You’re going to have to keep your kids occupied over the holiday weekend, and audiobooks are a great option for three reasons. First, studies prove that strong listening skills are linked to improved language comprehension and facile learning. Second, there are so many unexpected celebrities recording books these days, for a brain-building time trap for your kids makes a great game of audio “It’s that guy?” with your partner. Finally, they’re free, so you can make your kids pay for them.
If you miss having time for TV and movies
Speakaboos is an archive of classic nursery rhymes and folk tales with enhancements like printable worksheets and trivia games to accompany each story. (Monthly and annual subscriptions are available for access to more of the above, plus a new iPad app.) More important for you is their bizarre roster of random celebrity readers, including Kevin Bacon, Clay Aiken, and Crispin Glover doing the creepiest version of “Jack And Jill” you’ll ever hear.
If you’re desperate for new books
Storyline Online (streaming)
Speaking of celebrity readers, Storyline is produced by the Screen Actors Guild Foundation and features actors like Elijah Wood, Betty White, and Bradley Whitford. The book selection is limited (currently 29 titles), but it focuses on popular contemporary books that aren’t yet in the public domain, like Harry The Dirty Dog and I Need My Monster. Unfortunately, if you plan on driving anywhere this weekend, you’ll want to skip Brave Irene as read by Al Gore, or risk falling asleep at the wheel.
If you want to describe your kid as “erudite”
Loyal Books (streaming, downloads, podcast)
Audiobooks in the public domain are all over the internet, but most of the archives are are poorly organized and hard to search. Loyal Books (formerly Books Should Be Free) has the best interface we found and has all the classics, including Aesop’s Fables and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. It’s also a handy repository of the books you’ve been lying since high school about having read yourself.
If you’re willing to gamble on your kid’s attention span
Storynory (streaming, downloads, podcast)
Storynory collects the classics but also records original stories starring Bertie The Frog Prince, Katie The Ordinary Witch, Astropup, and more. These are notable for their running times, which are in the 20-minute range and might manage to promote both listening skills and sleep, hopefully in quick succession.
If you insist that MP3s have no soul
Kiddie Records Weekly (streaming, downloads)
Kiddie Records Weekly streams old school kids vinyl from the ’40s and ’50s (downloads are available with a $10 subscription). The collection skews more commercial than others and includes Disney’s Mr. Toad, several Bugs Bunny stories read by Mel Blanc himself, and a version of Winnie The Pooh and Tigger read with quivering sincerity by James Stewart.
If you forgot to download anything
Both services offer plenty of stories – including several by Dr. Seuss – via a quick title search. There are also tons of user-generated playlists like this one (Rdio) and this one (Spotify). More importantly, both services have the 1978 version of Peter And The Wolf that David Bowie recorded as a gift to his son, Duncan. Ziggy may have played guitar, but the Wolf, man? The Wolf plays French horn.