By Andrea Hunt
By the age of three, many kids will be open to the idea of listening to audiobooks, if they aren’t already enjoying them. And the good news is that audio stories are so much more than a useful tool for entertaining captive audiences in the back seat. Research has found that children also can continue to develop their literacy skills through listening to them.
What’s also great for parents is that, when it comes to choosing audiobooks for preschoolers, you have a lot of options. You can always go with longer classics like Winnie-The-Pooh and introduce them to hours’ worth of listening and a full cast of voices in one download. But it’s also well worth exploring the many appealing audio versions of newer, shorter works, counterparts to picture books you can enjoy together at home. Doing so will give young children just starting to read and decode words the opportunity to follow along with the story (and practice more of their literacy skills!) if they choose.
For recommendations of children’s audio stories that will be music to your preschooler’s ears, start with this curated list of titles. From short recordings to longer ones, highly musical versions to simple narration, experiment with different styles of audiobooks to find what works best for your little one. Also be sure to check out our list of 10 of the best audio books for toddlers, which preschoolers will enjoy as well. Then to explore these titles or search for more, the Audio Publishers Association, the Association for Library Service to Children, and AudioFile (where you can often hear samples of recordings, too) are all fantastic resources. Happy listening!
“I wrote a love note to my sons that they could read forever and hid it inside a metaphor about bees,” says author and artist Larkin about this joyous book. He, his sons, and his wife team up to deliver the 12-minute audio version, accompanied by buzzing bees and jazzy music. The result makes a lively and engaging companion to the picture book, in which little ones will learn a lot about bees and the importance of loving what sometimes scares us.
Actress and author Nyong’o narrates this 13-minute audiobook of her own work—a beautiful and sensitively handled fable about a girl learning to accept and love her skin color and recognize her inner radiance. Nyong’o’s delivery is everything you’d expect from an Academy Award winner, while the music by Justin Ellington and African drumming help create an immersive atmosphere and engaging listening experience. Want to know more about this #OwnVoices work? Nyong’o also recorded a video readaloud of Sulwe and did an interview on the audiobook’s creation process.
Guy Lockard narrates the nine-minute recording of this popular picture book about the beauty and power of words. Thanks to his enthusiastic delivery, the up-beat music, and perfect timing, the words seem to leap out at you—little listeners familiar with the story will love chiming in or repeating them. One for word lovers everywhere, this is a wonderful example of how an audiobook can introduce a fantastic extra dimension to a story.
This poignant eight-minute audio story tells about a boy who imagines the lives of other people by studying their faces and drawing pictures of them—before realizing that you can never know someone just from their appearance. Narrated by Dion Graham without background music or sound effects, it’s likely best for older preschoolers and those easily distracted by extra audio elements. Offering them a hard copy to follow along with the illustrations can help them follow along with the story better.
Spaghetti Western-style music and ambient desert noises create a delightfully immersive atmosphere in this enchanting story about friendship and sharing between two turtles—brought to life in gravelly old-timer tones by Johnny Heller and Chris Curry. At six minutes long, it’s a good choice for younger preschoolers, and even toddlers, especially those who appreciate a leisurely listening pace and gentle message.
Narrated by three members of a voice-acting family—Brian, Rosi, and Alisa Amador—this is a lovely story of a grandmother and granddaughter learning to connect and communicate with each other despite language barriers. Spanish words and engaging music are woven into the 12-minute audiobook, one that should appeal to young Latinx listeners and others alike.
For kids who love their audiobooks on the musical side, this one is hard to beat. Expressively narrated by Dion Graham, and showcasing a vivid New Orleans soundscape of horns and crowds, this captivating 13-minute autobiography of the award-winning musician will take listeners on an audio journey they’ll want to revisit. It pairs wonderfully with the picture book illustrations.
In this preschooler age-group at least, it’s not all that common to find children’s audiobooks narrated by children. But here’s an example, voiced by Blue Ivy Carter, that works well. This heartwarming story of a girl who wants an extra-special hairstyle to greet her mom’s return home—and her dad’s many attempts to achieve it—is relatable and refreshing. The uplifting yet unobtrusive music and short running time of four minutes also make it an easy listening choice for younger preschoolers as well as older ones.
Celebrating a Native American food staple, and with a message on community and family, this book and its 34-minute audio counterpart will engage little learners through wonderful depictions. Read by the author, a member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, the rich language complemented by cheery music and evocative sound effects, it ends with a recipe for making fry bread.
For those who love a wintry tale, it’s hard not to be charmed by this story of Cozy the musk ox and the many animals who seek shelter under his soft coat. Young listeners will love curling up for nine minutes of story time with this one, poring over the detailed illustrations as René Ruiz narrates against a backdrop of whistling winds and animal sound effects.
Which children’s audio stories for preschoolers do you love? Let us know!
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).