to a story and then starting to read can take away the stress of figuring out the storyline or how to “say” a word in your head. This can help children relax and let the story flow.
Now that gift-giving season is underway, consider venturing into audiobooks as gifts for children — not just adults! On-line shopping with Audible and iTunes as well as large chain shopping is always an option, but local book stores like Watchung Booksellers, Montclair Book Center, and Words Bookstore have audiobooks available. Wrapping up a book together with its narrated version makes a wonderful gift. We use audio books in the car, and they have made both local errands and long treks a pleasure. Here are some of our favorite books to share.
Around-the-Town Jaunts are for shorter books.
The Moongobble and Me series is fantastic for around town driving. The stories are simple and just fantastical enough to span several years of interest. The books are read by several people for different characters. Ryan Sparkes, who reads the first-person narrator, was ten-years old at the time of the first book. Chapters are long enough to feel engrossed, and short enough to avoid sitting in the car longer than you want to. One caveat: one of the characters has a grating voice. It’s appropriate to the story, but if you’re nursing a headache, it won’t help. Even so, we’ve enjoyed all the Moongobble and Me CDs, some more than once.
The Arthur and Friends Collection by Marc Brown is another shorter book that can be interrupted for stops without trashing the momentum. There are loads of Arthur books, and a grand variety of Arthur audiobooks. The stories have lots of good places to start and stop, so it makes for easy listening on short trips. The use of props and sounds in these stories really makes them come alive for the kids. Many CDs have a collection of stories in one package.
The Magic Tree House collection is wonderfully read by Mary Pope Osbourne herself. The stories are fantastical and fun, and they follow a consistent structure that lends itself well to audiobook listening. The chapters are long enough to hold attention, but short enough to allow for timely pauses. I think we’ve listened to all the special CDs for these books, and many of the individual stories. Some of these come in collections which include four of the books — which makes them a great transition to the longer books.
Road Trips are for longer books
I’ve already mentioned the wonderful Harry Potter audiobooks, and really, they are marvelous. With younger children, be aware that hearing the words spoken aloud may be scarier than reading them on the page. On the other hand, it’s also easy to pause and discuss any questions or fears they may bring up. But for parents of Harry Potter fans, this is a must for long trips in the car.
At over six hours, P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia is another audiobook that will last for long trips. Written for tweens, but (whether they admit it or not) interesting to teens as well, the story is read at a brisk tempo that make sure your crew is paying attention. The characters are likeable and relatable, and have a positive message of empowerment. Hear more about it from the author here.
On our last trip out of state, we had a pleasant surprise in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The version we listened to is fantastic, and read by Brooke Shields. I hadn’t read the book in ages, and the kids had only ever seen the movie, so it was lots of fun noticing the many differences there are between the two and commenting on how much more detail was in the book. Brooke Shields does an impressive job with different voices and narration. It lasted our entire three-hour plus trip.
None of us had ever read Roald Dahl’s Matilda (pictured above) before listening to it. (I know! Embarrassing, right?) But now we’ll definitely be reading the book again and again. Kate Winslet is the voice — or should I say voices — for the audiobook. She is expressive and creative and perfect as all the different characters. We are reluctantly returning it to the library. This is definitely my favorite audiobook so far.
Happy gift-giving and listening! If you’ve had particularly amazing experiences with audiobooks, please let us know in comments.