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Listen to Hundreds of Free Audiobooks, From Classics to Educational Texts

Audible’s new service is aimed at school-age children participating in distance learning but features selections likely to appeal to all

A selection of classic books available on Audible Stories (Screenshot via Audible)
smithsonianmag.com

With classrooms closed due to COVID-19, millions of students across the United States are venturing into the realm of distance learning. To support these efforts, Amazon’s audiobook service, Audible, has launched an online collection of hundreds of free audiobooks primed for both education and entertainment.

The website doesn’t require a log-in, sign-up or payment information. To peruse Audible’s selection of novels, poetry and fables—from classics to modern favorites—simply click “Start Listening.”

“As the world grapples with new challenges, Audible’s younger listeners in particular have an immediate need,” Audible CEO Bob Carrigan tells Daryl Austin of Business Insider. “Our intent is that Stories will offer parents, educators, and caregivers a screen-free experience to look forward to each day, while keeping young minds engaged.”

The books in Audible Stories are categorized by age group, from “Littlest Listeners” to “Tween” and “Teen.” The collection also includes several dozen “Literary Classics” and “Folk & Fairy Tales for All.”

Younger children may enjoy Winnie-the-Pooh or Timeless Tales of Beatrix Potter. Elementary schoolers, meanwhile, can choose from 91 options, including Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Audible’s “Teen” category offers a mix of realistic fiction, fantasy, nonfiction and language-learning texts, while the classics page includes such novels as Jane Eyre, Frankenstein and Moby Dick.

A recording of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, as narrated by Stephen Fry, is available in the “Tween” section; French, German, Japanese, Italian and Spanish versions of the wizarding classic are also included on the platform.

Audible Stories features just over 30 books each in French, German and Italian, as well as 55 books in Japanese. The more than 150 books recorded in Spanish are further categorized by accent: either latino neutral or castellano.

Per the Economist, audiobooks provide immersive, screen-free entertainment that engages children while they color or otherwise play. According to a survey of around 100 participants’ physiological data, researchers concluded that listening and reading better inspire peoples’ imaginations, “which in turn leads to a greater emotional engagement” than experienced when watching videos.

The Audible Stories website states, “For as long as schools are closed, we’re open.”

This goal is similar to that of the National Emergency Library, which—controversially—makes more than a million free books available for temporary download. Normally, the archive has about 2.5 million public domain books available for download without constraint. An additional 1.4 million copyrighted books are accessible to one reader at a time for a two-week borrowing period.

The Emergency Library removes that one-at-a-time restriction until the end of June, “or the end of the U.S. national emergency, whichever is later,” according to a statement. Backlash from authors and publishers has since framed the collection as internet piracy that violates intellectual property laws, but the campaign still has its fair share of supporters.

Audible’s offerings come without any of these concerns. So, if you enjoy audiobooks, the Audible Stories platform represents a straightforward option that can be enjoyed in conjunction with audiobook downloads offered by public libraries. Apple Books is also highlighting free book options, joining Audible Stories in a growing repertoire of at-home educational content.

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