What’s a good audiobook(s) for 25+ hours in the van with kids?
July 4, 2019 6:11 AM   Subscribe

My spouse, kids (ages 10, 8, 5) and I are taking a road trip over the coming weeks. We’ve previously enjoyed the Harry Potter audiobooks. What else can we listen to that will be engaging for both grownups and kids?

Ideally this will be available on our audible subscription and/or for library download. The older kids have been enjoying Roald Dahl and Narnia. I think I’d prefer something more modern. Maybe some YA science fiction? This grownup mostly reads sci-fi authors like Yoon Ha Lee, Ann Leckie, Iain Banks.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed to Media & Arts (29 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My go-to rec: Terry Pratchett's "The Wee Free Men." It's technically YA, and your kids will be able to follow and enjoy it. A 9-year-old witch! A bad fairy queen! Little blue men that like to fight! The adults will get something out of the very funny and insightful writing, and will appreciate the narrator, the excellent Stephen Briggs.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:16 AM on July 4, 2019 [6 favorites]

I’d recommend the “How to train your dragon” audiobook series by Cressida Cowell. My 8 year old son loves these books and the narrator is David Tennant, having a great time. Note that the plot and many of the characters are completely different to the films!
posted by Stark at 6:26 AM on July 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

I loved the series that starts with The Search for Wondla, and it's read by Teri Hatcher who does a great job with the voices! Three books, so maybe even possible to get through it all in one road trip.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 6:28 AM on July 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

His Dark Materials. The more recent prequel, if you’ve done that already— it’s read excellently by Michael Sheen. (The recent one does have some occasional profanity. The original series has sex themes that only the adults will probably pick up on.)
posted by supercres at 6:46 AM on July 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

My kids and I enjoyed Cornelia Funke's Inkheart trilogy. There are a lot of adult characters and it's interesting to listen to as an adult, but my daughter really enjoyed the books when she was about 6, so your 5 year old might not be too young for them.

The True Meaning of Smekday is another good one. It should have everyone laughing within the first few minutes. If you like it, there's a sequel.
posted by Redstart at 6:47 AM on July 4, 2019 [5 favorites]

Mr Lemoncello's Library series.
Artemis Fowl (Eoin Colfer)
The Wild Robot (not a series, but just a decent book)

My kids love the "No such thing as a fish" podcast
posted by Ftsqg at 6:49 AM on July 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

We listened to Everything on a Waffle this past winter. While I usually tune out for the kids’ books, this one was quirky enough to grab my attention. The reader is really well suited to the story and the book is deeper and more complicated that the cheesy cover illustration would suggest.

We didn’t like the next book, A Year in Coal Harbor, and ended up only getting halfway through before everyone quit.

25+ hours? May the force, and the patience of Buddha be with you.
posted by defreckled at 6:52 AM on July 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Heh - well, I was immediately going to mention: Roald Dahl - but...

When our kids were that age, we all enjoyed: "The Cat Who..." mysteries while on road-trips by Lilian Jackson Braun. Then the "Culinary Mysteries" by: Diane Mott Davidson. Oh, and the "Cookie" mysteries.

Also really enjoyed "Cannery Row". Note - most of the books we did listen to were from Audible, so I cannot speak to the narrators in others. The most surreal was "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" when driving from Alberta through to Montreal, then back again.
posted by jkaczor at 6:53 AM on July 4, 2019

Oh oh... "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy", if both yourselves and the kids are into funny sci-fi. The trick will be finding the one you prefer (either narrated book, or the dramatized radio plays (I don't like dramatizations myself, but... YMMV)).
posted by jkaczor at 6:58 AM on July 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

It’s only 13 hours, but Seabiscuit was the best audiobook we ever listened to on a family road trip. Everyone (of different ages and tastes in reading) loved it. Fights broke out about stopping at rest stops because no one wanted to stop the tape.
posted by sallybrown at 7:04 AM on July 4, 2019 [5 favorites]

The Mr Gum books read by Kate Winslet are very entertaining for kids & adults
posted by el_presidente at 7:08 AM on July 4, 2019

A strong second for Pratchett's Wee Free Men and the rest of the Tiffany Aching Discworld subseries. Very funny, exciting, thoughtful and a great narrator second only to the Harry Potter audiobooks.

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud and the other Lockwood and Co. series. Paranormal mysteries with some chills and a sense of humor. Very good narrator.

Maaaybe Sabriel by Garth Nix and the other Abhorsen series titles. Might be a bit too intense/dark for your youngest though.
posted by ClingClang at 7:12 AM on July 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

The Redwall series (or at least the first four or five books) are full-cast and narrated by the author. They are absolutely delightful to listen to. (Make sure you get the Brian Jacques-narrated ones! There is a straight reading as well, I believe, and the full cast is well worth it.)
posted by restless_nomad at 7:48 AM on July 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Un Lun Dun is great and if they're at the Narnia and Dahl stage, it should be just about perfect developmentally. It's kind of an urban fantasy Alice in Wonderland and really plays with the story convention of the "chosen one" in a way that could be interesting to discuss with your kids.

I LOVE the Sabriel/Abhorsen series mentioned above, but I wouldn't get kids on to those until at least age 12, there's a lot of gore, death and heartbreak in them.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 7:52 AM on July 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have not listened to these. Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials appeals to a wide age group. The Hobbit does, as well.
posted by theora55 at 7:54 AM on July 4, 2019

The Amulet of Samarkand and the subsequent books by Jonathan Stroud are also good (and read by a great narrator). In the realm of HP but far more snarky and political (in a great way).
posted by Knicke at 9:25 AM on July 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

On our road trip, we just listened to The Wild Robot and I think it would be a hit with your age group. It’s got animals, a futuristic storyline, action and adventure. The reader is very good. There’s a sequel, The Wild Robot Escapes. We were sad not to have that one at the ready as soon as we finished the first.
posted by amanda at 10:46 AM on July 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Not modern, but how about 'Just William' read by Martin Jarvis?
posted by HandfulOfDust at 11:12 AM on July 4, 2019

I’m not sure what the audiobook options are like, but this is a good age range for the Percy Jackson series.
posted by jeoc at 12:15 PM on July 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Nthing Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching series, and Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus Sequence, both are lots of fun and really well-read.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:39 PM on July 4, 2019

I think The Amulet of Samarkand will be too dark and intense for your five year old - it was for me! There are a few pretty intense scenes of a kid being abused by his magical master.

Maybe something by Tamora Pierce? I really like the Immortals Quartet but her Circle of Magic books are written a bit younger, I think.
posted by bananacabana at 12:43 PM on July 4, 2019

I reckon the Jeeves & Wooster stories are likely to work for children who have enjoyed Harry Potter, and there are plenty of excellent readings.

Treasure Island is a story that really should be experienced in childhood, as are The Sword in the Stone, A Wizard of Earthsea and The Neverending Story.

The Hound of the Baskervilles would be a good way to try them on Holmes, but I think that one very much depends on their tastes.
posted by howfar at 1:37 PM on July 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Seconding David Tennant reading the How to Train your Dragon series - they’re funny and exciting and DT is amazing - differentiates between multiple different Scottish accents brilliantly

We’ve also really enjoyed Rick Reardon’s Magnus Chase series (Like Percy Jackson but Norse Gods not Greek); they’re quite dark, but always punctuated with nice sardonic teen humour so doesn’t get too heavy, and feature - without a heavy message - protagonists who are the kids of single parents, who are homeless, wear hijab and are practising Muslims, who are non-binary, who are mixed race, who have disabilities - which is pretty rare in the very straight white world of much children’s lit.
posted by melisande at 1:46 PM on July 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Cabin pressure is a good short series of shows.
I listen to a lot of audio books and radio plays, and I pretty much only ever recommend this and the number 1 ladies detective agency. On long road trips, I often need a palate cleanser, and cabin pressure does the job nicely.
Short episodes, good characterization, mostly kind, and really really funny.
Each week they go to a place that starts with the next letter of the alphabet.
posted by Acari at 2:02 PM on July 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

all 14 of the Baum oz books are available on audible
posted by brujita at 10:23 PM on July 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Something worth noting about the His Dark Materials audio version (the original trilogy), which has been mentioned above, is that it's a full-cast reading of the unabridged novel, narrated by Pullman. I'd suggest not being put off by this: the performances are so well judged, and the recording is so seamlessly put together that you never get the sense that you've listening to a play, it always feels like the experience of "reading" an audiobook. I think it's fair to warn you that, although these are beautiful and valuable books, the darkness and pain in them are very real, and you might not necessarily want to have to deal with the emotional fallout while on holiday.
posted by howfar at 12:07 AM on July 5, 2019

We've been listening to the How to Train Your Dragon books (with my 8 and 6yos), and they are fantastic.

They're not modern, but we've also really enjoyed some of the Diana Wynne Jones books on audio -- especially Howl's Moving Castle. My older kid has also enjoyed Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology, the Hobbit, and Steven Fry narrating Sherlock Holmes. Oh! And I've added Harriet the Spy to our upcoming summer road trip list.
posted by linettasky at 9:22 AM on July 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

If you are not automatically opposed to the author, "Ender's Game Alive: The Full Cast Audioplay" is fantastic. It isn't an audiobook, but rather more like an old-school radio play with different actors playing each character. It is about 7 1/2 hours long.
posted by tacodave at 3:40 PM on July 5, 2019

I wish I had seen this question sooner.

Neil Gaiman!

The BBC Radio 4 reading of Good Omens was a HUGE hit on a recent road trip. Boy theBRKP also really enjoyed The BBC adaptation of Neverwhere. And there is a adaptation of How the Marquis Got His Coat Back from BBC Radio 4 as well.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 4:01 PM on August 16, 2019

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