Audiobooks as a Literacy Tool

“The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.Jim Trelease, author of The Read Alound Handbook

audiobook kids

The Benefits of Reading Aloud

When I attended college back in the 1990’s, we elementary education majors got an earful about the 1985 findings of the U.S. Department of Education’s Commission on Reading. Study after study was telling us that reading to children is one of the very best ways to help children become successful readers.

That consensus hasn’t changed much in the intervening years. It’s a philosophy that was pushed heavily in the schools where I worked. When I stopped teaching to raise a family and it became apparent that two of my kids struggled with varying degrees of dyslexia, I read widely on the subject. Guess what the experts recommended? Reading aloud in a variety of formats: teachers reading to students, students reading to teachers, teachers reading chorally with their students, students reading chorally with other students, students performing practiced text aloud to an audience, students recording practiced text, etc, etc, etc.

brainAgain and again studies suggest that listening provides many of the same benefits as reading. And it seems that taking in language audibly and visually creates connections within different parts of the brain that aid a variety of reading skills: decoding, comprehension, increased vocabulary, fluency, word recognition…

I opted to homeschool my low readers so I could impliment these suggestions liberally throughout the school day and across the curriculum. It was a wise decision. Though they aren’t quite up to grade level, their proficiency has improved by leaps and bounds over the last few years.

Audiobooks: A Practical Solution

But very few teachers have a 1:2 teacher to student ratio. And parents may not have time to read aloud as much as they would like to. Let me suggest a very practical solution: audiobooks.

Many teachers I know actually record themselves reading classroom books and provide their students with MP3 players so they can listen while reading along. I did this with my boys. It’s a great way for kids to practice reading without direct help. But pre-recording all those books takes a lot of time. And the quality? Um… Let’s just say listening to professional voice artists is far more enjoyable. Reading along can be really FUN!

But aren’t audiobooks expensive?

They don’t have to be! If you buy an ebook on Amazon, the audiobook is often available for a ridiculously low price. For example, the audiobook for The Candle Star lists on Amazon for $14.95. But if you purchase the ebook for 99 cents, you have the option of adding the audiobook for another $1.99. That is a significant savings! Just look for “Add Audible narration” on the page listing.


I don’t know how to listen to an audiobook.

No problem. You can turn any device you own into an audiobook player (Kindle Fire, Kindle Touch, Kindle Keyboard, Android phone, iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad, Android tablets, even your PC or MP3 player). Just download the appropriate app and bingo! You’re listening.

If you’re still not certain you want to jump onboard the audio bandwagon, let me suggest that audiobooks are absolutely AWESOME for family road trips. (They’re not bad for work commutes, lawn mowing, cooking, or other brain-free, hands-busy moments either.)

We have a growing selection of kid-friendly audibooks here on Emblazon, often for dirt cheap through Amazon’s narration option. Now that you know about that little secret, you can watch for it on thousands of Amazon titles.

Audiobooks should never replace the special one-on-one time a parent and child share reading books together. But they’re an effective, practical, and inexpensive option for all those other “listenable” moments. Pick one out to enjoy with your family today.


Michelle Isenhoff is a former teacher, current homeschool mom, and reviewer on her award-winning children’s lit blog, Bookworm Blather. Listen to samples of her audibooks here.


About Michelle Isenhoff

MICHELLE ISENHOFF has been reader-nominated for a Cybils Award, the Great Michigan Read, and the Maine Student Book Award. She's also placed as a semi-finalist in the Kindle Book Review Book Awards and been named a finalist in the kid-judged Wishing Shelf Book Awards. A former teacher and current homeschooler, Michelle has been lauded by the education community for the literary quality of her work, which is regularly purchased for classroom use.

15 thoughts on “Audiobooks as a Literacy Tool

  1. What a great insight into the growing world of audio books. I’ve only ever listened to one–but I can see the benefits of sharing stories in this way. Thanks for an insightful post. I’ll be looking into purchasing more audiobooks.

  2. Wonderful post! I have used audiobooks (on cd’s and even the older cassettes) on long road trips, but they were always so expensive. I have never tried the apps or listening on iPad or kindle, so I really appreciate your information, esp. the idea of ebook/audiobook add-on at a much cheaper option. Can’t wait to listen to books I already have on my devices but would like to also listen to when I am driving or otherwise busy. And, I agree, hearing books read to them is great for kids in many ways. Fantastic information. Thanks.

  3. Thank you, Monique, Lisa, and Kathy. (And thanks to Susan Kaye Quinn who contributed much of the info in the “But aren’t audiobooks expensive?” and “I don’t know how to listen” paragraphs.)

    Yes, digital technology has made prices go down considerably. I still prefer to read, but audio definitely has its place. My boys and I are currently reading along with the entire Harry Potter series together, and the audiobook is saving me from voicing the entire 4,195 pages.

  4. I read to my son all the time when he was little, and then he began reading to me. He excels in all school work, and much of it can be attributed to his ability to read and understand texts in a variety of styles. My daughter resisted reading time because she wanted to run and play–even if I was reading aloud (and I do voices!). She resisted it so much that now she really struggles with reading and, consequently, all school work. The advent of the audiobook has rekindled her interest in listening to books and following along, and I’m grateful that the technology has progressed so much that the cost can drop.

    1. I have the same split, Lia, but opposite. My girl reads and excels. My boys couldn’t care less and do not. But they prefer audio to do-it-yourself if they have to. I make them follow along.

  5. Thanks for the timely post, Michelle. My granddaughter is in first grade and seems to be falling behind in her reading skills. We read to her daily, and she loves books, but maybe I’ll try pushing more of the audio books on her and see if that helps.

    1. It’ll most likely be a slow help, Cordelia, but a help nonetheless. Some kids just need lots more time, repetition, and practice that others.

  6. Yay! Audiobooks! I’ve found, though, that I have to invest myself 100% in them, so I [literally] zone out and focus on the book. Which isn’t bad, just time consuming (plus my Kindle doesn’t have that good volume.)

    1. Me too, Erik. I have to really focus. I’m very visually oriented, not auditory. I’d guess you’re the same as me. I almost have to either read along or close my eyes (which isn’t good for multitasking!). Otherwise my mind wanders. I can read much faster silently, so I rarely listen to audio unless it’s with my boys. I do love to hear the different characters, though!

  7. Kudos to you, Michelle, making so much progress with your boys. They’re blessed to have you as their mother. This is an excellent blog post. I’m a big fan of Jim Trelease and I love audio books. My book, Curse of the Double Digits, is also on audio book. I really need to promote it more. When I do, I’ll add the link to this post and I’ll probably add quotes of some of your comments. Nice going!

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