Audiobooks

11 Compelling Nonfiction Audiobooks for Children

Ann-Marie Cahill

Contributor

Ann-Marie Cahill will read anything and everything. From novels to trading cards to the inside of CD covers (they’re still a thing, right?). A good day is when her kids bring notes home from school. A bad day is when she has to pry a book from her kids’ hands. And then realizes where they get it from. The only thing Ann-Marie loves more than reading is travelling. She has expensive hobbies.

Penguin Random House Audio

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This is the trifecta of book-related articles. We have the awesome power of audiobooks, the enlightenment of nonfiction, and the best target audience of all: kids. I have yet to meet a kid who hasn’t loved a weird and wacky book of quirky facts and then spent half of their summer holidays telling everyone about it. Even the quietest kid will have their favourite nonfiction book; they’re just waiting for the right person to share it with. Yes, I was that quiet kid, and yes, my favourite dinosaur is still the Ankylosaurus.

Kids and nonfiction books can be pretty magical, but when you boost it with audiobooks, it can become a superpower! A good nonfiction audiobook is almost conversational, inviting them into this world of facts, teasing their curiousity, and allowing their minds to wander through what-ifs while still dispersing information and tidbits. Audiobooks are a great way to support kids’ literacy at every level. They promote fluency and expand vocabulary. They help set scenes for visual dreamers. They help with tone and inflection. Nonfiction audiobooks also create a safe space for kids to relax into the words and allow themselves to learn. While we might not love every nonfiction book out there, there are some very compelling nonfiction audiobooks for children that will have them enthusiastic to share their learning with you.

For Young Readers

Narrative nonfiction audiobooks are a great starting point for young readers. They usually deliver factual information in a storytelling format. It’s easier for kids to relate to the people and their experiences.

cover of A Flicker of Hope: A Story of Migration by Cynthia Harmony, illustrated by Devon Holzwarth, narrated by Victoria Villarreal

A Flicker of Hope: A Story of Migration by Cynthia Harmony, illustrated by Devon Holzwarth, narrated by Victoria Villarreal

This is like having two books in one, telling the story of the monarch butterflies’ journey from Mexico to northern America parallel to a fictional story of a migrant farmer father and his young daughter. The Monarch is the only butterfly known to make a two-way migration from north to south and back again, but across generations. This amazing phenomenon is told with beautiful tenderness alongside the story of Lucía, a young girl whose father must also travel north to find work. The audiobook is available in English and Spanish, with the Spanish title: Un aleteo de esperanza.

cover of Jubilee: The First Therapy Horse and an Olympic Dream by KT Johnston, illustrated by Anabella Ortiz, narrated by Piper Goodeve

Jubilee: The First Therapy Horse and an Olympic Dream by KT Johnston, illustrated by Anabella Ortiz, narrated by Piper Goodeve

Looking for some Olympic-themed audiobooks for kids? Johnston’s historical narrative nonfiction reaches even greater heights with narration from Goodeve. It’s the biography of Lis Hartel, who was paralyzed after contracting polio in 1944 and yet defied doctors and learnt to ride horses again. While it’s no spoiler to know Lis and Jubilee went on to win an Olympic medal, the real story is behind the journey — cliche but true. As an audiobook, kids will hear how Lis rebuilt her dreams and new relationships while learning about the importance of Therapy Animals.

cover of The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read by Rita Lorraine Hubbard, illustrated by Oge Mora, narrated by Nikki M. James

The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read by Rita Lorraine Hubbard, illustrated by Oge Mora, narrated by Nikki M. James

Come and learn the story of Mary Walker, who was born and lived in slavery until her freedom at the age of 15. Only a few years later, she was a wife and mother. Mary worked numerous jobs to help support her family, including cooking, cleaning, and caring for other people’s children. However, it was not until the age of 116 that Mary learned to read.

cover of They Built Me for Freedom: The Story of Juneteenth and Houston’s Emancipation Park by Tonya Duncan Ellis, narrated by Aaron Goodson

They Built Me for Freedom: The Story of Juneteenth and Houston’s Emancipation Park by Tonya Duncan Ellis, illustrated by Jenin Mohammed, narrated by Aaron Goodson

On June 19, 1865, 250,000 enslaved people of Texas learned they were free, ending slavery in the United States of America. It is a significant part of American history, and frankly, it is not celebrated enough. For those in Houston, you should definitely visit the Emancipation Park and explore the history it embodies. But for many of us who can’t visit the Park, this audiobook captures the very essence of all it is meant to commemorate: the struggles, the triumph, the courage. Kids will love the open feel from listening to this book and its hopeful message.

For Middle School Readers

Middle school readers are harder to pinpoint for reading. It feels like this category is ever-changing and ever-growing — very much like the kids in middle grade. These kids are desperately trying to keep pace with the world despite many of them not really wanting to. They are too old for the gentle narrative nonfiction but don’t want to think too hard about the topics either. That doesn’t mean you need to simplify it for them! They can handle complex issues so long as you have a bit of fun and respect for the delivery.

cover of Chinese Menu: The History, Myths, and Legends Behind Your Favorite Foods by Grace Lin, narrated by Lisa Ling

Chinese Menu: The History, Myths, and Legends Behind Your Favorite Foods by Grace Lin, narrated by Lisa Ling

Who here loves food? Every single kid in my 11-year-old’s class LOVED this audiobook. It has been played on repeat during their history class while learning about the influence of multicultural cooking during great moments in history. Lisa Ling’s narration carries listeners through categories of foods and shares the folktales and legends behind the dishes like dumplings, Kung Pao chicken, and noodles. Grace Lin’s extensive research is perfectly matched with an approachable writing style that unfolds with each bite.

cover of How to Be a (Young) Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi and Nic Stone, self-narrated

How to Be a (Young) Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi and Nic Stone, narrated by the authors

Aimed at listeners 12 and up, Kendi and Stone narrate this book as if it’s a podcast. It’s like reading with a mentor/friend and learning from the natural flow of conversation. This is a journey, in both the audiobook and where listeners will take it from here. My younger readers especially like the inclusion of anecdotes and data that relate directly to life experience, making it sound more like a guide than a lecture.

cover of Made in Asian America: A History for Young People by Erika Lee and Christina Soontornvat, narrated by Sura Siu

Made in Asian America: A History for Young People by Erika Lee and Christina Soontornvat, narrated by Sura Siu

Books like this are a prime example of truth-telling in history, highlighting so many elements of history that are ignored or removed because of fear and racism. Asia is a big place with a complex and diverse mix of cultures, languages, and history. The history of Asian migration to North America is equally complex, yet Lee and Soontornvat display a beautiful format for filling gaps, explaining context, and highlighting the future impacts we feel today. There will be many “How Did I Not Know This?” moments, but it may also elicit some fantastic conversation with the kids.

cover of Vital Organs by Suzie Edge

Vital Organs by Suzie Edge, self-narrated

Dr Suzie Edge is already famous on TikTok and Instagram for her fascinating, entertaining, and sometimes a little disturbing facts — “But it was OK!” Her voice has the perfect pace and intonation to deliver these fascinating facts about medicine and science throughout history while still maintaining the appropriate level of humour (i.e., gross but funny). Edge has clearly had fun researching and writing this book, and the middle grade kids will definitely have fun listening to it!

For Teenagers

Teen readers, YA Nonfiction, and “I’m not a kid anymore” are all categories claimed by my older teenage kids. When I asked them what they look for in a compelling nonfiction audiobook, they both claimed they were old enough for “the truth,” but they also wished they could go back to narrative nonfiction and the safe space of audiobooks. It’s more than just learning from the audiobooks: it’s learning about responsibility and consequences without feeling like they are already at fault.

cover of The Ultimate Guide to Financial Literacy for Kids: Master Money Skills with Fun and Interactive Ways to Save, Budget, Spend Wisely and Invest with Confident by Money Mentor Publications, narrated by Rachel Doolen

The Ultimate Guide to Financial Literacy for Kids: Master Money Skills with Fun and Interactive Ways to Save, Budget, Spend Wisely, and Invest with Confidence by Money Mentor Publications, narrated by Rachel Doolen

Talking about money, reading about money, and even listening to an audiobook about money are unlikely to be top of your to-do list with teenagers. But let’s face it: many adults wish they had some guidance about financial literacy when they were younger. Ignore the cover image: this audiobook is probably too advanced for most younger readers, but it is compelling and supportive enough to hold the interest of teenagers (and some middle grade readers). It’s a fun audiobook that looks at a range of contemporary issues, from credit to scams, and the psychology behind marketing in a consumer-centric society.

cover of Three Summers: A Memoir of Sisterhood, Summer Crushes, and Growing Up on the Eve of War by Amra Sabic-El-Rayess and Laura L. Sullivan, narrated by Amra Sabic-El-Rayess and Selma Ducanovic

Three Summers: A Memoir of Sisterhood, Summer Crushes, and Growing Up on the Eve of War by Amra Sabic-El-Rayess and Laura L. Sullivan, narrated by Amra Sabic-El-Rayess and Selma Ducanovic

This powerful memoir is written with such warmth and tenderness that I was worried the audiobook would be too much for young listeners. I was wrong — it is equally beautiful in audio format: still able to break my heart but also put it back together, stronger and more hopeful than before. It is a long audiobook, coming in a little over 10 hours, and worth breaking up into smaller bites to allow time for young listeners to process all that is shared. Sabic-El-Rayess shares her story of five cousins in the three years leading up to the Bosnian Genocide. In some ways, it will sound like any other tween experience, but it is most influential in how it portrays normal everyday people caught in all of the lead-up to war. It is also worth reading about Sabic-El-Rayess’s experience during the war, in her book The Cat I Never Named: A True Story of Love, War, and Survival.

cover of The Enigma Girls: How Ten Teenagers Broke Ciphers, Kept Secrets, and Helped Win World War II by Candace Fleming, narrated by Moira Quirk

The Enigma Girls: How Ten Teenagers Broke Ciphers, Kept Secrets, and Helped Win World War II by Candace Fleming, narrated by Moira Quirk

During World War II, a very very small group of people were invited to attend Station X at Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire (UK). Today, we now know it was filled with cryptographers, debutantes, and academic professors. Less is known about the teenage girls who moved around the premises, helping out wherever they were needed. Fleming’s research unfolds over four-and-a-half hours, showcasing the various skills and the roles they played in the most secretive wartime efforts. Fleming and Quirk make it easy to picture the kind of people who could help in Bletchley Park, including the mix of soft skills and the ability to keep a secret.


Each of these compelling nonfiction audiobooks is perfect for children AND adults. They are all great examples of finding the balance between informative content and engaging delivery. Once you find your own magic formula, it’s amazing how much the sweeter the sound of reading can be. Audiobooks are also great for the youngest of readers! Check out Megan Mabee’s list of the Best Toddler Audiobooks, too. Happy reading (and listening)!