By Andrea Hunt
Kids’ audio stories are a brilliant alternative to screen time, an invaluable way to keep children entertained on car journeys, and a wonderful opportunity for parents or caregivers to share in family story time while multitasking. Even better, they can boost literacy skills.
But when it comes to the youngest listeners, there are a few key things to consider before diving in. For example, whether the length of the story is appropriate, how well the audio version complements the original picture book, and if it can be enjoyed independently from the hard copy. It’s also worth noting whether the narration and any sound effects are engaging enough to grab and hold a toddler’s attention without distracting them from the story.
If you’re on the hunt for great audio picture books to tune into with your toddler, try starting out with this carefully selected list of our picks for best audiobooks for toddlers. Want to hear a clip before making your selection? Publishers’ sites, production studios, and AudioFile will often feature short samples.
Younger listeners will love this rhyming, rhythmical counting tale of a gathering that outgrows Grandma’s house. Narrated in time with the background music, Sisi Aisha Johnson’s telling is nicely emphasized and allows pauses for little ones to chime in as they follow the illustrations in the book. And at six minutes’ long, it’s great for short attention spans.
A bestselling bedtime book, this is another brilliant option for toddlers starting out on audio stories—as the youngest listeners especially may prefer the familiarity of a tale they already know and love. The setting of the construction site winding down for the day is lovingly brought to life during this eight-minute long narration by Dion Graham’s rich, expressive tones, varied pacing, fun musical elements, and engaging sound effects.
This gentle tale about overcoming shyness, being kind, and friendship, is soothingly narrated by Vico Ortiz and sprinkled with twinkling sound effects and music. The result is a dreamy, calming atmosphere that complements the beautiful illustrations in the book. An apt choice for winding down, as well as for little ones who will relate to the shy character of Willow the rabbit—fifteen minutes in length.
A deliciously dark story of a bear in search of his missing hat that’s sure to get little listeners giggling. The different voices for each character the bear encounters—plus effective music—make for a rewarding listening experience, while the unhurried pacing leaves plenty of time for young readers to enjoy the illustrations. Six minutes long.
A follow-up to Chocolate Me!, inspired by the author and actor’s son, and celebrating mixed-race identity and self-acceptance, this audio version of the book is narrated by Diggs to the accompaniment of soft jazz music. The 11-minute recording also features a sweet bonus reading by his son Walker, plus an interview between father and son.
Actress and narrator Imelda Staunton plays all the roles in this best-selling story—of a mouse outwitting the creatures of the “deep, dark wood”—to great effect, while attention-grabbing musical elements help to add pace and excitement. At 25 minutes long, this is a good choice for older toddlers, though younger ones familiar with the picture book should be able to enjoy it too. Features a bonus song.
Created by the author to explain racism to his young daughter, this book calls all parents and caregivers to help end racial injustice and create a more equal society in nine steps. The delivery of the rhyming text by Shayna Small is assured and clear, acting as a powerful counterpart to the bold illustrations that will engage young readers. Guy Lockard reads the author’s note of prompts and discussion points. Four minutes.
Narrated and composed by the author, this musical delight will hook young listeners and get them singing and clapping along. A fun tale of friendship and sharing between a dog and some dinosaurs, there’s a lot of energy packed into the five minutes of recording. Ends with the “Groovy Dance” song.
This charming story about a girl and the family history behind each of her many names is narrated by Adriana Sananes, who switches between the voices of young Alma and her father, against a lively musical backdrop, with ease. Although still on the short side—at seven minutes long—young listeners will benefit from having the illustrations of the picture book on hand to help them through the story. A lovely celebration of identity that will appeal to children curious about their own family history.
A charming reimagining of Over in the Meadow with counting and creatures, rhyming and rich language, there’s a lot in this book that young listeners will love. Tom Chapin’s leisurely narration is a joy, as he elongates some words, pauses for effect after others, the sounds of the swamp’s inhabitants his accompaniment. The 17-minute recording includes a version of him singing the story, too.
Do you have a favorite toddler audiobook to share? Tell us about it in the comments!
Andrea Hunt is a writer, editor, and storytimer who shares and reviews picture books in the margins of work and family life (@hellobookcub on Instagram).