The Most Riveting Family Audiobooks
Published: May 2009
By Peter Jon Lindberg
Contributing editor Peter Jon Lindberg asked his mother, Judith Lindberg—a children's librarian in Dover, New Hampshire, for 27 years—to suggest the absolute best, most riveting audiobooks to take on your next trip.
Look for these picks in your bookstore or library, or order them. Most are unabridged, so the spell can last for days. You may end up sneaking them out yourself for the morning commute.
IF YOU'RE TRAVELING . . .
INTO THE WOODS
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (Listening Library; 3 hr.; ages 9 and up). A favorite writer for boys—both bookworms and reluctant readers. Actor Peter Coyote drives home the drama in this tale of a 13-year-old city kid who survives a plane crash in the Canadian wilderness and lives for two months using only his wits and, you guessed it, a hatchet.
WITH ANIMAL LOVERS
The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford (Listening Library; 3 hr.; ages 6 and up). You know the story: that indomitable trio (a bull terrier, a yellow Lab, and a Siamese cat) treks across the countryside, going up against bobcats, bears, and the forces of nature. Moving and well told, with plenty of action and excitement.
Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry (Harper Audio; 11/2 hr., abridged; ages 7—12). The ultimate pony ride. Actress Daisy Eagan—the teenage star of Broadway's The Secret Garden—reads this 1948 favorite, which is set on Virginia's Eastern Shore and the famed island of wild horses. Having an actual child narrate is often a risk; in this case, it works.
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls (Recorded Books; 73/4 hr.; ages 9 and up). Poignant tale that takes place in the Ozarks of the 1930's, about a boy and his devotion to two redbone hounds. A guaranteed tearjerker with narration by Frank Muller, one of the great audiobook readers. Repeat: You will cry.
Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (Listening Library; 6 hr.; ages 10 and up). This prizewinning novel follows a 13-year-old Native American Ohio girl and her eccentric grandparents across America in search of the girl's mother. British actress Kate Harper gets the voices just right and makes the multilayered narrative clear and coherent.
THROUGH THE SOUTH
Bull Run by Paul Fleischman (Audio Bookshelf; 2 hr.; ages 10 and up). Compelling radio-style theater: 16 actors take on 16 characters (Union and Confederate, young and old) in this fictional telling of the first great battle of the Civil War. Perfect for kids interested in history.
TO GRANDMA'S HOUSE
A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck (Listening Library; 4 hr.; ages 9 and up). For seven summers, starting in 1929, a brother and sister from Chicago visit their irrepressible, gun-toting grandma in small-town Illinois, each year stumbling on a new adventure. Read with folksy charm by actor Ron McLarty.
WITH MUSIC LOVERS
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (Listening Library; 5 hr.; ages 8 and up). Orphaned, homeless, but still spunky, 10-year-old Bud ("not Buddy") Caldwell sets off across the Midwest during the Depression, determined to find the jazz musician he suspects is his longlost father. Actor James Avery's voice is by turns sweet, sad, and hilarious.
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George (Harper Audio; 11/2 hr. abridged; ages 10 and up). A young Eskimo girl flees her home and is lost on the Alaskan tundra—then adopted by a wolf pack. A wilderness survival story told from a rare femaleperspective.
TO NEW YORK CITY
Remember Me to Harold Square by Paula Danziger (Listening Library; 3 hr.; ages 9—13). When city kids Kendra and Oscar are visited by Frank, a 15-year-old Wisconsin farm boy, their parents organize a summer-long scavenger hunt all around New York. Performed by the author in a breezy tone everyone can follow (though some kids might say "Eeew" to Kendra and Frank's budding romance).
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg (Listening Library; 31/2 hr.; ages 8—12). Deciding to run away from home, Claudia and her little brother choose an unlikely—and endlessly diverting—destination: the Metropolitan Museum of Art. If this doesn't get the kids excited about museums, nothing will.
The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden (Listening Library; 21/2 hr.; ages 7—10). Charming story of a country cricket who inadvertently hops a ride to Manhattan, where he's befriended by a newsstand owner's son, a smart-aleck mouse, and a streetwise cat. Don't blame us if your kids take up bug collecting.
Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey (Puffin Books for Young Readers; 10 min.; ages 2—5). Your parents loved it; you loved it; now your kid will love the story of the Mallard family's journey through Boston. The tape comes with the book, so children can follow the narration with McCloskey's timeless, evocative illustrations.
CLASSICS FOR ANY TRIP
Roald Dahl himself reads The Roald Dahl Audio Collection (Harper Audio; 1 hr. per volume, abridged; ages 5 and up): Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Enormous Crocodile, and The Magic Finger. Dahl's performance—like the stories—is creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky, and funny as all get-out.
E. B. White narrates Charlotte's Web (Listening Library; 31/2 hr.; ages 4 and up). Who better than the author to capture the undeniable heart of this story?"Some reading," as Charlotte might say.
Stockard Channing acts out Beverly Cleary's eight terrific Ramona books (Listening Library; 2—3 hr. each). The Tony-winning actress has the ideal voice for these sassy stories. Ramona's hilarious high jinks are best for children four and up.
Your kids have the four Harry Potter books, the board game, the Warner Bros.issued bedspread, but they're still missing out on something if they haven't heard Jim Dale's extraordinary readings (Listening Library; 820 hr. per volume). The English actor uses dozens of voices to tell J. K. Rowling's amazing tales, which are great for children as young as six (who aren't easily frightened), to say nothing of adult Muggles.
Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising (Listening Library; 81/2 hr.; read by Alex Jennings; ages 10 and up) is one of five books in a series that's perfect for kids who've finished Harry Potter and want more.
Ditto Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass (Listening Library; 815 hr. per volume), a wildly popular, sophisticated trilogy suited for bright 10-year-olds and up. The author performs each work with a full cast of British stage actors.
Robert Sevra reads Ruth Stiles Gannett's Three Tales of My Father's Dragon (Listening Library; 21/2 hr.; ages 59), a childhood favorite for three generations, infused with wit, wonder, and crackling suspense.
AUDIOBOOKS BUYER'S GUIDE
Listening Library: 800/726-0600; www.listeninglibrary.com.
Harper Audio: 800/331-3761; www.harpercollins.com/hc/features/audio.
Recorded Books: 800/638-1304; www.recordedbooks.com.
Audio Bookshelf: 800/234-1713; www.audiobookshelf.com.
Puffin Books for Young Readers: 800/788-6262; www.penguinputnam.com.