Audiobooks are the unsung heroes of the reading world.
You may find 10 hours of a beautifully-read stories, sometimes narrated by the greats such as Emma Thompson or Jim Dale (of “Harry Potter” fame). Audiobooks not only pass the time on road trips, but they also help kids hear and process stories in a way that visual reading alone doesn’t. Audiobooks encourage better reading skills and may captivate kids who aren’t otherwise keen on books.
As a family, you can discuss the books at chapter breaks: What kind of person do you think the main character is? What do you think will happen next? Why? What surprised you? If you need help knowing what to ask, almost all widely-read books have study guides that can lead you toward an interesting discussion.
Give kids about 15 minutes to get into the audio book you select. If they don’t like it, try another one. There are plenty of great ones out there.
Here are some recommendations you can start with:
With a good reader — like Jason Alexander (George Costanza from “Seinfeld”) — parents and kids can happily hear “Green Eggs and Ham” for the 500th time. The wonderful rhymes and made-up words make favorites such as “The Lorax,” “The Cat in the Hat,” and “Horton Hatched the Egg” a joy to hear.
“Tikki Tikki Tembo” by Arlene Mosel
This book was a recipient of the 1968 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award for Picture Books. This is an origin myth for young readers about why Chinese people have short names, based on a fable of a beloved boy who falls in a well. His brother runs to get help and falters as he tries to say his first-born brother’s long name in a hurry.
Magic Treehouse series by Mary Pope Osborne
This collection is popular with early independent readers. Jack and his little sister Annie discover a magic tree house that travels through time, and they embark on wonderful adventures. Join the siblings as they explore the Roman Empire; the Wild, Wild, West; and the African plains.
Hank the Cow Dog series by John R. Erickson
This collection is perfect for kids drawn to humor, dogs, and whodunits. Hank, the folksy narrator of this autobiographical series, is a ranch dog. In his view, though, he’s the overworked and underappreciated head of ranch security tasked with solving mysteries, such as why the chickens in the hen house are dead.
Rabbit Ears Treasury of World Tales series by Rabbit Ears
This popular series is the perfect addition to your family’s next road trip . The Rabbit Ears Treasury books consist of several volumes of classic fables and stories. They include many classic characters — Davy Crockett, Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, and Rip Van Winkle — as well as tales from around the world, holiday stories, fables, and fairy tales.
Well-known titles in the series include “Puss in Boots,” “Aladdin,” “The Ugly Duckling,” “The Velveteen Rabbit,” and “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” All stories are read by great narrators, including Morgan Freeman, Jack Nicholson, Jonathan Winters, Cher, and Meryl Streep.
Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Read by Jim Dale, the extraordinarily popular “Harry Potter” fantasy book series is about an orphaned boy who learns he is actually a wizard. He goes off to Hogwarts, a special school for witchcraft and wizardry, where magical mischief ensues. Each of the seven books chronicles a year in the life of the gifted young wizard Harry Potter, with the novels becoming more mature and dark as the series progresses.
Chronicles of the Red King series by Jenny Nimmo
A librarian described this as “Harry Potter Lite,” since it touches on the same themes, but is shorter. A magically gifted boy named Timoken and his sister find a new kingdom with the help of a talking camel. Timoken becomes the Red King and battles evil during his reign. This is the prequel to the Charlie Bone series, whose protagonist is Timoken’s ancestor.
The Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black
This collection — read by Mark Hamill, a.k.a. Luke Skywalker — is a fantasy series about three children: Mallory and her younger identical-twin brothers Jared and Simon. The three move to the magical and mysterious Spiderwick estate in Maine, where they find that they are living among fairies and goblins.
Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood
This is the story of Penelope Lumley, a young, bright governess who is sent to mind three wild and feral children on the vast estate of Lord Frederick and his young wife. Fighting against the kids’ penchant for barking, biting, and chasing squirrels, Penelope must wrangle them and in order to teach them how to behave.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
This wonderful book is about Auggie Pullman, a boy with facial deformities who goes to school for the first time in the fifth grade. As different as he looks, he is just like any other new kid, struggling to find his place. The story is told from many perspectives, such as Auggie’s sister, her boyfriend, Auggie, and his friends.
Association for Library Service to Children: Find out which audiobooks are librarians’ favorites.
Goodreads: This book review site lists popular audiobooks for kids.
Common Sense Media: Visit this site for guidance on the age appropriateness of books, movies, apps, and more.