When I was a child, my parents would check out audiobooks for us to listen to when we made long car trips. Our family still quotes lines from The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, which we listened to on a 10-day camping trip through Colorado in 1994.
Now, I’m a completely addicted to audiobooks and listen to them constantly (especially when I’m doing something mindless like cooking or cleaning the bathroom). I can’t wait until my daughter is old enough to listen to them with me in the car.
While I wait for her to grow up a little more, here are nine of my favorite audiobooks for the whole family to enjoy, whether it is during the endless driving loop between school, sports, and errands during the fall or for longer road-trips for Thanksgiving and the holidays.
1. Escape!: The Story of The Great Houdini by Sid Fleischman – If you’re looking for a little non-fiction in your children’s lives, there aren’t many easier sells than a book about Houdini. Like a good magician, this book doesn’t give away the secrets of Houdini’s magic, but it does give a completely gripping account of Houdini, the man and the magician and why he’s still so famous and compelling nearly ninety years after his death. And Fleischman does a brilliant job explaining Houdini’s flair for reinventing and doctoring his own life story and noting when the records don’t match up and what various possible realities might be. Fascinating from start to finish.
2. Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt – Although this book was published before I was born (and as I now know, hugely popular), I’d never read it until my library closed for a month for renovations and I needed two LONG audiobooks to keep me occupied until it reopened. This story (and its sequel, Dicey’s Song, which won the Newbery) completely drew me in, following the story of Dicey and her three younger siblings when their mother abandons them with no money or food at a shopping mall. Dicey is determined to keep her family together and they set off on foot to find their nearest living relatives, a journey which isn’t exactly smooth.
3. Princess Academy by Shannon Hale – This is a Full-Cast Audio production, which means every character has a different voice, there are sound effects and musical additions, and it’s almost like listening to an old-fashioned radio show. And don’t let the title deter you – this isn’t an overly-girly book. Expect strong characters, adventure, and a few plot twists. We listened to this one on a three day drive across the country and were almost sad to arrive at our destination (almost).
4. Savvy by Ingrid Law – What kid (or adult) doesn’t love the idea of a special power? In Savvy, every member of the family discovers their own ability (or savvy) at the age of thirteen – sometimes they are fantastic, like her brother’s ability to control water, while some are a bit useless. Mibs can’t wait to find out what hers is, but then, on the eve of her birthday, her father is in a horrible automobile accident and all thoughts about what her new power might be are pushed aside by her desire to get to her father’s hospital bed and urge him to recover.
5. A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park – This Newbery winner, set in 12th century Korea, follows orphaned Tree-ear as he begins working for an acclaimed local potter, Min, who has dreams of becoming a potter for the king. As Tree-ear’s responsibilities increase at the potter’s workshop, he also becomes involved in trying to help Min achieve his ambition. The narration for this is superb and the book, which is not very long, ends all too soon.
6. Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy – I started listening to this one and within a few tracks had to restart it with my husband because I knew he would love it. We fell in love with this quick-paced mystery/thriller featuring a walking, talking, snappy-dressing skeleton detective and the crazy adventures he and his 12-year-old sidekick Stephanie get into. I laughed outloud more during this book than almost any other audiobook I can remember.
7. The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud – If you’re going through Harry Potter withdrawals, this is a fantastic series. It’s not modern, like Harry Potter, but the fully-formed magical world (in this case peppered with magicians and djinn) is just as smart, clever, and thrilling as J.K. Rowling’s. Nathanial is an apprentice to a fairly low-level magician and, after a public humiliation, decides to take matters into his own hands and summon a djinni. But that djinni, Bartimeaus, turns out to be a lot for one eleven-year-old magician-in-training to handle. Simon Jones narrates all four of the books, and there is, in my opinion, no one better, even Jim Dale.
8. The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke – You probably know Cornelia Funke from her best-selling Inkheart series, but this is my favorite of her books. About two orphaned brothers on the run to escape their very unkind aunt and uncle. I couldn’t tell where the story was going and loved every minute of it. It’s also narrated by Simon Jones and it is just pure fun.
9. The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt – This is my favorite book of all-time. And the audio is just absolutely perfect (I read the book in print first, and then listened to it with my husband, terrified the narrator would ruin everything. He didn’t). Set during the Vietnam War, this book is funny, hopeful, and a little heart-breaking in the best possible way. I have never once recommended this book to someone without them returning to say it is one of the best things they have ever read.
Don’t you guys love the idea of family audio books for long car rides? You can bet that as soon as my kids are old enough, we’ll be listening to The Wednesday Wars. Being Janssen’s all-time favorite book is about as good of endorsement as there is! And if you guys are still looking for some reading material just for you, be sure to check out Janssen’s What to Read? 29 Book Club Recommendations – such a great list.