Audio books are enormously popular at the library where I work, with many patrons returning their 10 CD items just to pick up a new selection. Whether it is truck drivers, IRS workers, stay-at-home moms, or folks with long commutes, adults praise audio books as fantastic ways to make their day go by faster and get some reading in. Audio books are equally popular with kids and teens at my branch, but somehow there seems to be more of a negative connotation connected to kids and audio books. Somehow people seem to think that if a kid listens to the book they are cheating, but in reality listening to books, rather then reading, offers its own set of literacy skills, and can actually help kids become better readers.
Some of the benefits of audio books:
- Improve critical listening skills
- Improve vocabulary and pronunciation skills (more likely to use words you have heard and can say, than ones you have just read)
- Enjoy stories, rather then struggle with words.
- Demonstrate how to read fluently, including important skills like pacing, intonation, and phrasing.
- Expand access to materials, so kids can enjoy stories that they do not have the reading skills to read.
- Help struggling readers to develop their skills, both by following along with the text as they listen and by improving their comprehension of what they have read.
In Guy’s Listen, Jon Scieszka has attempted to draw attention to some of these literacy benefits to encourage boys to read or listen. The literacy advantages, however, are the same regardless of gender and age, which is why audio books are such an important part of a library collection. There are a number of interesting articles and handouts on the BooksonTape website, which is admittedly commercial in nature. But the content is true regardless of where you buy your audio books, they can enhance reading and books in a way that is not cheating. So the next time a kid wants the audio of The Scarlett Letter rather than the text, consider that listening to the text may make him or her a better reader then trying to wade through the printed version.