Some families have trouble with their kids watching too much TV or endlessly playing video games. Our kids have trouble with too many audiobooks.
It’s all my fault.
Back in the day when they were just knee high to a grasshopper their Scottish granny brought a stack of cassette tapes from the UK with interesting readings of classic fairy tales. At some point the tapes came with read-along storybooks but those were long gone. I figured the tapes would be a good distraction and, as it happened, the kids loved them. Soon every trip in the car started with a negotiation over which story we would be listening to. We tried (in vain) to turn it into a teachable moment and get them to negotiate and resolve their conflicts but, more often than not, we had to call on our dictatorial powers to resolve the battle.
Note to new parents: having a democratic family is a lovely fantasy but there will come a time when you realize that your sanity depends on living in a totalitarian state and you are the oligarch. You should, of course, be a kind and benevolent despot.
Once we had listened to these tapes to the limit of our sanity I started to branch out and see if I could find other stories they would enjoy. We have the good fortune to live in Seattle and are the beneficiaries of an excellent public library system. As I combed through our local branch and searched on the web site I discovered that it is well stocked with good children’s audiobooks.
I don’t remember what the first book was but I certainly know what they like now. We’ve listened to all the Harry Potter books (except Deathly Hallows) multiple times. The summer before last they listened to Order of the Phoenix no less than five times. They also have a great fondness for the classics. Anne of Green Gables is a particular favorite.
Funny story about that. Another favorite activity while driving in the car is having Daddy lecture them about all kinds of odd topics. The history of the space program, the origin of organized religion, the secret to a successful revolutionary uprising, you know, the usual kid stuff. One perennial favorite is the origin and history of virtually every Marvel and DC comic book character (Batroc the Leaper? Got it covered.) It got to the point where the wife was getting nervous, “They’re reading comic books! What about Anne of Green Gables?”
“Don’t worry,” I assured her, “I’ll have them reading Anne in a week.” A quick trip to the library for the audiobook and voila! Within a week not only had we finished Green Gables but were reading the actual book Anne of Avonlea as a bedtime story.
At this point I should make a case for the audiobook and let you know that there are far worse habits for kids to have (TV and video games – I’m a crunchy granola liberal elitist – kill your TV!). Ok, first of all, kids do need to actually look at words on a page and learn to read – given. While my kids have not spent as much time putting eyeballs to paper considering the number of books they’ve “read” they still score really well on reading tests at school, they have excellent vocabularies, and they’re very good with context and narrative. I’m going to attribute a lot of it to the sheer number of audiobooks they compulsively listen to. Spelling? 50/50, son good, daughter…meh, but Faulkner, Hemingway, Keats, and Austen – all bad spellers so I’m going to reserve judgment.
In future posts I’ll be reviewing favorite books and a review of the audiobook will often be a part of it because with audiobooks the reader and the performance are a large part of what makes the book enjoyable. A Tale of Two Castles, for example; a favorite author, good story, absolutely abysmal reader.