Reading skills are among the most important for young, developing minds, as readers of this site well know. Reading prepares us for critical thinking, which we desperately need in today’s political climate. It builds vocabulary and communication skills, which are needed across all job markets in adulthood. Basically, use your words, friends. One way to do this is with audiobooks for younger children.
Empathy is another excellent side effect of reading, which is why it is so important to expose young children to diverse literature from an early age. I think this lesson can be especially well received through audiobooks for younger children. Listening to a story read by a person with an accent that is new to a child, who can imbue a story with life, pain, fear, or excitement in a ways that is different from how their parents might read a story to them, can help children understand that not everyone has the same experiences they do, not the same safe lives, not the same happy home.
Similarly, I think it is important for children who may be experiencing difficult situations to understand that they are not alone, and to learn that from a young age. Reading or listening to audiobooks helps kids figure out that there is nothing wrong with them, no matter what they may hear on the news or from ignorant orange men and domestic Nazis, and there are other people in the world who do know what it is like to go through the same things they are dealing with and who will love and accept them unconditionally.
In other recent posts, my fellow Rioters talked about various benefits and joys of audiobooks for older children, such as here and here. I even wrote about discovering the pleasure of listening to audiobooks with my daughter myself in this post. Listening to audiobooks with our children should be a joy for parents. And really, there are times when it’s the only way I can get to sit down and get a break. She will listen to the book and I can listen…with my eyes closed. No, really, I’m listening. I can toooooootallllly listen while I lay here on the couch for a minute…
Selfishly, I really want my daughter to love reading as much as I do because it is something I can share with her. I don’t actually have a lot in common with my daughter so far, and she is only a little. I am not sure if that is something that will get better or worse as she gets older, so for now, I’m clinging to the things we enjoy together. But it goes beyond that. A shared story time via audiobooks for younger children introduces a great opportunity to expand everyone’s horizons. I’ve listened to books with my daughter that I doubt I ever would have read with my eyeballs otherwise. We were able to have some really great talks, at an age appropriate level, about topics ranging from current events, social issues, history, new-to-her cultures, science, and what it means to be a transgender person. There have been a few things I’ve never heard of as well, which is important, too. Let your kids know that you don’t know everything, that it’s ok to say “I don’t know,” and then go look it up with them.
Together, through a shared experience, through a deeper understanding of the human condition, and by learning about empathy and different ways of life, children can learn that they can grow up to make the world a better place than it was when they first came into it. Below are just a few books to help younger children and their parents get started with what will hopefully be the path to empathy and a lifelong shared love of reading, maybe learn a few new things, and most importantly, have fun in the process. It’s story time!
Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne
“When Christopher Robin asks Pooh what he likes doing best in the world, Pooh says, after much thought, “What I like best in the whole world is Me and Piglet going to see You, and You saying ‘What about a little something?’ and Me saying, ‘Well, I shouldn’t mind a little something, should you, Piglet,’ and it being a hummy sort of day outside, and birds singing.” Really, who doesn’t love Pooh Bear?
The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman
This kid really wanted his friend’s goldfish. His dad only ever reads the newspaper, anyway…
The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown
“A little bunny keeps running away from his mother in this imaginary game of hide-and-seek. Children will be profoundly comforted by this lovingly steadfast mother who finds her child every time.” Really, it’s also a lovely little allegory of the soul and the Whatever From High Atop the Thing, if you go for that as well.
The Book With No Pictures by BJ Novak
This is currently a super popular children’s book and it never fails to make my daughter howl with laughter. The audio version makes it so I don’t have to be the one to read it ad infinitum…
Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
“Chrysanthemum thinks her name is absolutely perfect—until her first day of school. “You’re named after a flower!” teases Victoria. “Let’s smell her,” says Jo. Chrysanthemum wilts. What will it take to make her blossom again?”
Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine
The true story of a little boy, Henry Brown, who is a slave. He is separated from his family when they are sold at a slave market and Henry takes a giant risk and literally mails himself in a shipping box to the North and freedom.
Of Thee I Sing by Barack Obama
“In this tender, beautiful letter to his daughters, President Barack Obama has written a moving tribute to thirteen groundbreaking Americans and the ideals that have shaped our nation. From the artistry of Georgia O’Keeffe, to the courage of Jackie Robinson, to the patriotism of George Washington, President Obama sees the traits of these heroes within his own children, and within all of America’s children.”
The Trouble With Tink by Kiki Thorpe
“Tinker Bell is supposed to be the best there is at fixing pots and pans, but when she loses her hammer, her talent goes with it. Tink is desperate to reclaim her skill. But does she have the courage to face up to her past?”
The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame
“Everyone knows St George has to do battle with the dragon, but what can the boy do when the dragon simply won’t fight St George?” The dragon prefers writing poetry to fighting, thank you very much.
Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke
“Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa. Amazing Africa. She lives with her whole family in a wonderful house. There is always somebody to laugh or play with. She loves to splash in the sea with her cousins and have parties with her aunties. But more than anything else in the world, Anna Hibiscus would love to see snow.”
Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson
Friendship and teamwork are worth the effort and a little frustration at times.
Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
“Someone’s been stealing from the three meanest farmers around, and they know the identity of the thief—it’s Fantastic Mr. Fox! Working alone they could never catch him; but now fat Boggis, squat Bunce, and skinny Bean have joined forces, and they have Mr. Fox and his family surrounded. What they don’t know is that they’re not dealing with just any fox—Mr. Fox would rather die than surrender. Only the most fantastic plan can save him now.”
Buddha At Bedtime by Dharmachari Nagaraja
“Many of today’s children face challenges and obstacles far beyond what their parents ever imagined. These 20 thoroughly modern retellings of ancient Buddhist tales give parents a fun, low-pressure way to impart wisdom and moral guidance without preaching.” My daughter likes these stories because for whatever reason, she is into all kinds of mythology right now. This collection is fun and light and, as the description says, isn’t preachy.
Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat
“After Saya’s mother is sent to an immigration detention center, Saya finds comfort in listening to her mother’s warm greeting on their answering machine. To ease the distance between them while she’s in jail, Mama begins sending Saya bedtime stories inspired by Haitian folklore on cassette tape. Moved by her mother’s tales and her father’s attempts to reunite their family, Saya writes a story of her own—one that just might bring her mother home for good.”
A Child’s First Book of Trump by Michael Ian Black
“The Trump is a curious creature, very often spotted in the wild, but confounding to our youngest citizens. A business mogul, reality TV host, and now…political candidate? Kids (and let’s be honest many adults) might have difficulty discerning just what this thing that’s been dominating news coverage this election cycle is. Could he actually be real? Are those…words coming out of his mouth? Why are his hands so tiny? And perhaps most importantly, what on earth do you do when you encounter an American Trump?” (Okay, so this might actually be for adults, but kids can listen to it as well, there’s nothing in it they shouldn’t hear. No swear words or anything. Honestly, I just couldn’t #resist).
What are your favorite audiobooks for younger children?