8 Dec 2011

On audiobooks

I wonder what you all think of audiobooks. SCM seem to think that a lot of homeschoolers use them. Do you?

My brother loves them. Enough that he even bought a specially designed waterproof iPod so that he could listen to books while he swims laps. (He says it works well, but that the water makes quite a lot of background noise. In case you're interested.)

One of my bloggy pals, a single mum, homeschooled her two children whilst working full time. They covered a significant proportion of the AO literature list by listening to audiobooks in the car to and from work. Without them she would have struggled to find time to cover the curriculum. Nowadays the drive to work is done alone, but my friend, a voracious reader, continues to listen to many of her books in the car. She often comments that a particular narrator has enhanced her pleasure in a particular series, or conversely that a poorly selected narration has destroyed the book for her.

I haven't used audiobooks much, but we do have two. The Loaded Dog and more Classic Favourites by Henry Lawson is read by Colin Friels. Friels has a great voice - strong and distinctly Australian, without becoming a parody of Australiana.He articulates well, and I find him a pleasure to listen to. My only criticism of this audiobook comes from the author himself, Henry Lawson. When I read these stories aloud, I do some judicious editing to remove the profanities and blasphemies, thereby making the classic Aussie stories acceptable for their 9 yo audience. Colin doesn't do this, and I find his use of God's name unacceptable. Sadly.

The other audiobook is also read by Colin. C J Dennis' A Book for Kids. This one is great, and I highly recommend it if you can get a hold of it somewhere. The problem with this one, for me, is that the print version of this book is one of our dear friends, and I'm afraid Colin just doesn't read the poems right. He doesn't know when I pause, and when I-read-really-fast-and-run-all-the-words-together and when I wait for Jemimah to fill in the missing word. He doesn't know because he is not my daughter's mummy. I am.

They tell me that there are a lot of advantages to audiobooks. Apparently they improve reading comprehension and critical thinking skills. Your auditory processing improves, as does your memory. Apparently you are better able to analyse a book that you listen to rather than one you read. They will get your non-reader interested in reading. They will develop vocabulary and pronunciation, and encourage and nurture a love of reading.


Some of these claims may, indeed be true, in that the audiobook is simply a story read aloud. The skills that Jemimah has attained from read-aloud books are impressive, particularly in her vocabulary, auditory comprehension and listening skills. Jemimah's ability to listen to the spoken word developed from a one time reading, translates to so many situations - the sermon in Church on Sunday; a list of instructions by her parents (pick up your clothes, brush your teeth, refill your drinking glass and hop into bed, please. Let me know when you're ready for a story.) All of these skills apply directly to audiobooks as well, I feel sure. Other claims I am less convinced about. I can't see how a child's reading comprehension improves, for example, by listening to a book on tape (or its modern equivalent!). Most importantly, I do not see that audiobooks nurture a love of reading. In fact, I am inclined to think they do the opposite, cultivating a lazy child who is not willing to master the mechanics of reading for himself. Miss Mason speaks of this in Home Education:
We must remember the natural inertness of a child's mind; give him the habit of being read to, and he will steadily shirk the labour of reading for himself; indeed, we all like to be spoon-fed with our intellectual meat, or we should read and think more for ourselves and be less eager to run after lectures.

Home Education p228
Later she says:
A child has not begun his education until he has acquired the habit of reading to himself, with interest and pleasure, books fully on a level with his intelligence...Once the habit of reading his lesson-book with delight is set up in a child, his education is - not completed, but - ensured; he will go on for himself in spite of the obstructions which school too commonly throws in his way. ibid p229
The real reason that I don't use audiobooks is because one day when I'm dead and gone, I want Jemimah to remember my voice when she thinks of the Triantiwontigongolope and recites it for her own children. I want her to pause where I do: So try. (pause) Tri (longer pause) Tri-anti-wonti- (even longer pause, and then running quickly together:) Triantiwontigongolope! That's the right way to say it, Colin Friels. Why? Because that's the way I know it, and that's the way I want my daughter to know it. That's all. It's just right.

A friend recently was reminiscing over the audiobook of Jonathan Toomey: "I hope you got Jonathan with the cd - it is wonderful in the car at night to hear such a lovely story...we lost our cd in a car accident, but I can still hear it in my mind 'pish posh...'" See, this is my point. I don't want to remember the sound of a narrator utter Jonathan's 'pish posh'. That's my part. I want Jemimah to remember me saying it. I make him sound all English. He's not of course, but my Jonathan Toomey has quite a plumy English upper class accent. Don't know why, but he does. That's just the way it is.

Speaking of which, I can see an advantage of audiobooks with accents. I would love to have read the Brer Rabbit book by Joel Chandler Harris to Jemimah in the original African-American dialect:
"'Hit's so much trouble fer ter kindle a fier,' sez Brer Fox, sezee, 'dat I speck I'll hatter hang you,' sezee.

"'Hang me des ez high as you please, Brer Fox,' sez Brer Rabbit, sezee, but do fer de Lord's sake don't fling me in dat brier-patch,' sezee.

"'I ain't got no string,' sez Brer Fox, sezee, en now I speck I'll hatter drown you,' sezee.

"'Drown me des ez deep ez you please, Brer Fox,' sez Brer Rabbit, sezee, 'but do don't fling me in dat brier-patch,' sezee.

"'Dey ain't no water nigh,' sez Brer Fox, sezee, 'en now I speck I'll hatter skin you,' sezee.

"'Skin me, Brer Fox,' sez Brer Rabbit, sezee, 'snatch out my eyeballs, t'ar out my years by de roots, en cut off my legs,' sezee, but do please, Brer Fox, don't fling me in dat brier-patch,' sezee.

"Co'se Brer Fox wanter hurt Brer Rabbit bad ez he kin, so he cotch 'im by de behime legs en slung 'im right in de middle er de brier-patch. Dar wuz a considerbul flutter whar Brer Rabbit struck de bushes, en Brer Fox sorter hang 'roun' fer ter see w'at wuz gwineter happen. Bimeby he hear somebody call 'im, en way up de hill he see Brer Rabbit settin' crosslegged on a chinkapin log koamin' de pitch outen his har wid a chip. Den Brer Fox know dat he bin swop off mighty bad. Brer Rabbit wuz bleedzed fer ter fling back some er his sass, en he holler out:

"'Bred en bawn in a brier-patch, Brer Fox-bred en bawn in a brier-patch!' en wid dat he skip out des ez lively ez a cricket in de embers."
Nope, Sorry, this white Aussie girl ain't gonna attempt that. No siree, I sez. An audiobook of Brer Rabbit would have been marvellous. An audiobook of Rabbie Burn's poems would be too. I just can't roll my Rs like my Dad.

Apart from examples like these, though, I'm going to stick with read alouds. As the time I have left to read to my daughter diminishes as her skill in reading increases, I'm going to make the most of every minute I have left. I'm going to snuggle together on the sofa with my daughter and read, read, read. I'll edit the American grammar (and references to 'barfing' - what kind of a word is that, I ask you?) in The Penderwicks, and remove the profanities in Little Britches. I'll omit the references to evolution in our natural history books, and edit the brothel scene in Playing Beatie Bow. I'll make Granny Tallisker sound Scottish, and Abigail (formerly Lynette) sound like an Aussie. My Jonathan Toomey will be English. Rosalind, Skye, Jane and Batty speak like nice Australian girls, their Professor father sounds absent and dreamy and pronounces his Latin the Classical way, like we do. I'll attempt the Yorkshire accent in Lassie. Sometimes when it gets exciting I run-all-the-words-together-into-a-big-long-phrase-with-no-punctuation. When it gets scary I pause. When it gets predictable I expect everyone to guess what happens next. When the suspense is killing I stop in the middle of a chapter. Hah! I'm cruel.

When she is grown, I hope Jemimah remembers these days with pleasure. I hope she will be able to hear her old friends speaking aloud to her, each in her own special voice. And behind it all, I hope she hears the love in her mother's voice as she says, Try. Tri. Triantiwonti. Triantiwontigongolope.


  1. Again, I sez, these are the posts that keep me entirely tuned into you, Jeanne. I too will continue to read aloud everything (except Shakespeare--we love Arkangel productions!) I can for as long as I can for the very same reason: may they remember the warmth of my love in the many characters I've brought to life for them. And, someday I hope they learn how much American "grammar' I too have corrected for their sakes.

    Oh, friend, you should hear my Brer. ;)

  2. I totally, like, would love to hear your Brer!!!!!!!!Totally.

  3. This reminds me of "Chicken Soup for the Soul Christmas Treasury.". A grown daughter asks her dad to record "A Night Before Christmas." because it reminds her of him reading it when she was young.

  4. Some good points here Jeanne! I personally don't like audio books but Rebekah listens to stories on cd a lot in her free time, but I now see the danger in letting her do this too much, I don't want her to lose her love of reading so will have to rectify that or perhaps monitor it better:)

  5. I had to read that Brer Rabbit selection out loud just for the fun of it!

    I am totally with you on this, Jeanne. There are a few audio books that we have enjoyed, but since I love doing it myself so much I don't see the need to go out and buy audio versions. The only ones we have used are from the Christian school library, which is pretty limited - some better than others. We tried Librivox a couple of times, but I find that I (and my kids) are just too picky about the reading. I haven't found many that I enjoy listening to - I also get annoyed when the reader changes from chapter to chapter. Audio books read by the author are the best in our experience - which eliminates the dead ones!

    We do really like the Focus on the Family dramatized version of the Narnia books.

    Anyway, like you, I want my kids to remember Mom's reading - and, I enjoy it too much to give it up to audio books!

  6. Nope, we have never done them. I read Star chapter books from an early age ~ same result re vocably & attention span. We also used to lie in bed & tell stories to each other. Great for developing sequencing/logic skills. I like the personal touch of reading together: the cuddles & snuggles & extras. Did you not all gnash your terrible teeth & show your terrible claws & roar a terrible roar while reading aloud Where the Wild Things Are? If not, why not? lol

  7. We have a few books on tape and CD, but don't generally use them for school. My kids seem to follow better when it is a familiar voice reading (mine) than when they have to get used to someone else's. With our middle one, I used an audio of Robinson Crusoe; with our youngest, I read it out loud to her, and I think she tuned into it better than her older sister did. Also, as you say, there is the occasional need to edit things out (for my hyper-sensitive 10yo, that would be the cannibal details in RC). Plus we do like to play with accents too.

    On the other hand, I have occasionally enjoyed audio books myself, particularly when I wasn't sure how to pronounce things. A cassette I had years ago of Alan Paton reading his Cry, The Beloved Country helped a lot with the Zulu and Afrikaans words in the book.

    Katherine Paterson wrote that she always mentally hears Kipling's stories in her mother's Georgia (southern U.S.) accent, since that's the way she first heard them.

  8. Do you want to submit this to the next CM carnival? (Please?)

  9. Great post. Interesting public school note on this. After being forced to read aloud every word of Johnny Tremain and having the book ruined by lackluster reading, my daughters Freshman class staged a mini-revolt and got to listen to "To Kill A Mockingbird." Unlike poor Johnny they loved it! Of course that was with the STUDENTS reading Johnny.

    My kids have books they fondly remember me reading to them that MUST be read in a certain way. Example: In the Rhyme Story Bible (my son's absolute favorite childhood book) the story of Jonah is always read in the style of a rap song!!! Pooh always says "oh bother" in a certain way and the cadence to "Old Lady and the Fly" has to be the same every time!!

  10. I really enjoy reading aloud to my children but we also enjoy audiobooks. We travel the over 2 hour, one way, journey to the city every other week, sometimes twice a week for medical appointments. On our journey we ALWAYS listen to a story. It seems to make the journey that much more enjoyable.

  11. Another great, thoughtful post!

    I offer a little audio station for my oldest (only 4.5 yo), but it's not as a replacement for me reading. It's just an option she has in her time of masterly inactivity.

    I, personally, love to listen to audio books while I work, particularly in the kitchen. I'm currently listening to Jane Eyre (my favorite book) and just finished Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. I think it's a great option when my hands are tied up and can't hold a book.

    I agree about reading *to* my children. We hope to hold onto that for a long time, and thanks for your inspiration on that front :)

  12. My sons use to go to sleep with audio books - they just loved them. I still read to them but afterwards when they were tucked up in bed they would go off to sleep listening to the tales of Narina or Sherlock Holmes. I don't see the problem with the combination of audio and reading aloud.

  13. I go both ways. I have wonderful memories of certain characters that my father read (Gollum, Reepicheep, Mr. Macawbre...), and I've even tried to pass some of those on to my own children. I was also concerned about them becoming addicted to audio books and being too lazy to read on their own.

    Then I started using more and more audio books--not so much for school, but for quiet time--and I'm seeing good results. Our oldest has moved on to become a strong reader, and usually would rather read to himself than listen now. And our second has become The Queen of Storytelling! She's also a great narrator, which is a skill our first doesn't have. She listened to many more audio books than he did, and I think much of her skill has come from that. She's just learning to read now, though, so I don't know yet how well she'll transition.

    Also, Charlotte Mason recommended storytelling for young children, even more than books. I think maybe audio books fill that need, maybe a little more than just reading aloud... if the reader is good as a storyteller.

  14. We do both - mom and dad reading aloud, as well as audio books!

    The boys listen to Bible stories and most recently an audio book in the Little House on the Prairie series books before bed at night or in the car on the way to therapy or to get groceries. We even listen to mp3 stories (Thornton Burgess books right now) while we go on our weekly 2 mile run on Tues and Thurs.

    It reminds me of the old, old radio show days, when we're all sitting around on some random night (i.e. when mom's working on something, one kiddo is building with legos, the other is coloring, and dad is studying) and we're listening to a couple of chapters of Mary Poppins or Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. It's quite cozy and soothing :)

    That, however, does not take the place of the joy and intimacy of reading aloud to our children....they will always have Daddy and his remarkable, entertaining accents reading aloud to them...and Mom crying through the last chapter of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and struggling with names of Greek mythological characters and such!

    I think it is possible to have the best of both worlds by regularly reading aloud to our children (and them to us) as well as enjoying delightful audio books!!! :)

  15. hah! you've put many of my thoughts into words, as far as my apprehension about audiobooks goes. though I have found several that I approve of.

    we use only a few (though that number will probably increase with my younger set). I cannot, with five, read aloud every book they ever read, but there are definitely many that I can't stand for them to read without me ;)

    I do think that hearing a story helps with comprehension even if the author doesn't read precisely as we would have them read had they asked us their opinion, and vocabulary, and insomuch that the children fall in love with stories... yes, I think they develop a certain aspect to a love for reading. but I share your concern here that overuse of audiobooks may be paving a road for that proclivity toward laziness.

    as with everything, we may use them as a tool. we dictate how they are used. they exist to serve us, not the other way around.



  16. I do understand your reservations about audiobooks. On the other hand, ever since the twins were on the way (four years ago now!) there have been many, many days when I was too tired to read aloud at night--and sometimes anywhere during the day. Without audiobooks, they would have missed out on a lot of good listening. I'm hoping now that we are to the stage where everyone is old enough to put their own pajamas on and brush their own teeth I'll soon be able to read more often in the evenings.
    As it is, I try to keep the audiobooks limited to good quality literature, ones above their reading level, and ones that I don't feel a need to edit. And they only listen during "quiet time" (only the non-readers) or after lights-out at bedtime. And I do read aloud to them every day, too. But not as much as I would like to. Anyway, I would say audiobooks are not a good substitute for independent reading or reading aloud, but they are a good substitute for nothing. :-)

  17. What an outstanding and thought-provoking post! You have put into words so clearly what I feel, and added such good educational points too.
    My kids all love to hear me read aloud. Not becauzse of my funny accents or dramatic pauses or whispers, but because the book comes alive somehow. And those cuddles together while we journey through words is priceless!
    I've prepared my audio Shakespeare plays for next year, and know that listening to these stories is like drinking a food-replacement milkshake. The real food comes in a book, on paper, read or read aloud in real time. Time to taste, chew and digest = real nourishment and growth!

  18. I'm going to link to this post, friend. Soon. I like the discussion on audio using. Personally, I love using audios here. We have so many students, and therefore many books that are lovely read aloud, and my husband and I sometimes like to hear it from another voice. It's like an extra teacher to us. But I love to hear opinions the other way too. Thought provoking. Take care, friend.


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