Nothing brings a children’s book to life better than a good reader and while we’re all ace at reading out loud to our children ourselves (of course!), sometimes a real pro can turn the prose into something quite magical.
But where do you find the best online children’s stories among the sea of YouTube, Instagram and Facebook videos and streams? Which ones will keep your child entranced?
We’ve done a lot of searching and listening, and found the best stories to suit all ages and tastes – whether you’re looking for a preschooler’s bedtime story, a toddler’s interactive story adventure, a bestselling author reading a much-loved favourite, a whole host of celebs sharing classic children’s tales or even an astronaut reading from space!
Here’s our pick on the best children’s stories to listen to (and watch) online
1. Tom Hardy reads Odd Dog Out by Rob Biddulph
Watch actor Tom Hardy bring Rob Biddulph’s classic Odd Dog Out to life in this YouTube video of one of Tom’s famous CBeebies Bedtime Stories sessions. Odd Dog Out, about a sausage dog trying to work out where she fits in in the world, has won multiple awards and, as you’ll see in the video, has the most wonderful, colourful, funny illustrations.
2. The CBeebies Bedtime Story collection on iPlayer
Pic: CBeebies/BBC iPlayer
There are currently 30 CBeebies Bedtime Stories featured on iPlayer, each of them starring a well-known celeb as the narrator. Among our favourites are:
And all 4 of Tom Hardy’s other story recordings (can’t think why…) Still want more? You can access 40 more Bedtime Stories by downloading the free CBeebies app on iPhone, Android or Kindle
3. Cressida Cowell reads How to Train Your Dragon
Pic: Cressida Cowell/YouTube Cressidacowell/YouTube
Little How to Train Your Dragon fans can listen to author, illustrator and children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell read her bestselling book from cover to cover, with each chapter in its own self-contained video. Kids will love Cressida’s friendly face, expressive actions and different character voices – plus you get to see the shed where she works (filled with books of course). Cressida’s also recorded herself reading all 19 chapters of How to Be Pirate and is currently working her way through How to Speak Dragonese.
4. Free Audible books for kids
Pic: Audible StoriesAudio book service Audible is providing 100s of free audio books for kids. The books, which include Winnie the Pooh, Beatrix Potter and Dr Seuss stories, are really helpfully arranged into different age groups:
- Baby – including The Wheels on the Bus and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
- Little Listeners – including The Lion & The Mouse and Stone Soup
- Elementary – including Anne of Green Gables and RL Stine’s Camp Red Moon
- Tween – including White Fang and Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja
- Teen – including A Little History of the World and Do Tigers Drink Blood?
- Classics – including Jane Eyre read by Thandie Newton and Jack London’s Call of the Wild
5. Story Imagin-ory’s Hairy McClairy readalong
Pic: Story Imagin-ory/Facebook
Babies and toddlers can enjoy a fun interactive read-along session with Freya in Story Imagin-ory’s Hairy Maclary readalong video – which also comes with an excellent free downloadable activity pack. The storytime video includes signs and songs, as well as a reading of the famous doggy story, and the activities in the pack feature a Doggy Care role play game and making pretend dog bones out of homemade salt dough.
6. Story Time from Space
Pic: Story Time from Space/YouTube
This is story time with an intergalatic twist! Your chidren can watch and listen to astronauts reading books from the International Space Station, which is currently orbiting the Earth. Take your pick from a number of space-themed stories (which vary in length), including the pre-school picture book Mousetronaut (8 minutes) or Ada Lace Take Me to Your Leader which is split into 3 parts and suitable for 7 years+.
While listening to some brilliant space-themed stories, you get an incredible glimpse inside the International Space Station from where the astronauts are reading – and floating – in zero gravity. Take a look outside the windows in some of the videos, and you may even be able to spot the Earth orbiting outside.
7. Hollywood celebs do SavewithStories
Save the Children has teamed up with a whole host of Hollywood celebs for their Save with Stories scheme, where you can watch and listen to them read some fantastic children’s books on Instagram. Your kids might even recognise some of the famous faces, including Lily James who played Cinderella, model Winnie Harlow or Chris Pratt who starred in the Marvel films. Whether you’re a Julia Donaldson fan (read by Eddie Redmayne) or Dr Seuss is more your thing, there are so many readings to choose from. And each one is no longer than 10 minutes, so are perfect for a short activity or a break in the day.
8. Little Angel theatre’s ‘I Want My Hat Back’ puppet show
The Little Angel Theatre has filmed a tabletop (well chest-of-drawers-top, to be honest) puppet performance of the bestselling children’s book I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen, featuring a rather puzzled hat-less bear. It’s really nicely done. And once you’ve watched that, you can tune in to the follow-up performance of This is Not My Hat
9. Top children’s stories from the Kids Book Festival
The recent Stratford Literary Festival has a whole Kids Book Festival programme and you can catch loads of it on the Sharing Stories page of the Festival website. It’s like having a succession of brilliant storytellers come into your house! You can:
- Listen to hugely popular author Kes Gray read his own Oi Frog! story
- Enjoy a face drawing class by Horrible Histories illustrator Martin Brown (not strictly reading but we had to include it!)
- Hear author Tracey Corderoy read Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam
- Watch author Sean Taylor read Hoot Owl – the master of disguise
10. Alex Schleffer reads Stickman
The amazing illustrator Axel Scheffler (who drew the pics for Gruffalo and Stickman) reads Julia Donaldson’s Stickman on publisher Scholastic’s YouTube channel. If you’re following at home with the books in your hand, can you find the little Gruffalo head hiding in the story?
11. Oliver Jeffers – and friends – read The Day the Crayons Quit
Watch author and illustrator Oliver Jeffers reading The Day the Crayons Quit on YouTube with special guests for the different crayon voices – including no less than fellow Crayons author, Drew Daywalt, voicing the pink crayon! Oliver talks at the beginning about the story, but in case your little child wants to get straight into the story, it begins at around 3.50 minutes.
12. Celebs read stories for Tonies NHS Record & Share
Tonies, makers of the Toniebox audio storytelling system, have teamed up with a whole host of celebs to provide readings of classic children’s stories on its Instagram and Facebook pages – and raise money for its #nhsrecordandshare fund for key workers.
Some of our favourites include:
- Singer Duncan James (in brilliant fancy dress) reads the vintage cautionary tales of Der Struwwelpeter by Heinrich Hoffmann
- Andi Osho reads Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o
- Rupert Everett read The Little Mouse by Manon Sea
- Tina Hobley reads part of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
- Griff Rhys Jones reads the Quangle Wangle’s Hat by Edward Lear