There is absolutely no question that audiobooks keep up sane in the car, whether we’re traveling across town or across the country. We all have our own tastes, but everyone in our family likes a good story. The trick is finding one with a good story line and an awesome narrator. This is no easy feat. We’ve fallen in love with all kinds of stories that were turned into humdrum audiobooks by boring, monotone narrators. It happens, but it’s not a great scenario when you’re trying to keep your eyes open on a marathon of a road trip.
The audiobooks listed below are some of our very favorites. Keep in mind that we have boys who lean heavily toward fantasy and other-worldly adventures. The ages listed are a bit arbitrary, as books that are right for some might be too difficult or scary for others. For example, we started listening to the Harry Potter series when the kids were five or so, but after the third book, we put them on hold until the boys were a bit older. We know plenty of families that started their kids on these books as toddlers, and many others that introduced the books to their kids when they were in middle school. Use your best judgement.
We try out new books on each and every road trip, so I will try and keep this list updated as we discover new favorites.These books are either read by a full cast of actors or incredible narrators — Guaranteed to keep your kids off their devices and your driver from falling asleep!
Audiobooks for All Ages
Rabbit Ears Treasury of Tall Tales Volume One: Davy Crockett, Rip Van Winkle, Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan
Rabbit Ears started publishing audio books on cassette in the 1980s. They featured popular fairytales and other classics for kids read by celebrities and set to original music. We love just about every story published by Rabbit Ears, and there are a lot to choose from, but this one is our favorite. I don’t know if it’s because we’re sentimental, but we’ve been listening to it since the boys were just toddlers. Our favorite is Rip Van Winkle, read by Anjelica Huston. The haunting fiddle music is a perfect fit — composed and played by Jay Ungar and Molly Mason. The other narrators on this disc include Garrison Keillor, Nicolas Cage, and Jonathan Winters. You should check out all the Rabbit Ears stuff, but if you can only get one, get this one!
This could very well be another case of sentimental parents reminiscing about when their kids were little, but it doesn’t change the fact that we listened to these stories again and again when our kids were young, and I do believe it created a love for classical music that our boys would never have had if these stories hadn’t come into our lives. Disclaimer: our kids don’t voluntarily listen to classical music now that they are teens, but occasionally I catch them whistling a bit of music from these stories (still after all these years), and I can put on the classical radio station on Sunday mornings without a complaint.
Okay, back to the stories. There are four in the series, each touching upon the life of a famous composer. The stories are riveting. There is a full cast of narrators, and it is all set to beautiful music. Our favorite, I think, is Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery, but really we loved them all. In the boxed set, you will find the above title, plus Mr. Bach Comes to Call, Mozart’s Magic Fantasy, and Beethoven Lives Upstairs, which was made into a full-length movie.
These stories may not be appropriate for the youngest listeners. They are a bit suspenseful, and combined with the awesome music that sets the tone perfectly, might be frightening for some. I notice that the Amazon reviews for this weren’t always positive, so you’ll have to make up your own mind, but we loved it. The stories included in this compilation are: The Fiddler and the Dancin’ Witch – composed and narrated by Wynton Marsalis, The Lesson of the Land – composed by Edgar Meyer and narrated by Graham Greene, and The Face in the Lake – composed by Patrick Doyle and narrated by Kate Winslet.
Our favorite was the Fiddler and the Dancin’ Witch, about a young boy who longs to play his father’s fiddle but is always told not to touch it. The fiddle, it seems, has the ability to play whatever the person using it is thinking. The boy, Simeon, just can’t resist the allure of that magic fiddle, and he eventually disobeys his father. What he doesn’t realize is that the fiddle also has the ability to summon a dancing witch. Now Simeon is forced to match his wits and his music against the witch without his father finding out.
The other two stories are fabulous as well, but all have a dark element, typical of fairytales and mythical stories from around the world.
This is a classic story of an immigrant family and an immigrant cricket who meet in the subway station in Times Square. Chester Cricket accidentally hops a ride in a picnic basket, leaving his home in a Connecticut meadow and winding up in the big city. It’s there that he meets Tucker Mouse, Harry Cat, and Mario, the son of an Italian family who runs a newspaper stand in the station. When Mario realizes that Chester can make beautiful music with his back legs, he sets to work making the cricket famous. Chester and his new friends have all kinds of adventures in the city, but will Chester ever find his way back to his meadow in Connecticut?
The Cricket in Times Square is certainly appropriate for all ages, but young children might not be able to follow the story for long. The narrator, Tony Shalhoub, has an awesome stage voice, and does a fabulous job narrating all of the characters in this charming story. The Cricket in Times Square is a 1961 Newbery Honor Book – a beautiful tale of getting lost and being found.
Other audiobook recommendations for older kids (that I don’t have time to review)
- The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis — We loved the unabridged, narrated editions and the full-cast productions by BBC Radio.
- Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine and narrated by Eden Riegel
- The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper and narrated by Alex Jennings
- Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink and narrated by Roslyn Alexander
- The Harry Potter series, books 1 – 3, by J.K. Rowling and narrated by Jim Dale — These are the books of my kids’ generation. As an adult, I fell in love with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as I read late into the night nursing a newborn back in 1999. We didn’t discover Jim Dale and the audiobooks until the kids were a bit older, and even now, I can hear Jim Dale’s voice floating on the breeze from the upstairs window of my teens’ bedroom. I’m not exaggerating when I say that we have listened to these stories hundreds of times. They are entwined intricately with the lives of my children, who aren’t really children anymore.
- The Boggart by Susan Cooper and narrated by David Rintoul
- The Boggart and the Monster by Susan Cooper and narrated by Omar Rayyan
- The Tale of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo and narrated by Graeme Malcolm
- Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo and narrated by Cherry Jones
Audio Books for Tweens,Teens, and Young Adults (10+)
- The Artemis Fowl Series by Eoin Colfer, narrated by Nathaniel Parker
- The Harry Potter series, books 4-7, by J.K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale
- His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman and narrated by a full cast
- The Redwall series by Brian Jacques and narrated by Brian Jacques and a full cast
This is not an affiliate post. I just LOVE these stories and want you to love them too! Do you have any more I can add to my list? Please leave suggestions in the comments below.