Adventurous (audio)books for a preschooler and parent?
May 3, 2021 10:57 AM   Subscribe

My 4.5 year old daughter and I have been enjoying listening to audiobooks together in the car, but I'm not sure what to listen to next! We've listened to and enjoyed the Dealing With Dragons books and the Lumberjanes novels, and both have been rousing successes. What should we listen to next?

In general, I'm looking for books that are preschooler-appropriate, but not particularly "books for preschoolers." Everything we've been listening to so far has been middle-grade type books, but very gentle. I'd generally like to avoid books that are violent or have much in the way of darker themes (in particular, would like to avoid the oh-so-common trope of "dead/missing parents"), and would prefer books without a lot of unkindness/cruelty/general interpersonal nastiness. I'd also like to avoid too much general problematic-ness; teachable moments are okay, but would rather not make it too much of an uphill battle against pervasive stereotyping / gender roles / etc.

Some things I've considered but chosen not to pursue for now:
* The Dark is Rising - a bit much into the good & evil, perhaps a bit too scary; just generally feels a bit old for her?
* So You Want to be a Wizard - also just feels a BIT too old and potentially scary?
* Assorted Dianne Wynne Jones books - this feels like it COULD be a next good step, I just vaguely remember Chrestomanci books having some surprisingly dark bits (something about butchering mermaids?? that can't be right, can it?), etc
* Hilda novelizations - we've done the graphic novels and the TV show and I just don't know if I have *another* medium in me for these
* Edward Eager (Half Magic, etc) - I don't remember these well enough to feel comfortable with them, both from a "problematic 50s-isms" and a violence perspective (I vaguely recall a lot of chopping people up with swords, but perhaps I'm making that up?)
* Books pitched a bit younger, e.g. Kitty and the Moonlight Rescue - she does well with these sorts of things at bedtime, but I'd rather something that's a BIT more enjoyable for me.

One challenge is I don't remember a lot of this era books very well from my own childhood, so I'm a bit anxious about picking something, missing the mark, and landing in something that's going to just provoke way more discussion than I'm looking for out of something that should basically be serving the role of "get us through this car ride calmly."

So basically, positive adventure novels that will be interesting and engaging for a preschooler, but won't drive me up the wall to listen to and discuss. We will be listening to these as audiobooks, ideally from, so bonus points if it has a particularly great audio version (or, I suppose, if you know that the audio version is abysmally bad)! Thank you for your ideas!
posted by twigatwig to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
When You Reach Me is a lovely book. Every once in a while I'll go catch up on the Newbery Award winners and that's how I found this one. It's got sad parts, deals with racism, income inequality, and social justice in a middle grades-appropriate way, and has a sci fi angle, but no dark or violent parts. The mom's voice in the audiobook is...regrettable, but the book itself is good enough to overlook it. The only thought is it might not be adventury enough for you. It's about a girl's regular life in 1970s NYC, but also there's time travel.

Another recent finalist I liked is Doll Bones. This one is more adventury but has absent parents and dangerous (though not violent) situations. It's a genuinely engaging ghost story for being aimed at 10 year olds.
posted by phunniemee at 11:05 AM on May 3, 2021

We absolutely love the Land of Stories books from Chris Colfer - and the audio books are EXCELLENT (he's the one who reads them, and they are perfect), there are some more mature themes (death of a parent) in them and I think we started listening to them when our littlest was 6.
posted by iamabot at 11:40 AM on May 3, 2021

The Pushcart War by Jean Merrill.
Artemis Fowl, maybe just the first one, by Eoin Colfer.
The Squire's Tales by Gerald Morris.
Island of the Blue Dolphins.
Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.
The City of Ember.
Dragonsong by Anne McCaffery.
The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale.

All of these have excellent audiobook versions available, all of them hold up very well as an adult listener. If you decide to listen to Artemis Fowl, make sure you get the one narrated by Nathaniel Parker - I think they re-released with a different narrator recently and they're not as good.

Neil Gaiman narrated an audiobook of his Norse Mythology and it is a real treat, though it may have to wait a few years. I seem to recall Odin transforming into a woman and seducing a giant at some point. It's all pretty bloodless though, very neatly handled by some of Gaiman's best storytelling.
posted by snerson at 11:44 AM on May 3, 2021

The Whatever After series has well-read audiobooks. We started reading them when my daughter was 5 or so, but if your child is into adventures, it's a fairly gentle series based on familiar stories with a little twist. There's a small amount of grimness -- just in explaining that the original stories aren't always as happily-ever-after as Disney has made them -- but they're not scary and the tension level is fairly low.

They're targeted a bit young, but the stories are funny and engaging enough not to be grating to a parent. I wound up reading most of them aloud rather than listening, but I recall them being fun enough.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:47 AM on May 3, 2021

The Children of Noisy Village books by Astrid Lindgren are about six children in Sweden who live in adjacent houses. I don't know about the audiobook, but my kid loved this series. Pippi Longstocking might also be fun.
posted by mogget at 11:52 AM on May 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

My kids loved "The Wild Robot" as an audio book. By Peter Brown.
posted by Ftsqg at 12:02 PM on May 3, 2021

The girl who circumvented fairyland? The writing is so so so beautiful and fun.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 12:12 PM on May 3, 2021

I can't personally vouch for Ursula Vernon's middle-grade stuff but everything else she's written has been 100% delightful. (Actually, on review, I did read Nurk and it was adorable, although I don't read enough middle grade to have a sense of where it falls on the spectrum.)
posted by restless_nomad at 12:15 PM on May 3, 2021

Our whole family loves Stockard Channing reading the Ramona books.

We also like the Clementine books by Sarah Pennypacker.

These entertained our girls when they were 5 and 9, and still do at 8 and 12, and the parents like them too.
posted by dpx.mfx at 12:41 PM on May 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

Flora and Ulysses is fantastic, and there's nothing dark except some strained family relationships and an implied request to kill a squirrel. We listened when my younger was 5 and she could follow it just fine and didn't object to anything in it.
posted by that's candlepin at 1:08 PM on May 3, 2021

Yes to the Clementine books!

Also the Ivy and Bean series by Annie Barrows is delightful.
posted by mogget at 3:02 PM on May 3, 2021

We are reading the book of Kiki’s Delivery Service aloud. Apparently it’s a series.
posted by vunder at 3:33 PM on May 3, 2021

Jeanne Birdsall's Penderwicks series.

Books by Beverly Cleary
posted by Constance Mirabella at 3:53 PM on May 3, 2021

The Franny K. Stein books by Jim Benton
posted by Kalmya at 6:57 AM on May 4, 2021

What about The Phantom Tollbooth? My babysitter (who was also my pre-school teacher) gave it to me when I was 3 or 4, and I have very fond memories of her reading it to me.

Also yes to Beverly Cleary books, especially the Ramona Quimby series.
posted by radioamy at 6:10 PM on May 6, 2021

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