Best Audio Books for Family Road Trips Vol. II

Books Entertainment GeekMom Travel
Photo by Jackie Reeve.
Photo by Jackie Reeve.

It’s that time of year again. Spring break is here, which means road trip season will be getting a test drive before summer kicks into gear. See what I’m doing with all of those driving puns?

This is a great opportunity to try and unplug the kids from all of their devices and get the whole family involved in an audiobook. It might generate great discussions, stave off boredom, and help the time go a little faster.

If you haven’t seen our original guide to road trip audiobooks, it’s definitely worth a look. But here’s a new list with 36 more titles that make for excellent listening while you travel. There’s something here for your preschoolers all the way up through your teenagers.

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson, read by Emily Durante
Maureen Johnson is a goddess among teen readers, and 13 Little Blue Envelopes was one of her first novels. It’s still one of her best, and a great road trip option. Ginny Blackstone is about to kick off the summer before her senior year when she gets a mysterious package from her favorite aunt, who has died. Inside are 13 envelopes with instructions for her to grab a backpack and travel the world… following her aunt’s clues one at a time. This is a road trip story, a madcap adventure, and a coming-of-age novel all in one.

The 101 Dalmations by Dodie Smith, read by Martin Jarvis
The Disney movie versions of Smith’s 1956 novel are charming, but if you haven’t listened to the original novel with your kids it’s a real treat. It’s wonderfully British, with more cross-country adventures than the movies include. You will roll your eyes at how the male dogs treat Pongo’s wife–Missis in the book–but the story of Cruella DeVil and the highly intelligent canine society who bring her to justice is marvelous listening.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, read by Elijah Wood
Wood played Huck Finn in the 1993 film, and then in 2010 he recorded the audiobook for Audible’s Signature Classics series. His reading is straightforward, full of energy, and adds nuance to a character he knows pretty well by now. It’s a great interpretation that makes Huck sound like the kid he is. Worth a listen with your thoughtful older kids; it will generate a lot of questions and discussion about racism then and now.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, read by Scarlett Johansson
Raise your hand if you could listen to Scarlett Johansson’s voice ALL DAY LONG. This new reading of Carroll’s tale of going down the rabbit hole was just released in February, and it’s pretty great. Her deep tone is a surprisingly good fit for this book, which can jump from whimsical to downright creepy depending on who Alice meets. This one is great for all ages.

Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery, read by Mary Sarah
There are several versions of this audiobook with similar narrators, I think Mary Sarah is probably the best. It’s always a good time to introduce kids to Anne Shirley and her life on Prince Edward Island.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu, read by Kirby Heyborne
This was one of my absolute favorite middle-grade novels of recent years. It’s a retelling of The Snow Queen, set in modern-day Minnesota. Hazel is dealing with a lot. She was adopted from India as a baby and stands out in her Minnesota town. Her parents are getting a divorce, and now her best friend Jack won’t speak to her. All her constants have been pulled out from under her. But she knows something is wrong with Jack since he got a shard of something in his eye. And when she sees Jack disappear into the woods with a woman in white, shy Hazel knows she is the only person who can go get him back. It’s a stupendous novel for older elementary and middle school kids, who will recognize all the identity issues that the kids here are dealing with.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, read by Jacqueline Woodson
Woodson is such a phenomenal writer, and here it makes perfect sense for her to read her own work. A series of poems tells the story of her own childhood in South Carolina and New York during the Civil Rights Era. It will help middle-grade readers relate to the time period, and to some of the same struggles happening today.

Charlotte’s Web by EB White, read by EB White
Wilbur and Charlotte’s friendship is beloved for a reason. If you listen to this one, bring tissues. It’s a fairly quick listen at three-and-a-half hours, narrated by White himself. Authors aren’t always the best narrators, but here White does well… and it’s the only audiobook version available.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming, read by David Tennant
For a perfect intersection of #geeklife, definitely get the 10th Doctor’s version of James Bond author Fleming’s delightfully absurd story of the “Crackpot” family and they’re talking, flying car.

The Dark Is Rising series by Susan Cooper, read by Alex Jennings
Older elementary and middle schoolers will be absorbed by Cooper’s 5-book fantasy saga. Adults will pick up on all the influences on later books, from Harry Potter to Game of Thrones (a later character named Bran owns a white dog). The first book, Over Sea, Under Stone, is a bit of a stand-alone when paired with the other 4, but overall it’s a great series.

Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, read by Nigel Planer
A good chunk of the Discworld books are narrated by the same person. For whatever reason, the first book–The Color of Magic–is hard to find on audiobook. Audible doesn’t have it, but if you want to drop $65 you can buy the CDs from Amazon. Or hope your library has a copy. Even if you end up skipping the first title as an audiobook and pick up with The Light Fantastic, you and your teens won’t be sorry. Pratchett’s incredible series about a flat world on the backs of 4 elephants riding a giant turtle is exactly as amazing as it sounds.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, read by Jim Donaldson
There are a few audiobook versions of Shelley’s incredible work to choose from, but I love Jim Donaldson’s voice for bringing Frankenstein’s monster to life. This is a great creepy tale to listen to with your teens.

Frindle by Andrew Clements, read by Keith Nobbs
Clements’ book about a mischievous and intellectually curious 5th grader who challenges his schools’ ideas about language is a quick and hilarious listen. I’ve read this aloud to elementary school students, and they love it every time.

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, read by Anne Bobby
The ethics of snooping and spying on your friends and neighbors might not seem like lighthearted road trip fare, but this classic about budding author Harriet and her notebook of dirt is funny and challenging. It makes for great discussion about personal boundaries, for kids and for adults.

Hatchet by Gary Paulson, read by Peter Coyote
Coyote has the perfect voice for this story of a boy stranded in the Canadian wilderness after a terrifying plane crash. It’s a scary, nonstop adventure for 13-year-old Brian; this is a great one for reluctant readers, too.

Holes by Louis Sachar, read by Kerry Beyer
Stanley Yelnats is sent to a corrupt juvenile detention center after being wrongly convicted. Why is the warden making all the boys dig holes in the desert? It’s definitely not to “build character.” Sachar is an incredibly funny writer, but this Newbery Medal winner has some dark moments, too.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, read by Carolyn McCormick
It was simultaneously distracting and awesome for me to listen to Dr. Olivet from Law & Order tell the story of Katniss Everdeen. If your kids are approaching Hunger Games age and want to read them, the audiobooks are pretty great.

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, read by Lynn Redgrave
All the books in Funke’s trilogy are read by different narrators, but they’re all pretty good. These are nice, long options to keep middle-grade readers absorbed in the car. And these books answer the time-honored book lover’s question, what if all my favorite book characters came to life?

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, read by Alan Cumming
If you’ve never listened to an audiobook read by Alan Cumming, stop what you’re doing and fix that right now. Scott Westerfeld’s YA series has incredible illustrations in print, but I love the option of listening to Cumming narrate the entire series about an alternate steampunk World War I universe.

Mary Poppins by PL Travers, read by Sophie Thompson
The story of how disappointed PL Travers was with the Disney version of her beloved Mary Poppins is almost as famous now as the story itself. The original stories are delightful and worth checking out with your elementary school kids.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner, read by Mark Deakins
Dashner’s four-book YA series is a really thrilling listen, and the first book is possibly the most absorbing. Teens waking up in the Glade, a huge walled-in field, with no idea why they’re there? Following along with Thomas while he and the others figure out how to solve the Maze is intense.

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, read by Sis Aisha Johnson
Delphine is 11 and going to spend the summer with her mom for the first time in years. Her mom left Delphine and her sisters years ago, and now it’s time for the girls to learn all about her. They think that means mother-daughter time, but it’s 1968 and Mom is an activist. It really means learning about civil rights, the Black Panthers, and radical California.

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall, read by Susan Denaker
The Penderwick sisters are spending the summer at a beautiful, sprawling Massachusetts estate. This means a summer of classic childhood adventures outside, getting into mischief, and meeting the estate owner’s son Jeffrey, who becomes an important part of their adventures.

Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, read by Jim Dale
Oh, this series is so good! And read by Jim Dale, who narrates the Harry Potter series and is just the best ever. Imagine what Peter Pan’s life was like before… Peter Pan. That’s what Barry and Pearson do here in this series for elementary, middle, even high schoolers. And if you’re a fan of Dave Barry’s humor, just imagine it set to swashbuckling tales of pirates and treasure and fantasy.

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, read by Christina Moore
Where are Pippi’s parents? Why is she so strong? Why is there a horse on her porch? Lindgren’s classic about the amazing free spirit Pippi Longstocking is delightful and really fun to experience as an audiobook.

The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot, read by Anne Hathaway
Read by the Princess of Genovia herself, Anne Hathaway. Meg Cabot’s books are charming and fun and like the most ridiculously delicious ten-scoop ice cream sundae with every topping available. I still love the movie as a grown-ass lady, but many changes were made from the original book. It’s a delightful read.

The Sword in the Stone by TH White, read by Neville Jason
This book is a gateway drug to fantasy, historical fiction, Arthurian legends, mythology, all of it. Young Wart will grow up to be King Arthur, but not before Merlyn comes to be his new tutor. Best. Teacher. Ever.

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume, read by Judy Blume
Here’s the first appearance of tiny tyrant Fudge, and all the ways he terrorizes his older brother Peter. Blume’s story of put-upon older siblings never goes out of style, and if your elementary schooler is struggling with a spirited younger sibling, this is a great way to let them know there are worse little siblings out there.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, read by Sissy Spacek
Harper Lee’s astounding work is a reading list classic. Your teens may already be reading it for school. But listening to Spacek’s version nails Scout’s voice, her adoration of her father, and her questions about the world she realizes she’s living in. It’s a masterful performance.

Tuck, Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, read by Peter Thomas
Winnie Foster befriends the mysterious Tuck family and learns that they’re immortal. But being immortal is not as wonderful as it sounds, and she has to decide whether to carry their secret. This is a beautiful book.

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt, read by Joel Johnstone
Every Wednesday afternoon, Holling Hoodhood is left alone with his least favorite teacher while his Catholic and Jewish classmates attend various religious classes. It’s 1967 on Long Island, and he is the only Presbyterian in 7th grade. He hates his teacher, he’s learning about the war in Vietnam, and everything is changing. Then his teacher starts assigning him Shakespeare plays, and he really thinks she’s out to get him. This one is funny and moving.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, read by Eric Michael Summerer
Who will win the Westing fortune and uncover a murderer? This book is great fun to listen to with teens Try to piece together the clues and figure out who will inherit it all, and who really killed Samuel W. Westing?

Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne, read by Stephen Fry
If you need a great option for the preschool set so they don’t stare at movies on an iPad for the entire trip, this is that option. The original Milne tales of Pooh Bear are wonderful, and while Disney took lots of liberties with everyone’s favorite bear of very little brain, most of the meat of the Disney stories is actually here. Little ones might recognize Heffalumps, the Backson, and that really weird time that Rabbit decided kidnapping Roo was a good idea. And having Stephen Fry and Judi Dench read them as part of a full-cast performance will help keep the adults happy, too.

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin, read by Rob Inglis
Why not introduce your older kids to Le Guin on this trip? Here’s the first book in her epic Earthsea Cycle, that starts Sparrowhawk’s coming of age.

Wonder by RJ Palacio, read by multiple readers
Palacio’s book is astonishing in its ability to inspire and reach kids. I read this to my 4th graders one year in the library, and it’s possibly my absolute favorite experience as a teacher. Ever. And here, I think the audiobook has a huge advantage over print. Because Auggie can be hard to really picture, I think the audiobook is brilliant for helping to give him a voice.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, read by Rashid Raza
Pretty much all of the audiobook versions of Oz are good, but I do slightly prefer this one. If your kids haven’t read Baum’s books yet, this is a great way to get started. There’s so much more to Kansas and that yellow brick road here.

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9 thoughts on “Best Audio Books for Family Road Trips Vol. II

  1. I have to point out that the Dark Is Rising came long before Harry Potter or Game of Thrones, so the borrowing would have been in the other direction.

  2. We wasted an audible credit on Leviathan. We loved so many books on this list I took a chance on steam punk. It is not child-appropriate nor well-written.

  3. Our favorite has been the Bloody Jack series – we’ve listened to two so far. The voice actor won an award for it. Incredibly engaging, although quite long.

  4. This is not necessarily literary, but my family listened to Jim Gaffigan’s book, Food on the way to the beach. We CRACKED up and continued to reference it throughout the week.

    1. Excellent suggestion Katy! Thank you – we are making the return road trip from Ontario back to Calgary next week and this will be perfect.

  5. My family listened to Jeannette Walls The Glass Castle on a 14 hour road trip. The kids (11 and 13) were enthralled and wanted to listen to Walls’ Half Broke Horses on the way home.

  6. Have to mention the Ramona Quimby Audio Collection read by Stockard Channing. It entertained my daughter and me for months driving to and from swim practice. I loved that I could get all the books in one file rather than spending credits on a bunch of shorter books. I wish they offered this with other series like Encylypedia Brown and the Judy Blume books. Available on Audible.

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