Audio books will save your life. Or at least keep you out of jail. Yes. Don't argue. Stop it. It's true! I'm serious! Do you want me to pull this car over? Because I swear I will leave your narrow butt right here by the side of the highway! We have at least 13 more hours in this car today and if you keep arguing with me you will not be going home with the rest of us! And stop making that "Eeeee" sound. I know it's you.
But a crappy narrator, or a stupid story, will NOT help. I listened to The DaVinci Code one summer in the car and I nearly drove off a bridge in desperation. Oh my god that book was terrible. So - the following titles have been selected as being engaging for adults and for kids, often with superlative narrators, classic appeal, and/or historical interest. Look in your local library for these - they're awfully expensive to buy.
Anderson, Laurie Halse. Fever 1793.
Avi. The true confessions of Charlotte Doyle.
Babbitt, Natalie. Tuck Everlasting.
Balliett, Blue. Chasing Vermeer, The Wright 3, and The Calder Game. I admit that I'm not a giant fan of the nasal narrator, but don't let that stop you. Probably just me.
J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan. Narrated by Mister Jim Dale.
Bruchac, Joseph. But not for super-little kids - too scary!
Buckley, Michael. The Sisters Grimm (series). Awfully funny and even more clever, although I didn't like the way the sisters sniped at each other in the first book. The kids did though. I'm just too sensitive.
Collins, Suzanne. Underland Chronicles (series).
Cooper, Susan. The Dark is Rising (series). IF you can find them. Ably narrated by Simon Jones.
Dahl, Roald. British A-listers such as Alan Cumming, Eric Idle, Jeremy Irons, and Lynn Redgrave read Dahl’s subversive stuff. As does the author himself.
Dowd, Siobhan. The London Eye Mystery.
Fleming, Ian. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. SOOOO much better than the movie. Hard to find, but worth it. First of all, mom's not dead, she's along for the ride, and second of all, the ride is great!
Funke, Cornelia. The Inkheart series, the Ghosthunters books, Dragon Rider, and The Thief Lord. Brendan Fraser narrates some of these, and he has a nice voice for it. But they're no George of the Jungle. (And yes, any excuse will suffice for me to link to a picture of Brendan Fraser in that movie.)
Gaiman, Neil. The Neil Gaiman audio collection. Silly + weird = fun. Don't miss the author interviewed by his daughter at the end.
George, Jean Craighead. My Side of the Mountain. Dated, but still beautiful and exciting. Another one that's kind of hard to find.
Landy, Derek. Skulduggery Pleasant series, read by Rupert Degas. Rupert Degas is my new hero. His characterization of the Troll under Westminster Bridge alone is worth the price of admission. There's an interview with the suave, sarcastic, conceited Skulduggery himself at the end. You know, Rupert Degas also reads Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Brr - if I didn't have kids in the car, I would totally be listening to that.
Law, Ingrid. Savvy.
Lofting, Hugh. The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. Don't let the interminable, strange, sappy movie spoil this crazy old story for you. There is no Anthony Newley and his fruity accent here.
Lowry, Lois. The Willoughbys. Vellly intelesting narration by Arte Johnson, who, apparently, is still alive.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter. Award-winning narration by Jim Dale, who I swear has won every award except knighthood and an Oscar for his work on this series.
Riordan, Rick. Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. Ok, I don't like the reader's brutal Queens accent and extremely poor Greek pronunciation. But I suck it up, because the stories are terrific and the kids LOVE them. And so should you.
Sinden, David, Matthew Morgan, Guy Mac Donald (aka The Beastly Boys). An Awfully Beastly Business (series). The GRRRREAT Gerard Doyle reads these. Can't wait! Book trailer here.
Selden, George. The Cricket in Times Square. Friendly narration by the versatile Tony Shalhoub, lovely violin passages.
Snicket, Lemony. A Series of Unfortunate Events (series). Although this series is no longer the hot ticket in print, I feel like the audio versions will persist in popularity, because of Tim Curry's chuckling, mournful, spitty, insane readings. A depressing yet beautiful and hilarious song by The Gothic Archies is a bonus on each audio book.
Stanton, Andy. You’re a Bad Man, Mr. Gum. A truly distinguished audio book. Read by the author, he takes liberties with his own text, adapting certain 4th-wall-busting asides to the audio format. Plus, my god this book is funny! The red fairy in the bathtub who hits Mr. Gum with a frying pan whenever his garden starts looking messy... brilliant!
Stevenson, Robert Louis. Treasure Island. Alfred Molina ("Throw me the idol, I'll throw you the whip") does for the sound of Treasure Island what N.C. Wyeth did for the look - now, whenever I think of that book, I will hear Mr. Molina's voice. Stevenson's very large and at times obsolete vocabulary (what is a mizzen, anyway?) is a lot easier for kids to digest in the audio context. And Molina is a genius with characterization, by turns silky, gruff, naive, you name it.
Stilton, Geronimo. Read by Edward Herrmann.
Wilder, Laura Ingalls. The Little House books. Cherry Jones reads these, in a timeless voice that is both dry and warm. Even if you know these books well, her perfectly paced performance brings them to life in a new way.
White, E.B. Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little. Julie Harris reads Stuart Little, and White himself memorably reads Charlotte's Web. Beautiful and kind of heartbreaking there at the end.
Winkler, Henry. The Hank Zipzer series. The Fonz reads his own books, and when you hear him do it, you'll think, "Seriously? Somebody cast this funny little guy as a cool motorcycle dude?" The seventies really were a little weird.
Woodson, Jacqueline. Anything she reads herself is always going to be beautiful and affecting.