A lot of us are staying home right now and need to distract ourselves and the various other life forms stuck inside with us. While I am focusing on free audiobooks for kids here, I realize that kids are not the only ones who might benefit.
Why are audiobooks for kids so important?
Sometimes you just need more variety in your reading and sometimes it’s just very, very hard to concentrate. I get it. Audiobooks can be a good way to explore new stories or a way to explore stories together with other loved ones.
Another significant benefit is that listening is more accessible for some. Maybe the littlest people in your household are still learning their letters; maybe your loved ones are partially sighted, or you have print-processing challenges like dyslexia that make listening the best (or sometimes only) option. Whatever the reason, audiobooks can be an excellent choice but buying them can add up quickly.
For some, there may be access through your local library, so of course start there. For readers who have a print disability in the U.S., they may want to check out the services of the National Library for the Blind and Print Disabled.
Of course, most of the world does not live in the U.S., so free books online may be the most accessible. Naturally, when you do find some good free books online, make sure they are coming from legal sources. My reasoning is simple: everyone needs to get paid for their work since everyone needs to eat. Support the authors whose work you enjoy; it will show there is demand for their art.
The Best Free Audiobooks for Kids
Here is a list of some of the best free audiobooks for kids according to my completely unscientific exploration of what is out there.
You should keep in mind that I am using “kid” loosely here to include various ages and of course those of you who are young at heart (not me, I’m grouchy at heart, but I cannot speak for you). Also keep in mind that the content here varies greatly and you may want to listen to these first to decide if they work for you and your target audience. Caveat lector as I think my middle school Latin teacher would say.
To me, this seems especially important if you are trying to hook more reluctant readers on audiobooks. I am whatever the opposite of reluctant is when it comes to audiobooks and even so, some just do not work for me. It is also hard for me to predict what I will and won’t enjoy, and apparently I am not alone in that. Experimenting with these free audiobooks for kids will hopefully lead you and your listeners to something enjoyable.
1. The Watermelon Prince, A Vietnamese Folktale
This book tells the story of how the delicious fruit came to Vietnam. There is palace intrigue, the ocean makes a few important appearances, and of course there are princes.
2. The Ugly Boatman, A Vietnamese Folktale
This is the story of a talented boatman and his love interest. The end may surprise you if you’re expecting a “happily ever after,” although it does have one, in a certain way.
3. Urashima, A Japanese Folktale
This is a classic Japanese fairytale. It’s not quite as nostalgic for me as Momotaro the Peach Boy, but it is in the same vein.
4. The Old Woman Who Lost her Dumpling, A Japanese Folktale
This one has a talking Jizo statue that speaks in exactly the way I would imagine it to. It also has an Oni (a kind of ogre in Japanese folklore) that may or may not want to eat our protagonist of advanced age. Never fear. This old lady is feisty and clever.
5. The Boy Who Liked to Draw Cats, A Japanese Folktale
This fairytale was new to me; I liked the fantastical elements in it.
6. The Cat’s Elopement, A Japanese Folktale
You may also like this story in which two anthropomorphic cats fall in love and lead rather complicated inner lives.
7. The Blind Man’s Daughter, A Korean Folktale
This story of ShimChong and her father melds sorrowful and sweet elements.
8.Tio Conejo (Uncle Rabbit) and Other Latin American Trickster Tales by Olga Loya
Loya wrote and narrates these stories for readers big and small. More anthropomorphic animals and their entanglements with one another in this one.
9. The Mystwick School of Musicraft, by Jessica Khoury
This middle grade fantasy fuses music and magic. It also starts with a stuck chicken—in case magic and music aren’t enough to draw you in.
10. Quest for the Diamond Sword by Winter Morgan
If you have a reader obsessed with Minecraft, then Morgan’s book may be a good choice.
11. The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich
Louise Erdrich is a well-known poet, novelist, and children’s book author. She is also a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and has been writing for years about Indian themes. This book is about Omakayas, a young girl from the Ojibwa people, growing up in the mid-1800s. Erdrich has won numerous awards for her writing and this is one of the few historical fiction choices I have come across. If your readers like this, keep in mind that it is the beginning of a series. They can continue following Omakayas through three other books, so there is more to keep them going after this one.
12. The Golden Goblet by Eloise Jarvis McGraw
If you have a reader or two who likes Ancient Egypt (usually a very popular topic), play some of this and see if it sucks them in. Since these are all free audiobooks for kids, you can always move on and try other titles if this one doesn’t interest your listeners.
13. Off and Running by Gary Soto
For something shorter, Soto’s book is an entertaining and light choice. The story is about Miata Ramirez, her best friend Ana, and their campaigns for class officer positions. At only about two and a half hours, you can finish this one quickly.
14. The Blue Umbrella by Ruskin Bond
A young girl named Binya comes across an umbrella that she must have. At just under an hour, it is a good choice for those who may not want to commit to a longer read at the moment or anyone who wants to try their first audiobook.
15. Cyborg Cat and the Night Spider by Ade Adepitan
This is another good read. Adepitan narrates the story and is really good at it (not always a given, in my not so humble opinion). If you’re unfamiliar with him, Adepitan is a BBC presenter, actor, and sports commentator. He also competed as a paralympian in basketball for years prior to his career as a TV personality. He’s a very dynamic reader and hopefully will hook all kinds of listeners, including more reluctant readers who might like a sports-focused story. Adepitan has written several books, so check out his other titles if you like this one.
16. Viva Durant and the Secret of the Silver Buttons by Ashli St. Armant
Viva is a 14-year-old detective hunting down hidden treasure in New Orleans. That right there should hook a variety of readers, including young teens. If some need more of a push, Bahni Turpin narrates.
17. 90 Miles to Havana by Enrique Flores-Galbis
This is a semi-autobiographical story about a Cuban family that makes the difficult decision to send their boys from Havana to Miami. It was a Pura Belpré award honoree, the author reads it, and it’s worth checking out.
18. Ties that Bind, Ties that Break by Lensey Namioka
This is set in China during the early 1900s. It follows the story of Ailin, a daughter who resists having her feet bound, and who defies convention in other ways as well. Ailin makes unexpected decisions for her time period, including a life-changing move from her home all the way across the ocean to the U.S.
19. Angel De La Luna: And the 5th Glorious Mystery by M. Evalina Galang
Galang builds her story around Angel, a teenager who has just lost her father and finds her mother soon immigrating to the U.S. The story moves between the Philippines of the early 2000s and Chicago, and includes some difficult material (including stories of survivors who were forced to serve as “comfort” women during WWII). Galang narrates this.
20. Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos
The novel’s main characters are members of a Bangladeshi family who have been living in New York City on expired visas. As they are caught up in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, they must struggle with the threat of deportation and the separation of their family.
21. Indian Boyhood by Charles Alexander Eastman
This is about the author’s childhood. Eastman was one of the earliest American Indian medical doctors, although he was not the first. That honor belongs to Dr. Susan La Flesche, who graduated from medical school in Virginia in 1889. Dr. Eastman graduated the following year and served as the physician to the Sioux at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was there before, during, and after the infamous Massacre at Wounded Knee and treated survivors. This is his memoir of growing up to the age of 15 with his Dakota Sioux mother’s side in the early 1800s.
22. Fairy Tales from Brazil collected by Elsie Spicer
These are each short (under 10 minutes usually) so readers can dip in or out as desired. The collection includes How the Tiger Got His Stripes, Why Bananas Belong to Monkeys, and How the Monkey Became a Trickster. However, the titles sound simple, but the stories are fairly complex so may suit slightly older listeners as well as adults.
23. Bobs, a Girl Detective by Grace May North
A mystery with a young woman called Bobs leading the way. This is under 5 hours and may be good for Nancy Drew fans.
24. The Brighton Boys in the Radio Service by James R. Driscoll
This is about three American friends who join the military in WWI. It has a jaunty tone and the guys are constantly getting into dramatic situations. Published in 1918, this is probably for older readers but worth trying if you think your listeners will enjoy it. It is also under 4 hours, so not a big time commitment.
25. The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart
With a snappy main character in the “spinster” Rachel Innes, this mystery begins with a bit of a haunted house vibe. Published in 1908, the characters and plotting will make it an interesting read for mystery fans who enjoy witty banter from their characters.
26. By Ox Team to California: A Narrative of Crossing the Plains in 1860 by Lavinia Honeyman Porter
Porter drove with her young family from Missouri to California just before the American Civil War. At the time, neither she nor her husband had any skills to prepare them for this journey. It could be an interesting read for any listeners interested in a formidable trip made by two “precious dunces,” as she refers to herself and her husband.
27. An English Girl’s First Impressions of Burmah by Beth Ellis
Ellis spent 6 months visiting her sister and traveling in Burma (as it was known then, or Myanmar as we think of it now). This is an entertaining description of her experiences and impressions there as it existed at the very end of the 1800s.
28. Japanese Girls and Women by Alice Bacon
Apparently Bacon developed an interest in Japan when she was in her teens. She eventually lived there for years, working and writing (among other books) this detailed description of Japanese women’s lives in the 1890s. Bacon wrote what has remained a very valuable account of Japanese culture toward the end of the Meiji period. If you or others in your household are interested in Japan, then give this book a listen.
29. The Journey of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca written by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and translated by Fanny Bandelier
This is a story of extreme survival in North America. Laila Lalami’s The Moor’s Account fictionalizes what it must have been like to travel at this time. For some of the real journey, listen to how Cabeza de Vaca and his three companions made the dangerous and arduous trip from Florida to the Pacific Ocean in the 16th century.
Find Even More Children’s Book Resources
So that’s my list of free audiobooks for kids. Hopefully some of these work for your family. If not, you could try listening to Dolly Parton reading bedtime stories. This falls unquestionably under the category of things I never realized I needed. Parton is a truly gifted musician and an American national treasure. I mean, have you listened to Jolene recently? Enough said.
For more kids titles (although these are not free audiobooks for kids of course), fellow Rioter Casey Stepaniuk has written a list of 25 children’s audiobooks to check out.
You might also like LeVar Burton’s podcast, although these short stories are not always for children so check the particular episode. For adult readers, try Saladin Ahmed’s Mister Hadj’s Sunset Ride, Darcie Little Badger’s Skinwalker, Fast-Talker or Rebecca Roanhorse’s Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience TM.
For more audiobooks for kids and adults, try this list of 100 family-friendly audiobooks. These are generally arranged by age and are engaging enough for older listeners too. And lastly for help finding audiobooks on Spotify, Rioter AJ O’Connell has you covered with a simple guide to finding what you want. So go forth and read with your ears, my friends.