Audio books will put you on road to peace with the kids, writes Karen MacPherson.
For parents, long car trips can be anxiety-producing. Hours on the road - especially in traffic - can lead to some serious whining from the back seat.
Never mind iPads and DVDs; audiobooks allow the whole family to enjoy a good book together. Plus, in recent years, many educators have embraced audio books as a way to attract reluctant young readers, increase language skills and boost reading comprehension.
So children will not only be quiet but they’ll also be learning. Here are some suggestions for great car-ride listens. We broke down the choices by age, but you’ll enjoy them even if you’re old enough to be in the driver’s seat.
Ages 3 and up
The Frances Audio Collection: Actress Glynis Johns gives an inspired reading to four classic stories by Russell Hoban about the beloved badger Frances and her daily preschool dramas surrounding bedtime, eating and becoming a big sister.
Little Bear Audio Collection: Read by Sigourney Weaver and directed by Maurice Sendak, who illustrated Else Holmelund Minarik’s beloved tales of Little Bear and his mother.
Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner: These classics sound like theatre in the full-cast audio collection featuring actors Judi Dench, Stephen Fry and others.
Ages 6 and up
Charlotte’s Web by EB White: It’s both thrilling and comforting to hear White matter-of-factly narrate his own tale of the remarkable friendship between a young girl, a pig and a spider.
(White also gives an unforgettable reading in the audiobook of his 1970 classic, The Trumpet of the Swan.)
The Fudge books by Judy Blume: Beginning with Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Blume narrates her own stories about Peter Hatcher, the long-suffering older brother of a boisterous preschooler nicknamed Fudge. (Note: If you have a Santa believer in your family, be careful about Chapter 9 in Superfudge.)
The Ramona Quimby Audio Collection, by Beverly Cleary: These eight tales of the irrepressible Ramona Quimby detail her life from tantrum- prone toddler through fourth grade, and are memorably read by actress Stockard Channing.
Other good choices: The Cheshire Cheese Cat, by Carmen Agra Deedy, narrated by Katherine Kellgren and Robin Sachs, in which a cat which secretively craves cheese befriends a mouse; and Young Fredle by Cynthia Voigt, the tale of a house mouse which discovers the joys and challenges of living outdoors, narrated by Wendy Carter.
Ages 8 and up
Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle: Federle narrates the tale of a boy who battles sibling rivalry, bullying and other challenges in his quest to win a role in a Broadway musical.
The Harry Potter books by JK Rowling: narrator Jim Dale does an incomparable job of taking readers into the world and heart of the boy wizard. Dale is in the Guinness World Records for “most voices in an audio book in 2008, for creating 134 distinct voices for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”.
The Roald Dahl Audio Collection: Dahl narrates five of his best-known tales, spotlighting the subversive humour for which children adore him. The books include Charlie & the Chocolate Factory and James & the Giant Peach.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis: Reading Rainbow host LeVar Burton masterfully spotlights the unique mixture of humour and drama in Curtis’s unforgettable Newbery Honor-winning historical novel about a family caught up in a key civil rights event.
Other good choices are: Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos, who reads his hilarious Newbery Medal-winning half-fictional memoir of growing up in the 1950s and 1960s; Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz, narrated by Trini Alvarado, about a girl whose world is shaken when her family migrates from Mexico to California; the Newbery Medal-winning The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, who deftly narrates his darkly humorous twist on Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin, a fantasy about a young girl’s courageous quest to improve her family’s fortunes, narrated by Janet Song.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie: narrated by Alexie, this raw, riveting and often humorous audio book tells the story of Junior, a Spokane Indian teen who is pulled between two worlds as he leaves the reservation for a better education.
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan. Narrators MacLeod Andrews and Nick Podehl each give voice to a young man named Will Grayson - two vastly different characters who are brought together in their search for love and acceptance.
Other good choices include: The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett and narrated by Stephen Fry, who adeptly speaks the comical brogue of tiny blue men in kilts; Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly in which narrators Emily Janice Card and Emma Bering elegantly bridge the story’s two worlds - current-day Brooklyn and 18th-century France; and In the Belly of the Bloodhound and Curse of the Blue Tattoo in which author LA Meyer describes the thrilling adventures of a plucky young woman named Jacky Faber.