Heard Any Good Books Lately?

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Studies show that one in every five households listen to audiobooks. While June, which was National Audiobook Month, just passed, it's still a perfect time to test the waters if you’re among those who have never tried one.

I’m always surprised by the suggestion that listening to a book on tape, CD or mp3-player isn’t the same as reading one.  Is the elderly or visually impaired person enjoying a book on tape not getting the same value from the story? Is the child listening to a tale read aloud by a parent or teacher absorbing any less than if he (or she) were reading it to himself?  In fact, a growing body of research suggests that listening is just as effective as reading with the eyes, and supports the use of audiobooks to enhance fluency and comprehension.

Children of all ages can also benefit from and enjoy audiobooks.  Audiobooks can augment teachers’ and parents’ ability to read with their children, and provide many, if not all, of the same benefits as the read-aloud experience. A child listening to an audiobook is being introduced to new vocabulary, hearing demonstrations of fluent phrasing and articulation, and gaining access to books he or she may be unable to read independently. By extension this creates greater opportunities for comprehension and retention.

Audiobooks can also provide unique support for struggling readers by helping them relax into the story and focus on meaning rather than decoding the text.  My thirteen-year old son, for instance, has strabismus—which means that his eyes do not always team properly. Although he enjoys reading, he finds it fatiguing, since his brain is working overtime to decipher the alternating messages it is receiving from his eyes. He has found audiobooks to be a truly valuable tool, in that he can accomplish his reading, whether for school or for pleasure, more effectively, saving energy and retaining more content. 

Children with learning disabilities such as dyslexia or ADHD may find the struggle to read (or simply to concentrate) enormously frustrating—and the associated feelings of failure that may arise can be devastating. For these children, an even greater emphasis on read-aloud is needed, as most children’s listening skills are stronger than their reading skills, and they can therefore comprehend more, especially if they read along as the book is read the book out aloud.  Here again, audiobooks can be of enormous value—especially those with accompanying texts, so as to pair reading and listening.

Among the many places and times audiobooks can be enjoyed are while driving, exercising, cleaning house or doing dishes, traveling, at the beach, or on a walk, or simply relaxing at home. Audiobooks can also provide wonderful family entertainment, and make for valuable bonding and shared discussion time. Instead of movie night or game night, why not try listening to a great book that the whole family can enjoy? Audiobooks are often narrated by great actors—you can delight in Terry Jones’s or Derek Jacobi’s versions of Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows, or listen to Jack Lemmon or Garrison Keillor narrate Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn

Audiobooks, as well as book/tape or book/CD combinations, are readily available at libraries and bookstores, and many libraries now offer downloadable audiobooks. You can also purchase them online from such sources as iTunes or Audible.com. To help guide you in your choices, Audiofile Magazine reviews nearly 400 audiobooks every two months. The Audio Publishers Association sponsors the annual “Audie Awards” for excellence in audiobooks across all genres, and the American Library Association presents the Odyssey Award for audiobooks from preschool through high school, and also provides annual lists of Notable Recordings for Children and Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults.

So in the words of the National Audibook Month campaign, “Get Caught Listening!”


EMMA WALTON HAMILTON is a best-selling children’s book author, editor and arts educator. She has co-authored twenty children’s books with her mother, Julie Andrews, five of which have been on the New York Times best-seller list. Her own book, Raising Bookworms: Getting Kids Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment (find @ your library), premiered as a #1 best-seller on Amazon.com in the literacy category.  Emma is a faculty member of Stony Brook Southampton’s MFA in Writing and Literature Program, where she directs the annual Southampton Children’s Literature Conference, and is Executive Director of the Young American Writers Project, an inter-disciplinary writing program for middle and high school students. She also works as a freelance children’s book editor and teaches picture book writing courses at the university and online. Visit emmawaltonhamilton.com for details.