My Two Cents on Audiobooks
The May/June issue of The Horn Book Magazine (which I have actually started reading already!) includes an article by Pamela Varley entitled As Good as Reading? Kids and the Audiobook Revolution. (It's the first article, which means I haven't read much.) It's a well-balanced discussion of a subject you wouldn't believe could inspire much passion. However, audiobooks--like television--are often attacked as being devices that will destroy reading skills and once we can no longer read it's only a small step to the end of life as we know it. (You know, there are probably people who would be happy to see that happen.)
So what's my take on this important issue? First off, I think it says something good about us that reading has such a central position in our culture that groups of people worry that other activities will undermine it. I also think that audiobooks aren't going to do it. Listening to a book is not worse or better than reading one. It's just different.
My own experience with audiobooks and children is that they expose kids to authors they might not otherwise have had an opportunity to know about. That is, of course, assuming an adult knows a child's tastes and what he or she has been reading and uses that knowledge to make a selection. Our own family started reading Roald Dahl because we listened to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the car on the way to New Hampshire. Though not a fan of Jack London, myself, Call of the Wild seemed like a good pick for the family to listen to on another trip. (It's grim, but that's us.) Notice I used the word family in each of the last two sentences. Though we all read, this is not the Nineteenth Century, and we don't sit next to the fire in the evening reading aloud to each other. Audiobooks in the car gave us an opportunity to hear a book together that we wouldn't otherwise have had. And audiobooks also introduced one young reader in our family to adult mystery novels--he would listen to one on tape and then read through all the author's works. He did this a number of times.
If the adults in our family had been purists and said they'd allow only traditional books in our home, a lot less reading would have been done. So in case I haven't made my point, I'll put it bluntly--I'm a fan of audiobooks.