10 of the Best Audiobooks for Children
We all try to encourage our children to read, but but the easiest way to do this is to get your children to want to read on their own. The best way to do this is to nurture their thirst for narrative, for stories filled with characters and events that they’ll need to remember and keep track of. It might seem very obvious, but acclimatising children to these kinds of details early increases the odds that they’ll enjoy reading when the time comes for them to pick up more books of their own.
Obviously, you could take the time to read to your children yourself, but there will always be times when having someone else read a book for you makes more sense. Anyone who has ever taken their children on a long drive will probably see the value in bringing along an audiobook, and they’re an excellent way of ensuring that children have something to look forward to at bedtime.
With that in mind, we’ve gathered a list of some of the best audiobooks for kids of all ages.
J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Your children are probably already well aware of Harry Potter, though more likely they've followed his adventures on the screen rather than on the page. By contrast, the books unfold more slowly and afford children a more detailed look at the nuances of J. K. Rowling's wizarding world.
Given their suitability for a broad range of ages, the Harry Potter series are some of the best audiobooks for families. Moreover, they're narrated by the inimitable Stephen Fry, whose reading carries a genuine warmth and enthusiasm for the prose that's totally infectious. This is one of those audiobooks you can buy "for the kids" and then slyly listen to yourself.
Michael Morpurgo: Kensuke’s Kingdom
Kensuke's Kingdom is a perfect example of that once-stalwart branch of children's literature, the desert-island-adventure. The book follows Michael, a young boy whose parents take him to sail the seven seas. When he is inevitably marooned on an island in the Pacific, Michael befriends an elderly Japanese man, Kensuke, who teaches him how to live off the land.
This is a little more grounded and serious, but its relatively few characters mean that it's easy for children to follow. The narration is delivered in classic style by Derek Jacobi, more famous for his work on I, Claudius and, more recently, children's TV sensation In the Night Garden.
C. S. Lewis: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
C.S. Lewis’ children’s classic The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe introduces children to the fantasy kingdom of Narnia, populated by an imaginative cast of mythical creatures. The book tells the story of four children who are magically transported to the extra-planar dimension by an old wardrobe. One of the best things about this book is that, as with Harry Potter, you can listen to the first book or two, and then casually suggest that your children read some of the later ones. We couldn't possibly advocate that you lie to your children and tell them that there are no audiobooks of the later books... but it's one option.
The narration here is by Michael York, whose delivery is particularly strong when it comes to providing memorable voices for Narnia’s cast of strange and wonderful characters. This can be helpful for younger children who might have difficulty keeping a host of characters clear in their minds.
E. B. White: Charlotte’s Web
First published in 1952, E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web became an almost instant classic. The book describes the relationship between a pig, Wilbur, and a spider, Charlotte, living in the same barn. When the two learn that Wilbur is to be slaughtered, he and Charlotte attempt to save him by having Charlotte weave webs with messages indicating that Wilbur is “terrific” and “some pig.”
What is perhaps best is that this audiobook is narrated by E. B. White himself, giving that strange degree of insight into a text’s intonation that only the original author can ever give. Children might appreciate that a little less, but White is also a strong narrator in his own right, and the book flows naturally.
Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is notable here not only because of its status as a classic of children’s literature, but also for its excellent use of nonsense words to draw children in. Like so many Victorian children’s stories, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland never panders to its audience. As a result, the vocabulary is rich and varied, offering children a chance to learn new words by hearing them with context and inflection. That alone would almost be reason enough to recommend it, but given the book’s excellent pacing and structure, it’s a particular favourite.
There are those who’ll argue that the book suffers without the illustrations, but that can only be another way to encourage your children to pick up the book afterward and see for themselves.
Roald Dahl: Revolting Rhymes
Since the release of the film adaptation of The BFG last year, there's been a huge upsurge in interest in Roald Dahl's stories for children. While the stories are excellent in themselves, not least thanks to Dahl's flair for neologism, there's an immediate appeal to his rhyming that's hard not to enjoy. They're often genuinely repulsive, there are few things that can hold a child's attention quite like the gross...
The narration here is provided by Stephen Mangan, Tamsin Greig, and Miriam Margoyles, all of whom better known for their acting, but excellent readers.
Norton Juster: The Phantom Tollbooth
Not entirely unlike Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Phantom Tollbooth introduces children to a wide range of wordplay, which is particularly fun to listen to (whether you’re a child or not). The book indulges a sense of adventure not only in its story, but also in the way that it uses language itself.
Obviously, if you’re of that strange caste that simply cannot abide a pun, then The Phantom Tollbooth will plunge you into an unending nightmare in which your children simply won’t stop punning, but it’s probably worth it if it instills a love of reading in them… right?
Kenneth Grahame: The Wind in the Willows
Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows is a beloved childhood classic that, like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, pulls no punches when it comes to childhood vocabulary. Here again, hearing the words in context can make it an awful lot easier for children to come to a natural understanding of a new word’s meaning (and if you’re listening to the books with your children, there’s also the opportunity to simply have them ask what a given word means).
Vocabulary aside, the book takes place in a fictional countryside in which anthropomorphic animals go on a series of adventures that are, at their core, cozy and charming. The scrapes that Badger and Ratty get into never quite seem too serious
P. L. Travers: Mary Poppins
Mary Poppins is an abiding children’s classic, made all the more popular by its 1964 Disney movie adaptation. For children who loved the movie, the audiobook is an excellent accompaniment, as well a strong introduction to the series proper, which offers another seven books for children to sink their teeth into once they’ve finished Mary Poppins.
This is a perfect fit for children who might not be interested in the flights of fancy that can otherwise seem to be typical children’s storybook fare. While there are fantastic elements, they’re more subdued than in something like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
A. A. Milne: Winnie the Pooh
Winnie-the-Pooh is another book that is often better remembered by children for its Disney adaptation than for the book itself. For those of us who love A. A. Milne’s writing style, this can seem like a terrible waste. Milne’s prose has a genuinely lovely, playful tone and a rhythm that sets if apart from the overwhelming majority of other children’s literature.
Moreover, the narration for this audiobook in particular is a real treat. The book is read by a team that includes Stephen Fry and Judy Dench, both of whom are among the best people to hear narrate a storybook (regardless of your age). Taken together, this represents a near-perfect marriage of text and voice that’s almost a pitch perfect ending to any must-read audiobook list.