Kidcasts: Podcast Trendsetters in 2021

From health-centered shows to series with fully formed fictional worlds, these podcasts for kids reveal promising directions in original audio content.

Kidcasts 2020 Trends (graphic of a radio mic)The 2021 SLJ Kidcast playlists revealed a yearning for normalcy amid continuing uncertainty. The most popular listening of the year included Summer ReadingTales & Tails, Series and Serials, Game Shows, and Frightful Fun, indicating a desire for stories, escape, and summer fun. The Covering COVID to the Capitol Insurrection and New Normal Back-to-School playlists divulge a concern about the health and collective spirits of our communities.

As librarians help kids and families discover screen-free listening, one of the most exciting pieces of kidcast news of 2021 was that Apple announced a partnership with Common Sense Media (CSM) to curate browsable, high-interest podcast collections. This partnership, along with CSM’s Sensical app launch, will be worth watching, as more podcast platforms strategize to build parent trust. This year also saw more monetizing in kids podcasting, such as Apple’s new paid subscription services, where families can subscribe to ad-free shows and bonus listening, and producers like Pinna, PRX’s Pod Squad, and Amazon’s Wondery bundling multiple shows and episodes.

This list spotlights patterns we hope to see continue in 2022. The podcast selections explore new directions, some by creating story ecosystems, others by branching into other media forms. 

Kidcasts: Trendsetters of the New Normal 2021

Mystery Recipe, Misty’s Cookie Cookalong
Ages 4-8–In 2020 into 2021, a host of fiction, nonfiction, and activity books were released by podcast shows, including Wow in the World, Fina Mendoza MysteriesThis Week in the Multiverse, Story SeedsNoodle Loaf, and American Test Kitchen’s (ATK) Mystery Recipe. This strategy gives kids deeper connections with their favorite stories and characters from books. Many of the titles include QR codes or other source notes directing readers to the podcasts. A QR in ATK’s new picture book, Mitsy the Oven Mitt Goes to School: A Story About Being Brave by Chad Chenail and illustrations by Gabi Homonoff, takes kids to this podcast episode. ATK Mystery Recipe host and editor-and-chief Molly Birnbaum introduces Mitsy and gives kids step-by-step instructions for the Chewy Chocolate Chip recipe in the book. ATK’s Mystery Recipe is in its fourth season of sharing recipes, singing, and jokes to keep listeners entertained. We hope to see more books by podcasters in 2022.

Yoga Kids Adventure, Yoga to Go to Bed: Bear Cave Adventure
Ages 5-8Shows focused on childhood and family well-being have been winning awards and attention, including Imagine Neighborhood and Chompers, and we were excited to see more new partnerships in 2021. Yoga Kids Adventure is from Tumble Media, a new children’s educational audio company, in partnership with Bliss Kid Yoga, a yoga program for underserved children and families. In this episode, host Kathyron Mercer's guided poses give kids the opportunity to conquer big emotions while they stretch, while leading them on adventures through imagined settings such as a jungle or beach. Background music enhances the experience. The show's episodes pair well with family routines; this one imagines taking kids into a cave at bedtime for a long, bear-like sleep. With well-being taking center stage in the new normal, we hope to see more partnerships promoting healthy activities and addressing mental health.

Bobby Wonder, Bobby Wonder Powers Up!
Ages 6-9–Among the kidcast creators experimenting with story or information ecosystems, GoKidGo pulls out all the stops. Bobby Wonder is one of many shows created it created in 2021, along with Lucy Wow, Kapow’s Power of Invention, R.L. Stine’s Story Club, Whale of a Tale, Floozeville, and Story Train. The detailed worlds in these shows offer kids a way to engage their imaginations without screens. “39 Clues” author Patrick Carman is part of the team behind GoKidsGo content. Danny Pudi, the actor from productions including DuckTales, Community, and Mythic Quest, stars as Bobby Wonder, the 10-year-old turned superhero. In this introductory episode, Bobby’s parents tell him the surprising but awesome news that he is an alien from another planet, with superpowers. He invents his superhero name, starts harnessing his powers, adopts a sidekick (Grabstack, a dog with a musical directing background), and meets his arch-nemesis. We hope more creators will launch expansive audio worlds like this one.

Story Seeds, Kids on Air with Friends and Family: Podcasting Camp Showcase
Ages 7-13Podcast creators have been engaging kids in the podcast process through writing or storytelling in shows like Story Pirates Creators ClubWhat If World, and Listenwise. This summer, Story Seeds launched online summer podcasting camps for kids, with youth services librarian and media mentor Claudia Haines and guests leading them through the process. In this episode, kids interview family and friends, providing an intimate glimpse into their diverse worlds. Sandhya Nankani, founder of Literary Safari Media and creator of Story Seeds, says, “parents were very excited about this new media form that offers the opportunity for their kids to have a screen-free experience and try their hand at being content creators, researchers, and artists.” We hope to see more library audio studios and maker spaces will jump aboard this trend.

Reach, Live with NASA Astronauts Megan McArthur and Mark Vande Hei on the International Space Station
Ages 8-13–Interview podcasts are a a common show format, and kids and grownups love learning from real conversations. It’s exciting to see podcasters being creative with the format, some literally reaching for the stars. REACH: A Space Podcast for Kids was given the distinct honor of interviewing NASA Astronauts Megan McArthur and Mark Vande Hei onboard the International Space Station. Reach hosts Meredith Sepian and Brian Holden ask the astronauts pre-recorded kids’ questions. Listeners learn about walking in space, what Earth looks from there, and a day in the life of an astronaut on the space station. The event was recorded and aired live on NASA TV. We hope more kidcasters will push the bounds of production, inspiring kids to be curious about this world and beyond.

Cultureverse, The Cholito de la Suerte
Ages 9-17Recent kids podcast surveys revealed the lack of social-economic diversity in podcast listenership. According to Shaquille Anderson, marketing manager of audience growth for TRAX on PRX, “Diverse storytelling needs to be delivered by diverse voices.” The Paris-based multilingual PRX studio is dedicated to “raising voices across cultures,” and its vision delivers in shows including Mic Drop, Ooo! You’re in Trouble!, Timestorm, and two 2021 productions, Milky Way Galaxy and Cultureverse. Cultureverse is an immersive audio drama produced by Ochenta Studios, with authentic voices narrating myths and legends from cultures around the world. In each episode, hosts Kelly Marie Tran and Yara Shahidi recount one child’s journey as they encounter a creature, spirit, or folk character from a different corner of the world. In this episode, Isa meets a Mexican folk creature named Cholito de la Suerte, who, if taken care of properly, will grant you money for the rest of your life. The informative, immersive dramas make for great family listening. Survey data indicates families want more shows about languages and cultures, as well as more tween and teen content. We hope others will follow PRX’s lead creating high-interest stories with diverse voices, authentic cultural stories, and informed opinions.

As the trends indicate, kids are listening, podcasters are responding, and families are looking to trusted sources to discover great shows. As Anderson says, “Media plays an increasingly significant role in how youth shape their identities, develop relationships, and seek information that matters to them...they help create ecosystems that redefine who can contribute and where young people look for content they like and trust.”

Here’s to 2022!

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