In our family, we listen to audiobooks constantly - in the car, playing legos, cooking, cleaning, getting ready to go to sleep. We have listened to hundreds of stories, and I am particular - I cannot listen to a reader with a squeaky voice or someone who reads through his nose; the reader can make or break an audiobook, with the power to ruin the story for you, even if the story itself is great.
I drove 13 hours yesterday, from Dallas to Knoxville, Tennessee, and then 8 more today, up to Baltimore. We have a lot more driving to do on this road trip, and the best way to bring order to our chaos in the car is a captivating audiobook. In case any of you are also doing road trips, or just in need of a good listen, here are our top ten, as discussed and decided by me and my kids.
* All of these are free of sex, drugs, and rock and roll (if by rock and roll we mean bad language).
I tried to rate them in three categories:
Good: pretty poor to mediocre writing quality, but captivating and entertaining; sometimes including topics worth thoughtful discussion, with the impression that the author has given at least some thought to ethics
Better: decent to good writing quality,
captivating and entertaining, including topics worth thoughtful discussion, with some thought given to ethics and possibly even virtue
Best: quite good writing quality, including topics worth thoughtful discussion, presenting situations that allow the reader to vicariously experience the moral dilemmas of the characters, employ good judgment, and grow in virtue
#10. The Candy Shop War, by Brandon Mull - Good
Four kids get caught up in an underground war between magicians who make magic candy.
Possible discussion points: magic, disobedience
13 year old says: "exciting, thrilling, mysterious"
8 year old says: "legit."
6 year old says: “I love it.”
11 year old says: “I like that they get to eat a lot of candy.”
Mom says: “Not great, but not horrible. It keeps your attention. If you don’t like vague magicians/magic, avoid this one.”
#9. Encyclopedia Brown books, by Donald J. Sobol - Good
Leroy "Encyclopedia" Brown is a 10 year old with a photographic memory who cleverly solves mysteries in his small town. At the conclusion of each mystery, the listener gets a chance to try to figure out how he solved the mystery before revealing his solution.
Possible discussion points: bullying, being observant, consequences
8 year old says: "I LOVE it soooo much!!! It gives you the chance to actually start being a detective"
6 year old says: "I love that you get to figure out the clues."
11 year old says: " I like that it is a 10 year old kid and not just the police who is figuring everything out."
13 year old says: "ditto"
Mom says: “fun to listen to and try to figure out.”
#8. The Freddy the Pig books, by Walter R. Brooks - Good
An intelligent, poetry-writing pig and his barnyard friends journey to Florida and the North Pole, solve mysteries, and encounter a dragon, amongst other things.
Possible discussion points: teamwork, friendship
11 year old says: "interesting. I like that the pig can figure things out."
8 year old says: "funny"
Mom says: “Pleasant, entertaining and humorous. If you don’t like some serious anthropomorphism, skip this one.”
#7. The Akimbo books, by Alexander McCall Smith - Better
A fun series detailing the escapades of a young boy in Africa and his encounters with dangerous animals
Possible discussion points: tribal cultures, animal behavior, remaining calm in a crisis
6 year old says: " I like that they see interesting animals."
8 year old says: " I like that he gets to have a lion."
11 year old says: " I like that he has adventurers with different animals."
Mom says: “I love the writing of Alexander McCall Smith, and his stories are wonderful. Akimbo is such a likable character, and it is interesting to learn about his culture and these animals.”
#6. The Famous Five books, by Enid Blyton - Better
Four British kids and their amazing dog have a series of adventures in the 1950's.
Possible discussion topics: tomboys/gender, independence, sibling relationships
6 year old says: "LOVE it!! I like that the dog flies at bad people."
11 year old says " I love that the dog always knows who the bag guys are"
8 year old says: "I like that they always end up going on adventures."
Mom says: “I thoroughly enjoy the stories, the 1950’s British English, and the writing style. Good fun!”
#5. The Wondla books (The Search for Wondla, A Hero for Wondla, The Battle for Wondla), by Tony DiTerlizzi - Better as far as content and themes, but just Good as far as writing
Eva Nine, after spending her first 12 years being raised exclusively underground by a bio-robotic M.U.T.H.R., finds herself propelled into a world peopled by various alien species. She makes alliances, seeks her purpose, and tries to do what is right.
Possible discussion points: the immutability of truth, the importance of family, our role in relation to the environment
13 year old says: "fun and exciting."
6 year old says: "good."
11 year old says: "it was really good. I love how she can talk to the animals. "
Mom says: “A fun and engaging listen. The reader does a great job in general, but there are a couple characters whose voices are irritating to me. If a strong sympathy with enviromentalists and animal lovers or a vague, earthy spirituality bother you, avoid this one. I think it provides a good intro to a discussion about truth not being subjective/relative and our role in caring for the world, so I rated it as “better” even though you get the feeling sometimes that the author used a thesaurus without really understanding her word choices, amongst other annoying things about her writing style. It is completely absurd that a 12 or 13 year old girl would lead a race of people in an alien war, but it is, afterall, science fiction for young adults.”
#4. The Great Brain books, by John D. Fitzgerald - Better
T.D.'s clever pranks remind us of Tom Sawyer. He delights his brother, keeps his parents in a state of exasperation, and entertains the reader.
Possible discussion points: interreligious dialogue, the appropriate use of violence
11 year old says: " I like it when the girl beats up the boy. I also like that she learns how to read and write."
6 year old says: " I like that the mother sews her a dress."
13 year old says:" I love that the great brain is always doing things that cause everyone around him to freak out."
8 year old says: "It is similar to Encyclopedia Brown because they are both smart and solve problems."
Mom says: “These books are funny and enjoyable for all ages. T.D. and his brothers are from a Catholic family living in Utah, amongst a majority of Mormons, and the author is writing based on his own life (his older brother was “the Great Brain” himself).”
#3. “The Lightning-Rod Man”, by Herman Melville - Best
Short story in which a lightning rod salesman tries to convince a jovial, undaunted stranger that his life depends on his purchasing a lightning rod
Possible discussions points: lightning safety, the role of Providence, appropriate and inordinate fear/caution, manipulation for monetary gain
13 year old says: " I love how he expresses his fear of the lightning and thunder in such a funny way."
11 year old says:"same."
8 year old says: " I learned that if you stand too close to the wall it is easier to get struck by lightning."
Mom says: “Although Melville’s writing is elevated and some of it was over their heads, the kids loved it. The reader for this story (William Roberts) is excellent and really makes the story come alive, and we were all laughing through it. In addition to being funny, it is thoughtful and multi-layered, and we had a great discussion about it. The audiobook has two other of Melville’s short stories on it - ‘Bartleby the Scrivener’, which the older ones liked, and ‘The Bell Tower’, which was a bit much for the kids, but I enjoyed.”
#2. White Fang, by Jack London - Best
The story of a strong and noble wild dog moving from desperate suffering to resolution.
Possible discussion points: the value of and natural desire for freedom, nature vs. nurture, Native Americans, appropriate animal subjugation/animal cruelty
13 year old says: " I like that he was able to bond with humans even though he started off in a terrible situation."
8 year old says: " I like that he pounced on the bag guy and then a nice guy helps him."
11 year old says: " I like that it has a happy ending. I also like that people who distrust him at first come to trust him."
Mom says: “Fabulous story, well written, well read, and full of food for thought. It is a wonderful book that deals with so many important themes, but just reading it without analyzing it will help form your soul for the good.”
#1. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain - Best
The classic hilarious account of a book-loving, adventure-seeking, superstitious prankster and his friends.
Possible discussion points: the formative power of literature, superstition, racism, gender stereotypes, the value of community, life on the land vs. life in the town
11 year old says: " I like how clever Tom is and the murder mystery."
13 year old says: " I like that he plays funny tricks on people and always manages to see all the results unfold at the best time."
6 year old says: " I like Becky."
8 year old says: " I like how he gets his friends to pay him to do his work."
Mom says: “One of our favorite books of all - laugh-out-loud funny, masterfully written, fabulous on so many levels. A transformative, thoughtful, beautiful story of childhood, for children and adults alike. Pirates, runaways, murder mystery, first love, supersticious runes, family, friendship, literature and hidden treasure, all rolled into one by one of the greatest American authors. We all love it!
*I know I said all these books were free of bad language, but please note that Tom Sawyer does use the n-word...I use it as an opportunity to talk about race, relationships, the evolution of language and respect.”
What are your favorite listens? Please leave them in the comments - we are always looking for more great audiobooks!