Playaways – A New Way to Get Kids Excited About Books!

Books Electronics GeekMom Household Gadgets Technology
Photo: Playaway

I’m constantly surprised by the number of people who come into our library and have no idea what I’m talking about when I say, “Have you tried our Playaways?”

If that question confuses you too, let me share with you one of the fun new ways to listen to an audio book. I am pretty sure that if I didn’t work at a library I wouldn’t have found these cool new gadgets either.

A Playaway is an audio book that looks more like an iPod. It’s smaller than a pack of cards and holds the entire book inside its cute little case. All you do is plug in headphones and push the play button. It even comes with a lanyard so you can hang it around your neck, if you like listening to books while you walk the dog.

I tried our first Playaway on a road trip to Grandma’s house last year, and borrowed three different titles from the library. They were a hit with my kids. There was no need to drag along a personal CD player, there was no switching out of discs when one ran out, and there was no need for keeping track of slippery discs that seem to love hiding under van seats.

I was a bit nervous about them being stolen out of our car when we stopped at rest areas, especially considering they didn’t technically belong to us and I don’t like owing money to the library. So I quickly tucked them into my purse before we went inside. It worked like a charm.

By pushing the pause button my son could hold his place in the book, and I didn’t have to worry about the device being lifted out of our unoccupied car or falling behind the seats. It made me think how handy this would be on long subway, train and plane trips also. It’s easy to tuck a few in your bag, just in case your child needs a couple of back up titles.

Photo: Playaway

I know. I know. A lot of people will say “…but a book reader device holds hundreds of books.” And to that I would say three things. One, not all of us can afford to buy our kids (or ourselves) book readers yet. Two, this little thing is much smaller and easier to carry around than a flat tablet, and can easily fit into a child’s pocket. And three, kids seem to be very excited about the idea of a book being inside a tiny iPod looking device. At our library many reluctant readers have been eager to try out this new book reader. It makes them feel like they’re using something entertaining, like an iPod, which is only a good thing when it comes to getting books into the hands of kids.

Of course Playaways come in hundreds of titles for kids but also hundreds of titles for adults. Most of the latest best sellers can be bought (or borrowed) in this format. As they gain popularity, libraries and schools are increasing their collections. It’s the logical next step to making audio books easier to use and enjoy.

I will say this – they are not cheap.  A lot of the kid’s book versions start at 39.99 and go up from there.  But the most logical step, that helps your whole community of readers, is encouraging your local school and public librarians to purchase more for their collections. Check out the ones they do offer and show them, by increased circulation numbers, that it’s an item worth buying.  For many kids (and adults) it’s a great new way to have access to great books.

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6 thoughts on “Playaways – A New Way to Get Kids Excited About Books!

  1. I wonder what makes them so expensive? It certainly isn’t the cost of materials. I think these are a great idea, and I hope that the price becomes more reasonable within the near future!

  2. I love these things and recently blogged about them myself. The ones from my library don’t have a lanyard, but that’s something I might try. And we have to supply our own batteries.

    More reasons to try these with reluctant readers: –There are some kids that process a book a lot better by hearing it than by seeing it.
    –The tiny little player is much less daunting-looking than a big thick book, or even a stack of CDs.
    –You can adjust the speed to “read” it faster or slower without changing the quality of the audio (no chipmunks).

  3. I haven’t tried our library’s playaways yet but I recently borrowed the idea to make a DIY one for an older friend in the hospital. I downloaded some audiobook CDs onto a cheap kids’ mp3 player (sort of like this one: that he could use anytime without having to keep track of the discs or worry if he loses the whole thing. The one I bought runs on AAA batteries, so I included some in a zip top plastic bag along with the player so he doesn’t even have to worry about recharging it. From what I hear it’s been working great!

  4. Our library has a bunch of these. They’re the best thing to happen to “books on tape” since MP3 players.

    Besides the format, the content is amazing as well. My first rental from our library was “The Maltese Falcon.” It reminded me of the old radio dramas from the 30s and 40s I used to listen to on late-night radio. Great foley work (for lack of a better term), talented voice acting, and smooth adaptation from pure text to the Playaway format. Thanks for the reminder – I’m going to the library!

  5. I know I’m not the only one who gets motion sick reading in a car/train/plane. These would be great for travelling from that point of view too.

    I load my mp3 player up with audio books before any trip, our library hasn’t gotten a great selection of playaways yet.

  6. Our high schools haven’t been as impressed with the Playaways. Most of our kids are already carrying a music player (iPod, phone, etc) and are not really interested in another thing to haul around. From the libraries’ perspective, they are very expensive and you need to remind the kids to get batteries for them. We’re more interested in systems like Overdrive, if they had more titles, or Audible, if they had library licensing agreements. I think you’re right, though, that Playaways are good for the younger kids.

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