Ears on the Odyssey

The Power of Picture Books

Picture book audiobooks accommodate all learning styles and create powerhouse readers. Sarah Hashimoto explores the benefits of audiobooks for young readers.

As a public librarian, I often hear parents and even teachers telling kids that the only reading that “counts” is traditional reading—reading with your eyes and sounding out the words independently. And yes, it’s awesome when a child is able to read on their own. So awesome! Because now they can curl up with books and immerse themselves in stories and adventures, and they can decide where this reading adventure is going to go.

But…all kids are different, and some are bewildered and stressed by linear print. And that stress can impede their progress as they struggle to become good readers. The fact is that we all learn a little differently. Some people love typed words on pages; some need pictures and graphics; and some require an auditory component.

This is where picture book audiobooks really come into play. Picture book audiobooks are especially important for young learners because they can open up new and exciting ways of engaging with books. Combining more than one type of learning style can create powerhouse learners from the get-go. Here are just a few of the ways that picture book audiobooks can help young readers:

  • Sound effects, music, oh my! Many picture books fully exploit the audio medium with well-placed sound effects and evocative music in order to provide a multi-sensory learning experience. These audio extras provide richness and depth, and honestly, they’re just so fun! Who wouldn’t want to keep reading?
  • Decreasing decoding depression. Decoding words is really hard for young readers. Many times, the process of decoding is so arduous that kids forget what they were reading in the first place. They lose the thread of the story and can only remember the last word that they read. Audiobooks help kids to focus on the story’s meaning, allowing the words to decode before their eyes while they enjoy the story itself.
  • Words, glorious words! Audiobooks allow young learners to access language and vocabulary that they can’t sound out for themselves. They can hear words being pronounced correctly, and they get a feel for fluent and natural language. This is a huge plus with diverse books, as parents and caretakers may not know how to pronounce certain words, but they can be confident that the narrator is there to help.
  • Narrators rock! We know that storytellers can be magical, and we treasure memories of people telling bedtime stories and reading to us when we were young. These stories are special because of the connection that we feel with the storyteller, and also because they are meant to be performed. The best audiobooks are exactly the same, with talented narrators that turn words on the page into magic for the ears.

Picture book audiobooks have come a long way in recent years, and they are well worth checking out. Listening and learning along with a young reader is an amazing experience, sure to ignite a love of books that can last a lifetime. So let’s get to it…ready, set, listen!

Here are a few picture books that caught our attention in recent months. Thanks to Ears on the Odyssey contributor, Emily Calkins, for her help in writing these reviews!

Dear Boy, by Paris Rosenthal and Jason Rosenthal, read by Paris Rosenthal. 4 minutes. HarperAudio, 2019.

Dear Boy, written by Paris Rosenthal and her father, Jason Rosenthal, is a follow-up to Dear Girl, which Paris co-wrote with her mother, the late Amy Krause Rosenthal. Paris also narrates this title, and it’s very similar in both positive and negative ways. Her narration is warm and animated, but sometimes sounds forced instead of natural. The book has speech bubbles that are inserted into the text; this works nicely if the listener is also reading the book, but disrupts the flow and rhythm of the text and is confusing if a listener isn’t following along with the text. Like Dear Girl, Dear Boy is nice but not notable.

I Need a Hug, by Aaron Blabey, read by Ramón de Ocampo. 8 minutes. Scholastic Audio, 2019.

Aaron Blabey’s I Need a Hug is the story of a persistent porcupine, determined to get a hug from someone–anyone! He is rebuffed by all of the forest creatures until he meets Snake, who ends up being the perfect friend for a sweet cuddle. This picture book is short on words and big on meaningful looks and pauses. Narrator Ramón de Ocampo uses appropriate voices for all of the animals and ably communicates the humor that is so integral to the text. Additional sound effect words (e.g., “boink, boink, boink”) are added to the audio in order to bridge the gap between the pictures and the audio. Springy music runs throughout, keeping the tone light and cheerful. A simple, yet charming audio that is perfect for emerging readers.

The Very Impatient Caterpillar, by Ross Burach, read by Matt Braver and Sisi Aisha Johnson. 16 minutes. Scholastic Audio, 2019.

The Very Impatient Caterpillar is a super funny, but sneakily educational take on metamorphosis and the importance of waiting for all the good things to come. Our impatient caterpillar haplessly follows each step in the process of metamorphosis (“meta-WHAT-now?”) until he becomes a beautiful butterfly. In the book, each character speaks with their own color-coded speech bubble, making it easier for young readers to distinguish between the two. Happily, the audiobook follows this pattern, too, with narrators Ross Burach and Sisi Aisha Johnson playing distinctly separate roles. Character voices fit our caterpillar friends to a T, with the impatient caterpillar being loud and histrionic, and his friend being calm and collected. A thoroughly engaging audio, fun for parents and kids alike!

A Piglet Named Mercy, by Kate DiCamillo, read by Mark Bramhall. 6 minutes. Listening Library, 2019.

Beloved pig Mercy Watson gets an origin story in this charming recounting of the day that Mercy fell off a truck and came into Mr. and Mrs. Watson’s life. Veteran narrator Mark Bramhall is a wonderful choice to narrate this story, lending a warm, old-fashioned tone that complements the illustrations perfectly. With a measured pace, he tells the story of how Mercy shook up the neighborhood, ensuring that the Watson’s lives would never be predictable again. Character voices are easily distinguishable, but not overdone. Crabbily skeptical Eugenia Lincoln is a particular delight, balanced with her generous and kind sister, Baby Lincoln. A gentle listen for new readers, and a lovely accompaniment to the book.

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