The 20 Best Audio Books for Kids

By sara / January 3, 2017

There is no question that reading to your child can help improve their reading skills while also giving you some one-on-one time with your little ones. Many parents have turned to audio books as a way to encourage reading as well. Audio books are beneficial as they can be used on long road trips or even while running errands as they distract children and keep them entertained.

Audio books provide many benefits other than keeping children entertained in the car. Audio books can be extremely beneficial for struggling readers as it allows them to enjoy books that might be above their reading level. Audio books can also help students understand narrative structure while encouraging visualization, both skills necessary for reading comprehension. Most importantly, they show children that reading can be fun, especially if the narration is done well. Interestingly, many classic novels, like those written by Dickens, were meant to be read out loud.

Audio books can be purchased almost anywhere books are sold. You can purchase them in CD form from booksellers like Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble. The Apple App Store or Google Play carries downloadable formats that can be used with a smartphone. The book can be played through a car stereo or speaker just like music on the device can be played. There are online sites that offer free downloadable versions, such as MeeGenius and Storynory. Your local library is another great source for free CDs of audio books as well.

The benefits of reading to children are well-known. They help children build a stronger relationship with those who read to them and improve basic speech skills. Unfortunately, only 53 percent of children are read to, possibly because parents are working or have other distractions that make it difficult to read. Audio books can help bridge the gap, especially if the child can follow along in a written book while listening to an audio book. Most vehicles have the ability for CDs or cassettes to be played while parents are transporting children, even if it is to daycare or the grocery store, so filling that time with an audio book is a good way to keep the child entertained while also improving their learning ability. Statistics show that children ages three to five who are read to have better counting skills and 77 percent already demonstrate good reading skills. In addition, audio books encourage children to read for fun and not just because they are required to read for school.

Before choosing an audio book, it is important to keep the age of the child in mind. Children who best respond to audio books are between the ages of three and seven, but a three-year-old may be frightened by some books that are written for older children. In addition, the audio book should be narrated in a fun, exciting way rather than simply the voice of someone reading a book. These audio books are highly rated by children and are appropriate for children between the ages of three and seven. In addition, these versions are narrated in such a way children remain interested and are better able to visualize the story as it unfolds.

Rudyard Kipling wrote the “Just So Stories” for his children, and each story follows a particular theme. Each story explains how a creature was transformed from its original formation to its present appearance. The stories include “Why the Whale Got Its Throat,” “How the Camel Got its Hump,” and “How the Alphabet was Made.” The stories are told with comic exaggeration and a conversational style that will keep older children interested even though the stories are designed for younger children. It is important to note that the stories were published in 1902, so some of the narratives may be politically incorrect in today’s era. This could open a dialog among older children regarding differences in race, gender, and politics today compared with past eras.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum is a timeless classic. Even if you and your children have seen the movie many times, the audio version narrated by Jason Pomerantz provides insight into how imaginative the classic story of Dorothy, the Tinman, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion is. The Dorothy character in the audio book is younger than what is depicted in the movie while the other characters are much more silly than they are depicted in the film. Some parts may be frightening for small children, but the audio book makes them less intense than the film version.

The Cricket in Times Square, written by George Selden, was a 1961 Newbery Honor Book. The audio book version narrated by Tony Shalhoub brings the characters of Chester Cricket, Harry Cat and Tucker Mouse to life. Shaloub lets the story speak for itself, giving a unique personality to each character. The book is suitable for children as young as two and as old as ten or eleven. The story unfolds slowly, and the characters are very realistic throughout the audio book.

The Mrs. Piggle Wiggle series, written by Betty McDonald, has been a parent’s savior for decades. She has the ability to teach children to behave using her wits and knowledge. Whether a child is selfish, doesn’t tell the truth or won’t put away their toys, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle has a solution. John McDonough narrates the story, differentiating voices between children and adults. His narration of Penelope the Parrot in “Talking-Back Cure” is one of the highlights of the entire series. The books are age-appropriate for children between the ages of three and eight, although some older children may enjoy the narration of the stories.

Ramona Quimby has become one of the most popular characters in children’s books. She is not afraid of anything and is always getting into something. The Ramona Quimby Audio Collection includes eight stories of Ramona’s adventures based on the books written by Beverly Cleary and Tracy Dockray. The audio books are narrated by Stockard Channing who is able to bring the characters to life and provide children with a visual of how the story is unfolding. Channing adds humor to stories that are already somewhat humorous. Although the books are designed for children six and older, even younger children will be amused at the antics of Ramona, her friends, and her family.

15. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

The classic Ian Fleming novel comes to life in the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang audiobook. The story is narrated by David Tennant, and he speaks to the listener as if they were old friends. The story itself is attractive to children of almost any age since it is about a flying car. There are funny lines in the book that are accentuated by Tennant keeping children entertained throughout. The book version is different than the Disney movie version that starred Dick Van Dyke so parents who are familiar with the book through the movie may note the differences. There are a series of books including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Rides Again, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Race Against Time and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Over the Moon. The series is not sold together, so parents will need to purchase or download each one separately.

The Junie B. Jones series written by Barbara Park is well-known to many parents who probably read the series when they were young. There are several audio collections available which allow children to hear the adventures of Junie B. Jones. Lana Quintal, who narrates the audio books, has been praised for capturing the voice and personality of Junie B. completely. Quintal uses a realistic child’s voice for Junie B. which keeps children as young as three and as old as ten entertained. The audio book is just as funny as the written books that children have loved for decades. There are several collections available so parents and children can enjoy Junie B. even on very long road trips.

Written by Daniel Pinkwater, the Hoboken Chicken Emergency is the hysterical story of a 266-pound chicken. Pinkwater also narrates his story that is quickly becoming a favorite among children. It has been called funny and “surprisingly sophisticated” for a children’s book. Young children will enjoy the antics of Henrietta while even children of middle school age will enjoy the sense of humor and imagination in the book. There is even a political lesson included in the story regarding con artists and scams. The narration is positive and children will enjoy the way the story unfolds.

Matilda, written by Roald Dahl and narrated by Kate Winslet, tells the story of a sweet, exceptional child. Matilda was one of the last books published by Dahl in 1988 before his death in 1990. The book stands alone among children’s books, actually referring to C.S. Lewi and Tolkien as great writers who were not very funny. Winslet's narration brings Matilda to life, letting children of all ages get a glimpse inside the book as she creates a visual of what life for Matilda must be like. Some of the books may seem dark as Matilda’s parents come very close to neglecting her and the head mistress of her school is outrageously evil. Overall, it could spark discussion with children about dealing with bullying, even when the bully is an adult.

The Boxcar Children are orphaned siblings who make a home for themselves in an abandoned boxcar in the woods until one of them gets sick. Once they are reunited with their grandfather, many adventures ensue in this series by Gertrude Chandler Warner. Phyllis Newman narrates the collection, bringing Henry, Jessie, Violet and Bennie to life along with the many characters they come into contact with in their new town and on their grandfather’s island. Children as young as five can relate to the characters while older children will enjoy the antics the children become involved in. The narration is easy to listen to, and Newman can clearly differentiate between characters.

Rudyard Kipling’s story of Mowgli, Bagheera, Baloo and Shere Khan is brought to life by narrator Meredith Hughes. The audio book is entertaining for all ages, from very small children to adults. It is an excellent adaptation for long family trips as Hughes’ narration keeps the story flowing in a way that makes listeners want to know what happens next. The audio book also includes several short stories written by Kipling including “The White Seal,” “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,” and “Toomai of the Elephants.”

C.S. Lewis published the Chronicles of Narnia between 1950 and 1956 and more than 100 million copies have been sold of the print version of the seven novels which include “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe,” “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” and “The Last Battle.” The entire series, narrated by Chrissi Hart, is now available in an audio format that provides adults and children with many hours of reading time. Hart brings Narnia’s secret world to life and children of all ages will enjoy the fantastic tales that are included in the book. Although the books are allegedly included in the order, C.S. Lewis intended them to be read; some say that reading them in a different order gives them a different meaning that is meant for adults.

Adults and children will enjoy Appleblossom the Possum in audio book form. The story is narrated by Academy Award-winning actor, Dustin Hoffman and tells the tale of Holly Goldberg Sloan’s loveable character, Appleblossom. The story is about a newborn possum making her way to her mother’s pouch with views of the nightlife of adult possums. There is music on a rooftop and even a conga line in the story that is destined to become a childhood classic. Hoffman’s own granddaughter was jealous that he was able to play the role of Appleblossom as it was one of the one-year-old's favorite books.

Written by Roald Dahl and narrated by Douglas Hodge, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory focuses on Charlie Bucket, a boy who is honest and brave. Unlike the film, the book does not focus on Willy Wonka, but instead looks at the story from Charlie’s point of view. Hodge is able to convey what Charlie is doing and feeling as well as portraying Veruca Salt, Violet Beuregarde, Mike Teavee and Willy Wonka. As Hodge weaves the tale, the listener is transported to the chocolate factory that no one had visited for years. Children of all ages, and even some adults, will love the whimsical tale and the moral it conveys at the end.

The story of a housepainter who receives penguins from Admiral Drake, written by Florence and Richard Atwater, has become a favorite since its release in 1938. It became a movie starring Jim Carrey and is now available on audio book, narrated by Nick Sullivan. The book provides children with many lessons including why people daydream, geography and culture of other areas of the world as well as helping them learn more about penguins. Sullivan’s narration keeps listeners entertained as he describes the antics of the penguins as well as conveying the depression suffered by the original penguin before the arrival of a female companion. Prior to the release of the movie, few people were aware of the book, but it has grown in popularity and is an excellent option as an audio book.

Little House on the Prairie, written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, tells the story of Laura and her family as they move to Indian country in Plum Creek, Minnesota. The audio book is narrated by Cherry Jones, a Tony Award-winning actress and there is music provided by Paul Woodiel, an accomplished fiddler, and violinist. The audio books are easier for young children to follow, unlike the written books which can be too slow-moving for children under the age of five. Adults who grew up watching the popular television show will also enjoy the audio book with their children. In addition to the initial Little House on the Prairie book, other books in the series are available for download or on CD.

4. Adventures of Hank the Cowdog

Released in 2008, the Adventures of Hank the Cowdog has quickly grown in popularity among children ages five to eight. In the first of the series, Hank resigns as Head of Ranch Security and joins an outlaw band of coyotes. The audio book is written and narrated by John R. Erickson who easily differentiates characters and gives the listener a visual of what is happening in each scene. He conveys to the reader his love of dogs and children clearly understand the moral of each story. There are humorous aspects for both children and adults, so parents will enjoy listening to the stories as much as the children. Erickson includes songs that are very engaging and many parents say that their children listened to the audio books so often, they memorized many of the stories. There are many Hank the Cowdog adventures available, both in download form and on CD or cassette.

Mary Pope Osborne narrates her own book series, The Magic Treehouse, the story of Jack and Annie who find a treehouse filled with books. The treehouse takes the siblings on a series of adventures based on the books they choose to read. The first collection contains books one through eight, including “Dinosaurs Before Dark,” “The Knight at Dawn” and “Mummies in the Morning,” along with five others. The stories captivate children as young as three and as old as six or seven, although some older children may find the books to be slightly childish. Some parents have found that children improve their reading by listening to the audio version while following along with the printed book.

The story of the mouse born to a family of humans, Stuart Little, has been a favorite for many years. The book was written by E.B. White, and the audio version is narrated by Julie Harris. Stuart Little has been criticized as a children’s book as children may find parts to be boring, and some of the humor included in the written version is geared more for adults. There is also language that is archaic and most of the printed books have few illustrations. However, the audio version, with the Harris’ excellent narration makes the book easier for children to follow. Because the book was written in 1945, some cultural references are outdated, such as gender roles, but these are secondary in the audio book as children grasp the other aspects of the book which is that, although Stuart faces significant obstacles as a mouse in a human world, he overcomes them with enthusiasm. The narration conveys each character’s personality so that the listener gets a glimpse inside the written word, as if they are sitting in a room with the characters as the action takes place.

For generations, E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web has been a beloved classic. The story of Charlotte and Wilbur captivates children as young as two and three while older children and adults are touched by the friendship Wilbur and Charlotte develop throughout the book. The book turns a spider, a creature who many children may view with fear, a heroine. Narrated by George Plimpton, the audio book helps listeners better appreciated the meaning of the book. Children can feel what it is like to live on a farm, even when they may never have visited one.