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Podcasts And Audiobooks Reach Out To A New Audience: Children

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Podcasts And Audiobooks Reach Out To A New Audience: Children

Arts & Life

Podcasts And Audiobooks Reach Out To A New Audience: Children

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It is a good time for the spoken word. There's a whole lot out there - from radio to podcasts to audio books. Turns out there are lots of choices out there for young audiophiles too.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WOW IN THE WORLD")

THE POP UPS: Stay seated - three, two, one, ignition.

MARTIN: That is sound from a new podcast from NPR, for kids. It's called Wow In The World, and it's about science, technology and discovery.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "WOW IN THE WORLD")

MINDY THOMAS, BYLINE: There are lots of different types of pollution to give a hoot about.

GUY RAZ, BYLINE: Yeah.

THOMAS: There's water pollution and air pollution...

MARTIN: For the first piece in our series, What's My Kid Doing?, NPR's Elizabeth Blair explores lots of choices.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: There are children's podcasts for just about everything. For science, there's Brains On.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "BRAINS ON")

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Internal combustion engines create tiny explosions by combining fuel, air and heat.

BLAIR: Need help with bedtime? There's "Storynory."

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "STORYNORY")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Mr. Fox was strolling through the woods when he noticed a plump hen sitting on the branch of a tree.

BLAIR: And let's call it the self-help category - there's "Dream Big," co-hosted by 8-year-old Eva Karpman.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "DREAM BIG")

EVA: One of Nicholas' biggest advice for you, big dreamers, is not to worry too much and the importance of keeping a positive attitude.

BLAIR: Most of these kids podcasts started with an adult.

JENNY TURNER HALL: We were dismayed that our kids were obsessed with their screens.

BLAIR: Jenny Turner Hall is a writer and performer who lives in Maplewood, N.J. She and a few of her friends are fans of "Serial," a suspenseful, non-fiction podcast for adults.

TURNER HALL: As "Serial" broke new ground in podcasting and opened the possibilities of storytelling and really addictive storytelling, we wanted to do that but bring it into the realm of a fiction and for kids.

BLAIR: The result, "The Unexplainable Disappearance Of Mars Patel."

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "THE UNEXPLAINABLE DISAPPEARANCE OF MARS PATEL")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: So if your mom or dad is listening, tell them not to pay attention. I created this podcast for you.

BLAIR: Mars Patel is a middle school student whose friends go missing one by one.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "THE UNEXPLAINABLE DISAPPEARANCE OF MARS PATEL")

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: She hasn't posted anything on Instagram all week. There's no one at her house.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: Just cause someone forgets to say goodbye doesn't mean she's missing. I mean, wouldn't her parents be freaking out?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: We don't even know where they are.

BLAIR: "The Unexplainable Disappearance Of Mars Patel" recently won a Peabody Award. Last year, The Guardian named it one of the top 50 podcasts of the year for kids or adults. But best-of doesn't always mean most listened to. According to the data source Podtrac, less than 1 percent of podcast downloads are for those aimed at kids. Jenny Turner Hall admits kids podcasters have a ways to go.

TURNER HALL: We're continuing to try to reach people and let people know that something like this does exist, and we're not the only ones out there doing it.

BLAIR: Turns out audio just doesn't compete with screens, unless an adult introduces the idea.

Who even got the idea that audio books was a possibility?

OMAYMA AL-AWAR: Gosh, I don't even remember how it started.

KIYAN: It was you.

AL-AWAR: It was me?

KIYAN: Yep.

BLAIR: I spoke with Omayma Al-Awar and her 9-year-old son Kiyan at their house in Washington, D.C. They didn't even know there were podcasts for kids, but they're big fans of audio books as a supplement to reading aloud together.

KIYAN: The first one that you got for me was, like, "Goosebumps."

AL-AWAR: Oh, that's right. It was before "Harry Potter."

KIYAN: Yeah, then I got "Mouse And The Motorcycle."

AL-AWAR: And he's a voracious listener. Let's put it this way (laughter). So it's...

KIYAN: I don't want to stop.

BLAIR: For now, young audiophiles like Kiyan are the exception, not the rule. But they may have a leg up on their peers academically. Past studies have shown that listening comprehension is a good predictor of reading success later on. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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