Welcome to the blog of the Tasmanian branch of the Children's Book Council of Australia!

Saturday 12 October 2019

Audiobooks - They speak for themselves!

A recent conversation with a colleague who suggested that listening to a book provided an inferior literary experience, has spurred Jennie to celebrate the exciting, expanding, and enticing developments in the production and publication of recorded books. Are you a print reader or an audio listener – or a bit of both? Read on and embrace both sides of the fence!

Stories have existed long before recorded history and the art of storytelling has evolved to embrace multiple media and formats in print and pictorial forms. However, the oral tradition continues to engage us (thank goodness!) and has been enhanced with technological developments over the last century. From radio broadcasting to serialised popular literature recorded books may have evolving formats – vinyl, cassette, CD, MP3 and eAudio – but the underlying principal remains the same – the joy of listening to a good story.

Jon Scieszka, prolific author and vocal supporter of kids and reading, quite rightly argues that audiobooks add a fun dimension to reading. 

Penguin Random House Audio (2015, March 16). Audiobooks equal seriously FUN reading [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/VtHhltV2Ifg

Knapton (2019, August 19) reports on recent research undertaken by Deniz, Nunez-Elizalde, Huth & Gallant (2019) that created and compared reading and listening semantic maps. The findings identified the same cognitive and emotional brain stimulus from both experiences. These findings indicate that for either delivery mode the brain processes information similarly. Reading and listening are not so far apart! And listening to a story is not an easier option than reading. This is supported by reading expert, Daniel Willingham, author of Raising Kids who Read (2015) who contends that listening to an audiobook is not cheating.

 Willingham does discuss the value of prosody – the rhythm, stress, and intonation of speech – that may aid comprehension. In today’s multimedia world audio storytelling takes this to new levels with many examples of multiple voices, and varied accents to add richness, variety and a sense of place. A striking example of the power of multiple voices is evident in the production of the three titles in the Illuminae Files written by Amie Kauffman and Jay Kristoff and performed by a host of performers and an orchestra! Get the full story at  Illuminae Series – Performance Masterpiece. 

Accents can add a richness and sense of place to a story. A  recently read favourite of mine, accessed through the Sync Audiobooks for Teens US summer reading program, is The Name of the Star – written by Maureen Johnson and narrated by Nicola Barber. A Louisiana teenager is transplanted into an exclusive boarding school in inner London where a series of “Jack the Ripper” style murders take place. The southern US drawl is tempered with upperclass English and Soho slang – an absolute listening delight. An adult perspective on the joy of immersing yourself in the Scottish burr is explored by Ellen Quint (2019) in AudioFile Magazine's article on the Tartan Noir.

And of course, we can’t bypass the..... (drumroll.....) sound effects. The Illuminae Series post (linked above) gives you insights into possibilities and these are so diverse that they can’t be adequately covered here. However, this is big business and a serious art form that warrants exploration. It has a name: foley (named after sound-effects artist Jack Foley). Foley is the reproduction of everyday sounds to add quality and presence to audio tracks including films, videos and, of course, audiobooks. Watch (and listen to) Penguin Books production on the The Making of the Roald Dahl Audio Books and discover more about this fascinating aspect that adds a rich layer of meaning to the audio experience.
Penguin Books UK. (2013). The making of Roald Dahl audio books [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/hIwtAuOpU_g

If you are still concerned about listening and literacy the Audio Publisher Association has drawn together some interesting research captured in this infographic.

© Audio Publisher Assoc. (2019).
How audio promotes literacy 
However, the accuracy has been questioned - check out this post by Sue Toms: Misleading Graphic About Audiobooks.

“We will speak for the books."

"Like the Lorax?"
"The Lorax speaks for the trees," I remind her.
"Books are made out of paper. Paper is made out of trees."
"What about e-books?"
"We can speak for them too."
"Audiobooks speak for themselves." She grins. "Get it?” 
Paul Acampora, I Kill the Mockingbird

Audio Publisher Association. (2019). How audio promotes literacy [Infographic]. Retrieved from https://www.audiopub.org/uploads/pdf/sound-learning_infographic_2019.pdf

Bales, J. (2019, September 27). Illuminae Series – Performance Masterpiece [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://jenniebales.wordpress.com/2019/09/27/illuminae-series-performance-masterpiece/

Deniz, F. Nunez-Elizalde, A. Huth, A. g. & Gallant, J. (2019). The representation of semantic information across human cerebral cortex during listening versus reading is invariant to stimulus modality, 39(39), 7722-7736. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0675-19.2019

Knapton (2019, August 19). End of audiobook snobbery as scientists find reading and listening activates the same parts of the brain [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2019/08/19/end-audiobook-snobbery-scientists-find-hearing-listening-activates/  

Penguin Books UK. (2013, September 13). The making of Roald Dahl audio books [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/hIwtAuOpU_g

Penguin Random House Audio (2015, March 16). Audiobooks equal seriously FUN reading [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/VtHhltV2Ifg

Quint, E. (2019, August 12). Tartan noir: Discover the rich offerings of the Scottish crime audiobooks [blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.audiofilemagazine.com/blog/tartan-noir-discovering-the-rich-offerings-of-scottish-crime-audiobooks/

Willingham, D. (2016). Is listening to an audio book cheating?. Retrieved from http://www.danielwillingham.com/daniel-willingham-science-and-education-blog/is-listening-to-an-audio-book-cheating

Jennie Bales
Avid book listener
CBCA Committee Member & Social Media Coordinator


  1. Thanks so much for the update on the current technology and choices for readers. As technology evolves it is great to be aware of the changes and able to give sound advice to students, especially from an evidence based perspective. Thanks Jennie

  2. Hi Jennie, I noticed you included the APA infographic about audiobooks. Unfortunately the stats are misleading on that graphic. I can't find anything in the bibliography that indicates where they got it from. I've written about it in a recent blog post: https://audiobookresearch.wordpress.com/2019/10/15/misleading-infographic-about-audiobooks/

    1. Hi Sue and thank for identifying this. And also for your site details - a great source of information. https://audiobookresearch.wordpress.com/about/

  3. Hi Jennie, You beat me to it! I was about to suggest a blog about audio books as I am a very, very keen listener. Have favourite series and favourite readers too! Thanks for the references, I'll certainly look up some of them. Kay