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The idyllic visions of a family road trip danced in my head: family sing-alongs, laughing together at quirky roadside attractions, sharing my favorite road trip snack (slushies and Combos) … the perfect picture of family togetherness, right?
Our family decided a road trip in the United States with our young kids was going to be way better than getting on a plane last summer. More freedom, flexibility and fewer crowds.
Fast-forward to the minivan pulled over on the side of the I-90 in the middle of 100-degree weather in eastern Washington. In the front seats: one grumpy mom and one dad refusing to drive any further until the bickering in the back subsides. In the back: Mr. Surly, Mr. Snide, and Ms. Sassy. Not such a dreamy long drive after all.
That day, we learned the valuable lesson of distraction on road trips. If we wanted to experience some memorable moments in the car together – without everyone plugged into their own headphones – we needed something we could focus on as a whole family. Enter these good books, from childhood classics to popular book series that keep on giving. We discovered that if we all zoned out and listened together on a long road trip, not only did peace prevail on four wheels, but we giggled together, dissected the qualities of Gryffindor vs. Hufflepuff House, and even learned a thing or two from these favorite books.
With 11, 13, and 16-year-olds in tow, listening preferences inevitably vary, but we were able to find some common ground in the following best books list. We hope your young children, and teens, will find inspiration for your next road trip from these great audiobooks.
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Family-Friendly Audiobook Recommendations
This first book, Ghost, is a National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature and nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read. It’s also the best audio book selection in our family. This is the first in a series by Reynolds in which we meet Ghost, a young boy chosen for an elite middle school track team but presented with a few figurative hurdles to clear on his way to possibly becoming the best sprinter in the city. Cheer along as he runs from a tough past on his way to harnessing his talent to sprint to a brighter future. This is a truly great book.
If you haven’t heard of this incredible real-life story, take the time to hear it as a family – the audio version of All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team is an excellent conversation starter. As you watch the world whiz by outside your car window, imagine what these young boys were going through, trapped miles beneath the ground inside a flooded cave. This is as gripping as it gets, as you listen to the story of the intrepid cave divers and an entire community that came together to save the boys. Even your young adults will love this listen.
Even our teens can’t resist Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, a favorite read from their elementary-school years. There’s not a bad habit nor sticky situation that the delightful Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle doesn’t have a cure for. This will be a fan favorite if your group loves Mary Poppins and Nanny McPhee. From Mary the Answer-Backer to Allen the Slow-Eater-Tiny-BiteTaker, learn a thing or two about creative and hilarious problem-solving by the namesake main character.
Matilda and Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
We simply can’t get enough Roald Dahl in our house. And his great books are even more delightful when read aloud, particularly when Chris O’Dowd and Kate Winslet read them. Groan over the antics of the bumbling, self-centered Mr. Wormwood and cheer for plucky Matilda and loveable Miss Honey when they overtake Ms. Trunchbull. Then, cue up Fantastic Mr. Fox for a fun-filled caper as he and his best friend, Mr. Badger, outsmart farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean in farcical fashion.
Another great choice for a conversation-starting listen, Holes is an elementary-school classic, a Newbury Medal Winner and a National Book Award winner. The audio rendition is spot-on, telling the story of Stanley Yelnats and his fellow juvenile delinquents who are building character by, you guessed it, digging holes in the sand. You’ll all love the jigsaw-puzzle nature of the narrative as it all weaves together to reveal what they’re actually digging for.
All of our Kate DiCamillo books at home are dog-eared and worn, like a Velveteen Rabbit of favorite stories. This is one of my kids’ all-time favorites, as they follow the twists and turns of Despereaux Tilling, a young mouse devoted to a princess named Pea. The characters are empathetic, from the wishful Miggery Sow, to the hopeful rat, Roscuro, and each of their actions is interwoven into the lives of the others throughout the book. Magical and fairytale-esque, it’s a story that will wrap you all up like a warm hug.
You knew it was coming. If your family is a fan, put this blockbuster series on repeat. We can literally start it up from any chapter in any of the books and all three of my kids go silent and descend into a Hogwarts haze. The Jim Dale version is our favorite, for his incredible array of voices for Rowling’s iconic characters. It’s scary, heartwarming, funny and mysterious all at once. And it’s loooong – so it’s an excellent choice for those high-mileage road-trip days. Whether it’s the Sorcerer’s Stone or book 7, you’re in for a treat.
There’s a good reason readers of all ages have loved these books for more than 60 years. The timeless battle of good versus evil, the enchanting settings, the magical realms, courage, friendship and honor … the stories are captivating. An all-star English cast (including Kenneth Branagh and Patrick Stewart) reads all seven original tales, providing 22 hours of entertainment.
My children would disown me if I didn’t mention the Percy Jackson series. We have some diehard fans of Percy and Camp Half-Blood on our hands. Akin to Harry Potter, Percy realizes he’s not just the little boy next door. Instead, he’s the demigod son of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea. The many books that ensue, and the several spinoff series, offer tales of mythical power struggles in an adventurous coming-of-age narrative.
One of my own childhood favorites, this story of survival and adventure portrays a life today’s kids can scarcely imagine – alone in the woods, nary an “i”-anything to be found. Watch their eyes pop as they hear the trials and tribulations of 15-year-old Sam Gribley, who left his New York City life behind for the Catskill Mountains, where he settled into a hollowed-out tree and lived off the land. Will his wish for independence from his large family, or the pull of human friendship, win in the end?
Keep the peace and find common ground for your family on your next road trip with these great audiobooks for all ages.
Great Ways to Get Audiobooks
Use these apps and sites to download any of the titles from our list of the best audiobooks.
- Sign up for Audible (you get two free audiobook downloads when you start your membership).
- Scribed Books offers a 30-day free trial membership.
- Apple Books Audiobooks sells their books individually instead of through a subscription plan. Prices vary per title.
- The Libby by Overdrive app is connected to your local library, allowing you to borrow ebooks, audiobooks, magazines and more for free.
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