For centuries, people have snuggling up to a good book at bedtime. Some people have complained that electronic materials just don't have the same "warm fuzzy" feeling as a book. On the other hand, don't knock it until you've tried it.
Audiobooks are becoming increasingly popular with youth because they can easily be downloaded to smartphones, tablets, and other portable electronic devices. Whether riding on the school bus or enjoyed nature, audiobooks can be an anywhere, anytime reading experience.
This page will explore audiobooks, web-based reading, and disc-based books. The next section will examine e-books including web-based ebook products, fiction apps, and books designed specifically for ebook readers.
Audio books are a popular electronic technology for young people. In the past, many libraries have provided books-on-tape and books-on-CD. A growing trend is toward books-on-MP3. These can be downloaded to portable MP3 players such as the iPod. Audio books are also sold in self-contained players.
Audiobook can be used anywhere you can't hold a book and have something to do that doesn't require concentration. Youth listen to them while riding the school bus, working in the yard, or just hanging out around the house.
Let's take a popular book like The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis. This book is available as an Audiobook CD, Audible MP3, and a Playaway book.
Awards are given to audiobooks regardless of their particular format. The Audies are given by the Audio Publishers Association. Many teens enjoy cross-over titles. For instance, Dracula by Bram Stoker was a 2013 winner popular with all ages. It's available on both CD and digital audio. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz narrated by Anne Hathaway was a finalist.
The Fault in Our Stars narrated by Kate Rudd was the winner in the Teen category and Same Sun Here in the ages 8-12 category, and The Great Cake Mystery in the under 8 category.
The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) gives the Odyssey Award to the best audiobooks each year. Recent winners include The Fault of Our Stars, Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian, Rotters, and The Scorpio Races.
The American Library Association gives other awards for audiobooks. They're listed below:
- Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults
- ALA Book, Print & Media Awards - look in the media sections
- Parent's Choice Audio Awards
Listen to an award winning audiobook. Then, create a list of the advantages and disadvantages of this format. Consider sharing the listening experience. How does that change the experience?
Audiobooks are available in a number of different formats. Think about the format that best fits the needs of youth.
While not as popular as they once were, CD audio books continue to be a common resource in libraries. A few libraries still maintain their audio cassette books-on-tape.
Libraries have an increasing number of choices related to digital downloads.
Let's begin with the free options. LibriVox is a popular source for over 7,000 free public domain audiobooks. Archive.org includes LibriVox as well as other sources for free audiobooks. Millions of people have downloaded books like The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Pride and Prejudice, Moby Dick, The Art of War, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Dracula.
Audible.com is a web-based resource owned by Amazon with 100,000+ books that can be downloaded to Kindle, tablet, iPhone, iPod, and Android devices.
Self-contained MP3 players are growing in popularity with libraries. The Playaway provides a book on a small portable MP3 player with earbuds. It requires a triple A battery. Many books for children and teens are available in this format. Books are also available for young adults.
The Playaway Bookpack combines a print version of the book along with an audiobook. Bookset are also available.
Read Unbound: Media and Literacy. Although sponsored by Playaway, this article does a nice job defending the audiobook format.
People who criticize audiobook listeners as "nonreaders" or "missing the joy of reading" are being charged with "sense discrimination" by those who enjoy this reading option.
Read Pop of King: Hail the Spoken Word by Stephen King. Stephen King is popular with teens and is a vocal defender of the audio format.
We’ve known for a long time that reading to children is critical to the love of reading. This may also be true throughout life. Audiobook users can enjoy the voice of a dynamic narrator and get lost in the storytelling experience. Beyond the pleasure of good subject matter, the experience can reduce stress, promote relaxation, and reduce eye strain. By adding yoga, dish washing, or stuffing envelopes, people can even become more productive through multitasking.
Abridged versus Unabridged
For people who listen to books in their car, unabridged works are referred to as "cross country" titles and abridged titles as "cross town" titles.
Unabridged means that the complete book is included in the audiobook version. Abridged versions have been edited and only include a portion of the complete work. Subplots, characterizations, and detailed descriptions are often eliminated. For example the unabridged version of David McCullough's book John Adams is read by Nelson Runger and contains 26 CDs. The abridged version read by Edward Hermann costs less than half as much money and contains only 9 CDs or 6 audiocassettes. That's a big different in content and cost.
Most audiobook readers and librarians have very strong feelings about this issue. New users are more likely to listen to short stories or abridged editions. This is a good way to determine which narrators are preferred or to sample an author's work. Listening clubs and casual listeners also like abridged editions.
Established listeners often crave the entire works and are frustrated by what they view as incomplete works. Teachers also seek the unabridged edition when they want students to read along with the book.
In the past many books were only available in abridged versions for audio, however there's a growing trend by publishers to offer both versions of their product. Librarians need to be aware of the needs and interests of their patrons.
CDs versus Downloading
From tapes to CDs to MP3s, listeners have experienced many formats over the past century. In the 1930s, the Library of Congress began distributing long-play records for the blind. Since then we’ve experienced vinyl records, cassettes, and CDs. Relatively recent, MP3 and downloadable books were added to the list. Each new entry doesn’t necessarily mean an end to the old. However libraries and their users are finding that many programs are not available in the older formats.
For audiobooks, more narrative fits on a cassette than an audio CD. Cassettes generally contain 105 minutes of programming, but CDs only hold about 74 minutes. DVDs hold more information, but people don't always have DVD players in their cars.
There are concerns about starting, stopping, and marking your place on a CD. However, many of the newer CD players return to the place they left off if the CD is left in the player. In addition, it's easy to move from track to track in CDs to return to a specific point.
CDs also have other advantages. They are relatively durable (that is if someone knows how to care for them) and less likely to be destroyed than cassettes (Does anyone remember wrapping the tape around a sticky capstan roller until it jammed or broke? - even spicing could not help what it does to that track!).
How long before CDs are largely a format of the past? Not long.
Digital downloads are quickly replacing physical audiobook formats. There are many advantages for librarians who no longer need to store the media or worry about broken or lost items. However there are also disadvantages. The market continues to be very unstable. Although the formats are now becoming standardized, licensing continues to be a nightmare.
Intershelve or Separate
Since the introduction of audiobooks, there have been movements to intershelve the collection with books. The placement of any library materials should be related to the patrons and their needs rather than ease of shelving or inventory. In collections where audiobooks are kept separate, users tend to focus on the media. In other words, they're going on summer vacation and want a book they can listen to at the beach or in the airplane. The decision about whether it's horror, romance, or self-help content comes second.
In collections that are intershelved, the content is most important. In other words, patrons are looking for everything they can find on dieting or the Vietnam War. In this case, it might be helpful to have audio, video, and book materials housed together.
Books versus Audiobook and Book versus Kit
There's a soft battle raging between book readers and audiobook readers. The Audio Publishers Association (APA) reported that nearly one in four Americans (24.6%) have listened to an audiobook in the past year.
A lot of books are not available as an audiobook, especially books that are not popular with mainstream readers. And generally the paper edition is produced first, and you will have to wait a period of time before the audiobook comes out. However, a few books are now only available in the audiobook format. These original productions include classics, collections, and lesser known works. In other cases, an audiobook may come with a book, booklet, and other materials like puppets or posters. Some children's books come with or without a CD or tape.
Consider the end user. Where is the greatest need? Most of us would not attempt to read a book while driving or riding in a car. And the experiences of reading a book and listening to a book are different. We use the two forms in a different manner.
Author versus Professional Narrator
A greatest benefit of audiobooks is the ability to hear words aloud. This is particularly true with poetry where the flow of words is so important. The narrator can make or break the quality of an audio listening experience.
Sometimes the author reads the material. For example, Jack Prelutsky, author of The Frogs Wore Red Suspenders, is a great performer in addition to a children's poet.
When selecting an actor or narrator, producers consider the characters in the book such as the gender and age of the main character. The setting of the book and associated accents are also taken into consideration.
Because narrators sometimes do the voices of many characters, they are often trained in the classic theatre.
Listen to excerpts from at least three different audiobooks and compare the narrators. What are the characteristics of an effective narrator?
Learning with Audiobooks
Audiobooks can motivate students to read. They allow children and young adults to enjoy a book at their interest level that might be above their reading level such as Charlotte’s Web or The Incredible Journey. In addition, children who read slowly can still participate in class activities.
For very young children and people learning English as a second language, audiobooks provide a way to learn the patterns of language, focus on objects, and learn expressions. They are also good examples of fluent reading for children and young adults.
Audiobooks can take the "read aloud" burden off the teacher and parent. For example, if you have a hard time getting through Where the Red Fern Grows without crying, let Richard Thomas read it aloud to the class.
Encourage youth to become better listeners and readers through audiobooks. Strategies for using audiobooks with children vary. Some teachers encourage their students to read the book along with the tape during the first reading. This familiarizes students with the story. During subsequent readings, students concentrate on the words.
Some learning is formal, while other is informal. Some parents encourage reading through modeling. They provide audiobooks in the car and encourage listening for relaxation.
For the past couple decades, an increasing number of fiction reading opportunities are available online. Many classic books for young people are available online including
- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer(1876)
- Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
- Black Beauty (1877)
- Call of the Wild (1903)
- The History of Little Goody Two Shoes (1765)
- The House that Jack Built
- Kidnapped (1886)
- Oliver Twist (1838)
- The Real Mother Goose (1916)
- The Secret Garden (1911)
- The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin
- Treasure Island (1883)
- Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
- The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle (1922)
- War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
- The Wind in the Willows (1908)
- Wizard of Oz series (1900-1920)
Go to one of the following sites and browse the possibilities of great books online. Try searching for a popular classic author or work: Internet Archive, Bartleby, Open Library, and Project Gutenberg. Or, check out the Top 100.
An increasing number of web-based books for young people have emerged. Some of these websites are sponsored by well-known organizations, while others are start-ups focusing on the new online reading market. For instance, The Diary of a Wimpy Kid began as an online reading experience before becoming a physical book, then a movie.
Go to the FunBrain Reading website. Skim Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Callahan Cousins, or Camp Conidential. For younger students, try a FableVision story such as Tess's Tree.
Some websites provide a mixture of subscription and pay reading experiences. For instance, the Sesame Street ebook website rotates books providing a few for free online reading each week.
Explore some of the following sources for online fiction reading experiences.
- American Folklore
- Beantime Stories
- Between the Lions Stories
- Children's Storybooks Online
- Clifford Interactive Storybooks
- Fable Reading Room
- Giggle Poetry
- International Children's Digital Library
- Lil Fingers Stories
- Mysterynet Kids
- Sesame Street
- Star Fall
- Winged Sandals
Explore some young adult online reading options:
Go to Scholastic and read a Clifford Interactive Storybooks.
When selecting audiobooks, interactive books and online fiction reading for children and young adults, carefully explore the features of the program. Also, consider how it will be used. For example, a growing number of teachers are using e-books with their interactive whiteboard such as a SmartBoard. In other cases, you might be thinking about students using the e-book independently.
- Do the “bells and whistles” contribute to or distract from the story?
- Is the lettering large enough to read?
- Is the reading level indicated?
- Are multiple reading levels available?
- Can the sound be controlled?
- Can the story, page, and individual words be repeated?
- Is a dictionary provided?
- What about pronunciations?
- Is a bilingual element integrated into the system?
- Are games or activities provides to extend the experience?
- Is visual and auditory help provided for young learners to increase independence?
Fiction on CD & DVD
Everyone loves a good book. Beginning in the 1990s, some popular books for children and young adults were reimagined as interactive books. In some cases, sound, animation, and information resources have been added to the original text and graphics. Available on CD or DVD, many libraries are still circulating these materials.
From Mercer Mayer to Dr. Seuss, you can find many popular authors and characters. After reading the page aloud, the computer lets the child explore the animation on the page.
Fictional materials include linear, “read-aloud” books, interactive books, and novels. Some of these resources provide “hypertext”. In other words, users can click on words to link to additional definitions, pronunciation guidance, pictures, or other information.
Living Books, DK Interactive Learning, Scholastic and Trivola are only a few of the many interactive book series for young children. Living Books's New Kid on the Block, Stellaluna and Green Eggs and Ham (shown on the left) are all examples of books that have been converted to the CD format. Some books can even be personalized. You can also find folk and fairy tales.
Most of these books are now available as mobile apps.
Fiction and Smart Books
A wide variety of interactive books are now available for young readers. Some are embedded in traditional books while others include supplemental readers.
Embedded Interactivity. The least complicated of these books simply contain a plastic or card board side panel that presents sound buttons associated with the book. The Bob Builds a Petting Zoo book on the left shows this type of book.
Electronic Readers. Many of the electronic books require a special portable reader. Most are battery powered. In some cases, a paper book is placed in the read and a module is placed in the reader.
The Leap Pad by Leap Frog (on the right) is one of the most popular readers for young children. They currently produce a number of electronic readers for different ages including the My First LeapPad (ages 3 and up), LeapPad (ages 4 and up), and Quantum Pad (ages 8 and up).
Other companies include Touch Book by Fisher Price shown below.