Summer Travel Entertainment: Great Audiobooks for Kids
You’ve been barreling down the highway for hours. Everyone’s dissolving into a state of terminal crankiness, including you. The kids cry “are we there yet?” each time a highway exit sign comes into view. The healthy snacks are long gone, you’re down to your last package of emergency Gummy Worms, and you’ve still got four more hours in the car ahead of you. You’re tempted to pull over on the highway and dump the entire crew. Don’t. Instead, pop an audiobook into your car’s CD player, relax, and listen to a story.
You win whether the audiobook is a bad or good recording. A bad recording will anesthetize everyone and put them to sleep; a good recording will keep them enthralled and entertained. It may even enthrall and entertain you, too.
If you haven’t listened to an audiobook in a while, you are in for a treat. There are not too many “bad” audiobooks out there. First, most of the books recorded for children are books that have either received critical acclaim, great popularity, or both. Second, most books are read and recorded by talented professional readers or actors, or occasionally by the author of the book. Consequently, the entertainment factor of audiobooks has gone up considerably.
Unfortunately, audiobooks—especially recordings of novels—are not cheap. Fortunately, many great audiobooks are available free at your local public library. If you are interested in purchasing audiobooks, call or email your local wholesale club to check and compare prices, and watch for special sales at your neighborhood bookstore. You might also want to share and swap audiobooks with your friends and extended families.
Whether your trip is by car, bus, plane, or train here are a few entertaining audiobooks for you to listen to with your kids this summer. Keep in mind that most kids, when read aloud to, can understand books that are a grade level or two above the books they read to themselves. However, you should always consider a book’s content when choosing audiobooks to make sure the story and content are age appropriate for your child. And you may want to tuck a paperback copy of the audiobook into your bag so that the kids can read along if they like.
For Primary Grade and “Older” Listeners
Bud, Not Buddy – read by James Avery, this humorous and poignant novel by Christopher Paul Curtis will capture your entire family’s attention. Ten year old Bud is in search of his absent father, a jazz musician, and his only clue is an old poster featuring his father’s band—great characters and a great story.
Charlotte’s Web – This wonderful family classic is read by the author, one of America’s best writers—E. B. White. Fern saves Wilbur the pig from certain death, and he grows up enriched by the love of a remarkable spider. It is a story of enduring friendship and noble sacrifice, a story the entire family will love.
Mary Poppins – You will find the book different from the movie, with more adventures and more characters. And it is thoroughly entertaining, especially when performed by English actor Sophie Thompson. P. L. Travers’ classic fantasy is one that will capture the attention of any child.
Ramona’s World – Actor Stockard Channing, of Grease and West Wing fame, brings the entire Quimby family to life in this great recording of Beverly Cleary’s book. All the “Beezus and Ramona” books will make you feel like Ms. Cleary has been eavesdropping on your own family, so true are her depictions of family life.
A Snicker of Magic – Midnight Gulch used to be a magical place, a town where people could sing up thunderstorms and dance up sunflowers. But that was long ago, before a curse drove the magic away. Twelve-year-old Felicity knows all about things like that; her nomadic mother is cursed with a wandering heart. Narrated by Cassandra Morris for Scholastic Audio.
The Tale of Despereaux – The magical tale of a mouse and the Princess he adores, and of course, a heroic quest, will keep the entire family enthralled on your journey. Graeme Malcolm does a great job reading Kate DiCamillo’s enchanting novel.
When Marian Sang – The entire family can listen to Marian Anderson’s own soaring voice on this recording—along with Gail Nelson’s talented reading of the moving story. Written by Pam Munoz Ryan, When Marion Sang is a gem of an audiobook.
Winnie the Pooh – A. A. Milne’s classic is given a wondrous and wit-laced reading by Jim Broadbent. The only thing that could make your family’s experience better would be looking at Ernest Shepard’s incredible pen and ink illustrations of Pooh and Christopher Robin, and all the gang—so this is one instance that you must have the book with you when you listen to the recording.
For Fourth Grade Listeners to Adult
Bucking the Sarge – This is a great recording of Christopher Paul Curtis’ latest book read by Michael Boatman. This audiobook is much darker than his Bud not Buddy, but it is balanced by the humor of main character Luther T. Farrell, a fifteen year old growing up under the thumb of his devious mother, “the Sarge” in Flint, Michigan.
The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion and the Fall of Imperial Russia – Narrated by Kimberly Farr for Listening Library in 2014, The Family Romanov tells the tumultuous, heartrending, true story of the Romanovs—at once an intimate portrait of Russia’s last royal family and a gripping account of its undoing.
Harriet the Spy – Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet, sneaking around and writing down everything she sees and hears in her notebook, has fascinated kids for generations. Anne Bobby reads the story and you will be as interested as your kids in Harriet’s escapades.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Harry Potter and Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
All the Harry Potter books are read and performed by the incredible Jim Dale. Using his wide-ranging vocal talents, Dale makes these highly entertaining J. K. Rowling stories about Harry Potter, and his friends and enemies at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, even more suspenseful. The first few Harry Potter books are appropriate for most elementary children through to adult. The latter books in the series become more intense and may be more appropriate for middle school aged kids through to adult.
Hoot – Middle-school kid Roy Eberhardt is new to Florida. He catches site of a shoeless boy running away from his school bus, and that happenstance, together with the construction of a pancake house, send him off on an adventure. Read by Chad Lowe, written by Carl Hiaasen, Hoot is full of humorous and somewhat zany characters—a great read for guys.
Ice Whale – Narrated by Christina Moore, Jean Craighead George’s last novel is told in alternating voices, both human and whale and portrays an ambitious and touching take on the interconnectedness of humans, animals, and the earth they depend on. (Julie Productions, 2014)
No More Nasty – When Simon’s Aunt Mattie comes in as the substitute teacher in is fifth grade class laughter ensues. Written by Amy McDonald and delightfully read by Johnny Heller.
Princess in Pink; The Princess Diaries, Volume V – The Princess Diary recordings are pure frivolous fun especially for sixth grade girls and older. Read by Clea Lewis, Meg Cabot’s books offer the same escapist treats for young women as Bridget Jones books offer their mothers.
The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place – Narrated by Jayne Entwhistle for Listening Library in 2014, The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place tells the story of the students of St. Etheldreda’s School for Girls as they face a bothersome dilemma. Their irascible headmistress, Mrs. Plackett, and her surly brother, Mr. Godding, have been most inconveniently poisoned at Sunday dinner. Now the school will almost certainly be closed and the girls sent home – unless these seven very proper young ladies can hide the murders and convince their neighbors that nothing is wrong.
Troy – The story of Troy is told through the eyes of two young women—Helen of Troy’s handmaiden and the Adromache’s son’s nursemaid—in Adele Garas’s fascinating novel. Miriam Margoyles does a superb narration that is most appropriate for middle and high school aged kids.
Airborn – A Victorian-era fantasy as only Kenneth Oppel can tell it, in which teenager Matt works as a cabin boy on a passenger airship and discovers that the last words of a dying man about beautiful, mysterious flying creatures are more than fanciful imaginings.
Half-Moon Investigations – Eoin Colfer presents schoolboy investigator, Fletcher Moon, who is born to solve any kind of mystery and rises to the challenge when his hometown is affronted with numerous odd crimes.
You can also ask for copies of The Horn Book Magazine at your local library. It has monthly reviews of audiobooks, as well as an interesting occasional feature column on audiobooks by librarian Kristi Elle Jemtegaard. Also check The Horn Book’s audiobook recommendations on their website.
© 2015 The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance