Family-friendly books and audiobooks?
June 16, 2006 11:16 AM   Subscribe

Family-friendly audiobooks and/or book content reviews? (Have you read The Kite Runner? Never Let Me Go? Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell?)

I'm going on vacation with my girlfriend's family and have once again been assigned the task of choosing an audiobook for the rental car. While it would be easy if it was just my girlfriend and I, her parents and 14-year-old sister complicate things. Last year's Life of Pi was perfect: hilarious, well-read, interesting, a "page-turner," and entirely appropriate for both kids and uptight adults. (As a bonus, the story was easy enough to follow that those in the passenger seats could nap from time to time.)

Ideally, it'd be contemporary fiction and something that everyone would enjoy (i.e. Harry Potter books would be out even if the sister hadn't read all of them). The books I listed on the front page are ones that seem interesting to me off the top of my head — but I have no way of knowing whether they contain sex scenes, excessive foul language, substantial drug use, et cetera. I'd say I'm looking for PG or light PG-13.

(Related: Is there any sort of MPAA-style ratings for books online somewhere? Even as distasteful as I find CAP reviews, such a super-specific breakdown of a book's contents would be perfect.)

I know that people of all ages read and enjoy Harry Potter. Just doesn't interest me, sorry.
posted by rafter to Media & Arts (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well, it's maybe a bit young, but we listened to "Little House on the Prarie" on our last family car trip. I still really enjoy the whole series, so it was good for me.

We also got some audiobook versions of "The Boxcar Children" series, which are a bit more, well, boring for adults, but our kids liked them. Very mild. Kid characters that are way nicer than any real kids, but that's not so bad.

Do not, under any circumstances, get audiobook of the "Geronimo Stilton" series. Ugh. Really badly written - boring for kids and adults alike. But you probably wouldn't have chosen that, as it's aimed younger than 14 year-olds in the first place.

Cracker Barrel "rents" audiobooks out of their restraunts which seem to all be located on highway exits. There's usually a good selection of ones there.
posted by GuyZero at 11:25 AM on June 16, 2006

I have only read the kite-runner out of those that you listed, and I would definitely say that is a no-go for your purposes.

While it is certainly one of the best, and most powerful books I have ever read, there are scenes in there that are very... raw. Child sexual abuse, and sodomy are both parts of the story and serve as critical turning points in the novel. (I'd imagine that you wouldn't be super comfortable listening to that in front of her parents/sister).
posted by ruwan at 11:28 AM on June 16, 2006

Even though it is an amazing book, Never Let Me Go, if Ishiguro's writing is any indication, would get boring to hear after several hours. Jonathan Strange would be an excellent choice, though.
posted by rabbitsnake at 11:38 AM on June 16, 2006

I've read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and really liked it. If you're not interested in Harry Potter, though, I'm not sure how much you'll like it. It's kind of like Harry Potter meets Jane Austen.
posted by sbrollins at 11:39 AM on June 16, 2006

I definitely enjoyed Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and don't recall any objectionable material. It's awfully dense and erudite, though; I don't know how many 14-year-olds would appreciate it.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:41 AM on June 16, 2006

There's also the length of the audiobook to consider. Jonathan Strange is 32 hours long; Never Let Me Go is about 10.
posted by Lucinda at 11:41 AM on June 16, 2006

Going back through what I've read recently, I might suggest The Know-it-All, by AJ Jacobs (though there is some talk about pregnancy/fear of infertility. Nothing obscene that I can remember but it might wig the 14yr old out to be talking about babies or the lack thereof.)
posted by sugarfish at 11:42 AM on June 16, 2006

Never Let Me Go is pretty edgy and disturbing. Not that a 14 year old shouldn't read it, but seems like a downer for a family vacation.
posted by tula at 11:50 AM on June 16, 2006

I can't remember if it contained foul language or any sex (it's been a few years since I've read it; perhaps someone else can advise), but Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay might be a fun listen for all age groups and dispositions you say you'll have in your car. It's been oft-described as a "page turner"; I enjoyed (much of it) as I did The Life of Pi -- which is to say, a lot.

Also, Jonathan Strange, while quite long, was very enjoyable to read; however, despite the fact that the length might disqualify it altogether as the "rental car book," it makes frequent use of (at times lengthy) footnotes -- something I would think difficult to execute well (i.e., without rendering the narrative disjointed) in an audiobook setting. You should totally read it, though.
posted by penchant at 11:53 AM on June 16, 2006

Strange and Norrell is good but very long - I think I looked at it in the library and it was 22 CDs, or something like that. You wouldn't finish it unless you live in Maine and vacation in San Diego.

I've enjoyed audiobooks by Terry Pratchett, a British humorist. Fantasy, but a large part of the writing and humor is very standard stuff - no unicorns or elves, mostly people-humor.
posted by jellicle at 11:53 AM on June 16, 2006

I can only confirm what others have already olunteered:

Kite Runner would definitely _not_ be appropriate for children, Strange, et al. would be, though they might find it somewhat tedious.
posted by Rifkin at 12:06 PM on June 16, 2006

we really liked foucault's pendulum by umberto eco (read by tim curry!) on a road trip. it's a knights templar conspiracy story, but one that is literate and is all about a made-up conspiracy. unfortunately, i don't remember how adult it is. maybe someone else does?

i also concur that kite runner isn't a good choice; also i don't think it's long enough for a road trip. kavalier and clay as i recall has some sex--although nothing graphic--and i seem to remember "homosexual themes"--but it was a great story. so i guess that depends on how thin your line is with your girlfriend's family.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:17 PM on June 16, 2006

My novel-loving wife recommends The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - very popular in the UK a couple of years back - which is available in a 6h dramatised audiobook. Or some Nick Hornby - High Fidelity perhaps?

If you want to stray away from contemporary, a suitably travel-themed book which I love is Three Men in a Boat (not to mention the dog) by Jerome K Jerome, a 6h30 audiobook.
posted by athenian at 12:32 PM on June 16, 2006

You guys need anything by James Herriott, the Brit veterinarian who wrote a kajillion books, many available as audiobooks. Short, episodic stories that are sometimes sad but almost always uplifting, even the sad ones. Funny, informative, and good for even pretty tiny kids.
posted by norm at 12:38 PM on June 16, 2006

Jonathan Strange deserves to be read.
posted by xmutex at 12:43 PM on June 16, 2006

I have to second The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. I have the version from and really enjoyed it. The narrator was excellent.

It doesn't really fit with the books you listed, but Wicked (also on audible) was excellent simply because of the narrator.

Both are family appropriate.
posted by schnee at 12:52 PM on June 16, 2006

The most successful family road trip audio book we've ever done was Treasure Island. Everyone loved it. I'm going to nth the comments on Jonathan Strange being waaay too long and possibly too boring for a 14 year old. I'd look to the classics - when I was just at the library looking for this exact same kind of thing, I saw A Town Called Alice and almost got that, thinking it would be good for my 14 year old son & his friend. I ended up choosing The Golden Compass though - report is not yet in from the teenagers - but I loved the book. However, it's fantasy and thus might alienate your wife's parents.
posted by mygothlaundry at 12:54 PM on June 16, 2006

I second norm - James Herriott's book have been read to pieces in my house. I cannot imagine anybody not enjoying them as audiobooks. Even a 14 year old.
posted by GuyZero at 12:59 PM on June 16, 2006

There's a ton of great stuff in the YA category that has kept my interest and been a great listen. Off the top of my head, consider

In fantasy:
The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm
Wolf Brother, The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness
Songs of Power
The Hermit Thrush Sings
The Bartimaeus Trilogy
Eregon, Eldest...
Across the Nightingail Floor

Homecoming by Voigt
Summer of My German Soldier
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

The Woman in White or The Moonstone
The Secret Garden/A Little Princess/Pollyanna (all way better as unabridged originals than you might imagine from only seeing the various movies)

...endless list....
posted by dpcoffin at 1:18 PM on June 16, 2006

Too bad about not considering Harry Potter because the Stephen Fry versions are probably among the best examples of audiobook presentations - they are perfect.

These may not fit your requirements as they have some fantasy elements but... also very good are Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl series - sort of Harry Potter meets James Bond - fun and light hearted - very good vocal performance. A bit heavier are Jeanne Duprau's City of Ember and People of Sparks - vocalist is a bit sub par but the stories are interesting for a younger listener but still thought provoking for adults. If space opera SF doesn't scare you off, David Weber's Honor Harrington series (starts with On Basilisk Station) is an intersting listen - strong female character and a good vocalization. We tried Strange and Norell but couldn't keep going - quit after about 6 hours - probably an acquired taste.

I've listened to all of these with a 13-16 yr avid reader boy in the back seat and he would 2nd my recommendations on all of the above. Not sure about the suitability for up tight adults though.
posted by gsquared at 1:21 PM on June 16, 2006

I will second the Little House Series. We would rent and rerent those from the library, from childhood into my teens years.

I also remember a stupendous version of Kipling's Riki Tiki Tavi.
posted by kimdog at 1:23 PM on June 16, 2006

What about using something besides an audiobook - what about old-time radio shows? Classics like Dragnet, The Green Hornet, The Whistler, The Shadow, Lights Out, etc. - they're all available online, and they're pretty much all-ages. And they're fun!!
posted by MeetMegan at 1:58 PM on June 16, 2006

Seconding Three Men in a Boat, James Herriot, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. Also, Louis Sachar's Holes (on which the Sigourney Weaver movie was based).
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 2:41 PM on June 16, 2006

For the road trip my boyfriend and I are taking next week, we're taking lots of This American Life (check back a couple of days for a post about how to download the episodes) and A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. I'll bet you could go with any of Bryson's books and get a favorable reaction.
posted by MsMolly at 2:43 PM on June 16, 2006

I second MeetMegan's old time radio idea. My sister and I used to howl over old tapes of Burns and Allen (especially when Jack Benny was guesting)! TAL is a fantastic show, though not all episodes are kid or parent-in-law (almost) friendly. I'd gather a couple of radio shows and a copy of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and call it a day.
posted by kayzie at 4:25 PM on June 16, 2006

I adore the Series of Unfortunate Events books. They have audio versions that I hear are really quite excellent. The content is aimed at younger kids, but is extremely dark and witty. The stories successfully operate on multiple levels, and are rife with puns and allusions. My sister (14) loves them, as do I (22) and my mother.

It's pretty much devoid of fantasy, though it does have a sort of timeless undertone that's hard to place.
posted by heresiarch at 6:06 PM on June 16, 2006

Never Let Me Go has some (relatively tame) sex in it.

Seconding Bill Bryson -- try A Walk in the Woods. There are certain to be some dirty words, but only for flair.

And I third The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.

How about a food memoir? Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl -- a former NY Times restaurant critic's tales of going undercover.

Bee Season by Myla Goldberg? I haven't read it, but it seems G-rated.
posted by kmel at 8:41 PM on June 16, 2006

If you can find and afford it, the BBC radio dramatization of the Lord Of The Rings is very, very good. 13 hours long, amazingly true to the book. The only performance I found iffy was Aragorn, but it didn't detract from the excellence of the whole. I listened to it right after the final LOTR movie came out and was surprised at how much better it was than the films (though I enjoyed the movies immensely).
posted by lhauser at 10:06 AM on June 17, 2006

Thank you all for your generous comments and suggestions. I'll hit up the local libraries with this list on hand.

Thanks especially for the Kite Runner tips — what an awkward trip that would have been!
posted by rafter at 9:39 AM on June 22, 2006

After seeing what was available at the local libraries and putting the matter to vote, we ended up with A Walk in the Woods, which was excellent — funnier than I would have expected and appropriate to the tone of the vacation (camping and hiking). The f-bomb was dropped several times which caused some minor discomfort but it wasn't too big a deal.

(Personally, I was holding out The Know-it-All or one of the James Herriott books, but I was overruled. I think I would have loved A Short History of Nearly Everything but the local libraries didn't carry it on CD. Thanks again for all your generous suggestions. I'll probably be using this thread for reference for the next several years.)
posted by rafter at 12:22 PM on July 13, 2006

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