Audiobooks for Kids: How to Start + Which Ones to Try

Today I’m excited to be sharing something a little different. I’ve been sharing our adventures with audiobooks on my Instagram Stories for the past few weeks and months and I’ve had tons of questions about our favorites and how to get started.

So today I’ve teamed up with my sister, Janssen, who’s a book blogger, former children’s librarian, and mama of four girls who also love audiobooks, to share some tips for getting started with audiobooks and to answer your questions. Plus I’m sharing my favorite audiobooks for boys, and she’s sharing her favorites for girls!

Merrick's Art | Children's Audiobooks

Tips for Getting Started with Audiobooks

I think the most important thing to realize about audiobooks is that listening is a learned skill. Your kids weren’t born with this skill, and they won’t be good at it right away, which can become a frustration for both of you. Try these three tips to help you get started, and then check out Janssen’s blog for three more tips!

  1. Start with books they know. When I introduced Fos to audiobooks, we started with his very favorite series, Mercy Watson. We had read the hard copy versions of these books dozens of times, so he knew the stories backward and forward, which meant it was really easy for him to listen and follow along when we turned on the audiobooks. After listening to these audiobooks a few times, we moved on to another set he was familiar with, and after a few weeks of this, he had become really good at listening and we started introducing unfamiliar titles. Also, I recommend starting with book series so they can become more invested in and familiar with the characters, locations, and narrator as you listen to book after book.
  2. Listen to them in the car. When we moved last fall, we commuted down to our old school for six weeks until Christmas break. During these six weeks, we obviously spent a lot of time in the car. I stocked up on audiobooks and we went through tons of them during that commute, and they were the perfect way to enjoyably pass the time while they were strapped into their carseats. If you’re taking a road trip during the summer, start audiobooks there when your kids can’t wander away and miss big sections of the story. It was during these commutes that we fell in love with the How To Train Your Dragon Books, because we could listen to large sections of the CD’s at a time and really get immersed in the story.
  3. Quit if you don’t like it. This probably the most important tip I can think of. I want reading to be enjoyable and fun for my boys, especially at this age, and never want to force them to sit down and listen to anything, whether it’s an audiobook or not. They’ll have so many books they’ll be required to read in their future, so right now is all about cultivating a love of reading (and hoping it carries them throughout their life), and the way to do that is to choose books with which they can connect and fall in love. I love when they beg for just another chapter, or we have to sit in the car for five minutes after school pickup so we can listen to the end of the story — that’s how you know you’ve picked a good one. So if you choose an audiobook that they can’t get into, or that’s boring, confusing, or bad for any reason, just turn it off (after you’ve made at least some effort). It’s definitely not worth it.

*Also I should note that when we’re listening to them together, I’ll often pause the CD and explain something or ask them a question to make sure they understand. Audiobooks can move quickly, have big words, and sometimes even have complex stories, so it’s easy for kids (especially a 4 year old!) to miss things. Chatting through it has helped Foster’s comprehension immensely, and he gets better at listening and understanding with every book. But remember, in the beginning they won’t understand everything, and that’s ok!

 

My Top 9 Audiobooks for Boys

 

  1. How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
    • This has been our very favorite series to date. If you’ve seen the movies, you know at least the main character, Hiccup, but that’s about the only similarity between the books and movies. Hiccups adventures with dragons and his nemesis, Alvin the Treacherous, are clever, fun, and so hilarious. There are 12 books in the series, and we’ve listened to 8 0r 9 of them so far and have loved every one. They’re recommended for ages 8-12, but my 4 and 7 year old have been able to follow along really well, despite complex characters and story lines. Also, I have to mention that the narrator, David Tennant, is the most fantastic narrator I’ve ever heard. He makes these books for me with all his amazing voices, and because of him (and the great story lines), I turn these on in the car and listen even when I’m by myself!
  2. Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
    • This was one of the first series I read aloud to Benson when he was four. It’s about four orphaned children who are always solving mysteries. My boys love mystery books, but the thing that made me fall in love with this series was how sweet the children were. I love reading to my children about kids who are honest, well behaved, polite, and kind, and the Alden children are just that. We’ve learned lots of good life lessons from these books! Now that we’ve read probably 20 of the hard copy books, they’ve switched to the audiobooks and they love them. Personally, I dislike the narrator because she has really obnoxiously high pitched voices for the younger two children and I just can’t handle it, but the boys don’t notice and they love the stories. So we keep these CD’s out of the car (for my sanity) and they just listen to them during their quiet time in their room.
  3. A to Z Mysteries by Ron Roy
    • These are cute little stories about three friends (2 boys and a girl) who solve all sorts of mysteries in their little town in Connecticut. They’re lower level stories and really easy reads, but the stories are cute and the narrator is good, so I actually enjoy listening to these ones with them.
  4. Nate the Great by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat
    • We love Nate the Great books, and the audiobooks are just as fun as the hard copy because of another fantastic narrator. These little mysteries are geared toward a younger audience, so only Foster (who is 4) listens to and loves these ones.
  5. Encyclopedia Brown by Donald J. Sobol
    • Benson (who is 7) loves these ones because they’re fun and clever, and are about a 10-year-old boy detective. As you can see, we love mystery books, and this is another great one with several in the series.
  6. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket.
    • We started listening to these in the car on a road trip last summer. They’re about three little children whose parents die and leave them as orphans, and their struggle to find a home and someone to care for them. It really is exactly what the title says — one horrible thing after another. The stories were clever and well written, and I really liked the narrator, but we only got through two books before my boys decided they were too terrifying and stressful, so we quit. But I recommend these for older kids, and we’ll probably try them again in a few years.
  7. Roald Dahl.
    • I love pretty much everything by Roald Dahl, and this collection of audiobooks has some of our favorites. We’ve loved listening to James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Fantastic Mr. Fox specifically. He has a few bizarre stories (like The Humongous Crocodile), but for the most part they’re fun and clever classics.
  8. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls.
    • We listened to this one during our commute last fall, and it’s another one with a really sweet main character that hopefully helped teach my boys some good traits and values. Little Billy lives out in the country with his family, and works hard for several years to save up for two little hound dogs he can use as hunting dogs. He gets Old Dan and Little Ann, and they’re just the sweetest dogs, companions, protectors, and hunters ever — we all fell in love with them and loved listening to their adventures together.
  9. Mercy Watson by Kate DiCamillo.
    • I found these books randomly on Amazon a couple of years ago and bought them for the boys for Christmas. Benson liked them, but Foster obsessed over them. They’re about a funny couple who own a pig named Mercy, and treat her like their daughter. They’re so clever and fun that I enjoyed them too!

Where to Find Good Audiobooks

 

I’ve had lots of questions about how we find audiobooks and listen to them. Here are a few ways you can do it!

  1. CD’s at the library. We get most of our audiobooks at the library currently, because our library has a pretty good selection. Our previous library charged $1.00 to check out audio materials, so we didn’t check out many there, but our new library has them for free and we take full advantage. Then we play them in the car, in the boys’ CD player in their room, or we load them onto the computer and save them to my phone (then I delete the files once we’re done listening to it).
  2. AudibleThis is a system we haven’t used, but I’d like to try. It’s through amazon, and it’s a monthly membership. It works like the library — check one out, then return it and you can check out another. The biggest benefit to using Audible is their huge digital library — pretty much every title you could think of is available through Audible.
  3. Overdrive.com. I’ve had the most questions about this, because this is what I use to listen to audiobooks on my phone. It’s an online system that’s connected to your library so you can request and check out books for free. If you download the app and sign in with your library card, you can do everything directly from the app: place a hold, search for books, or just listen. When you want to listen to a book you’ve checked out, go into the app and select “Download” so it saves to your phone and you can listen anywhere without using your phone data. After we do this, we plug the phone into the car audio system so we can listen to it while we drive, or I’ll let the boys hold my phone and listen to it while we’re out running errands. It’s a really convenient way to carry your digital library with you. Overdrive has a limit of  8 holds/checkouts at time.
  4. Hoopladigital.com. This is another digital library that connects through local libraries. Search on their site to find if your local library uses this system — some libraries will have both Overdrive and Hoopla. The best part about this system is that there is no wait for books. All digital books are available immediately!

Ok, now hop over to Janssen’s blog and check out her tips and her book list for girls!

And if I missed anything or if you have additional questions, leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you!