Going on a family trip and dreading the inevitable sibling squabbles? Do you think think screen time is the only solution to stop the whines of "I'm bored! When are we going to get there?" I'd like to encourage you to try an audiobook.
Now you might be thinking that there is no way you can find an audiobook that everyone will love, but that's not true! We listened to hours and hours of audiobooks (it was a hardship, but someone had to do it) to find the best audiobooks for family road trips that kids of multiple ages, plus the grown ups, will all love!
No, seriously! The audiobooks on this list may all be childrens' books, but they all have adult appeal, whether it's the stellar narration, the humor, the mystery, or the thought-provoking themes. There is definitely a book for everyone.
There are a few books I think are better for families with kids ages 7 or 8 and up, so I've made note of that. For families with preschoolers who want audiobooks everyone will enjoy, I recommend finding the available audiobooks for the corresponding titles on these two lists:
Or, check out my previous list, all with titles appropriate for even the youngest kids: Audiobooks for kids
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Tips for how to listen to audiobooks:
We find it most convenient to listen to audiobooks by using an app on an electronic device. These are the top ways of getting audiobooks:
1. Audible.com from Amazon. Audible has the largest, most reliable selection of audiobooks. You can get two free selections with their free trial. But a little known fact is that if you purchase the Kindle version of a book you can add on the audio version for extra! So essentially you are getting two versions of the book for a single price. If you browse Amazon you can often find great deals this way. The Audible app is free whether or not you purchase a subscription. If you have a Kindle Fire this is an easy solution.
3. The Epic! books app. I've written extensively about this app, which has ebooks, read-to-me books and audiobooks. You can try it out for 30 days free. And it's only $4.99 a month after that for unlimited reading and listening. The selection is more limited that Audible, but they are adding books all the time. On the upside, you can put it on multiple devices and have up to four profiles so kids don't have to share.
3. Your library. Most libraries offer audiobooks via Overdrive and/or Hoopla. However, popular books can have a long waiting period and the selection depends on your library's budget. On the upside, it's free.
Enough chit-chat! On to the best audiobooks for family road trips!
Heroes Guide to Saving Your Kingdom (+ 2 sequels) by Christopher Healy. If there is one audio book you should listen to, it is this one (plus the two sequels). Bronson Pinchot (Balki, anyone?) narrates and the voices are spectacular. Spectacular. So so so funny. The story, which turns traditional fairy tales on their heads, is appropriate for all ages, and adults will adore the tongue in cheek humor (unless they are dead inside). This series is on my list of must read chapter books for kids.
The Great Cake Mystery by Alexander McCall Smith (series). Charming and funny, with just the right amount of suspense! When her friends’ lunchtime treats go missing Precious is on the job, and when she discovers the surprising thief a nice chuckle is had by all. Old-fashioned detective stories are great for family road trips and this one, set in Botswana, is a great way of exposing young readers to other cultures!
Appleblossom the Possum by Holly Goldberg Sloan. Narrated by Dustin Hoffman. A clever and charming tale of young possum siblings making their way in the world. The story turned out to be surprisingly funny, too! Mama Possum teaches her children about how performance is an integral part of life as a possum and they all practice their acting skills, which come in handy on many occasions. When Appleblossom falls down a chimney and is adopted by a girl with a longing for an attentive pet, her brothers enlist the help of their wayward dad and dance-floor loving mom to rescue her. I adored all the theater references and loved how much my boys laughed throughout the story.
Stick Dog (series) by Tom Watson. My kids were laughing uproariously at the antics of stray dogs who spend most of their waking hours figuring out silly ways to acquire their favorite foods. Honestly, I wasn't expecting to enjoy it but I really did!
Alvin Ho by Leonore Look. Everette Plen narrates the Alvin Ho series and he is hilariously on point! I've long recommended this series, and I think I like it even more as an audiobook. Alvin suffers from anxiety over many things and this leads him to become mute at school. Nevertheless, his family life, antics and tales of how he navigates "scary things" never fail to charm.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis. How can you not love an audiobook narrated by Reading Rainbow superstar LeVar Burton? Well-behaved 9 year old Kenny and his not-so-well behaved 13 year old brother, Byron, navigate family (the “Weird Watsons” as Kenny refers to them) and school life in Michigan until their parents decide that Byron needs to spend the summer with Grandma down in Alabama. Together they set off on a road trip. Shortly after arriving in Birmingham that community is devastated by the infamous church bombing. Curtis handles the theme of racial tension so well (and it’s not the main focus of the book, family life is the main theme), that I have no reservations recommending this book for kids ages 8 and up. Another Curtis audiobook I adore is The Mighty Miss Malone, narrated by Bahni Turpin.
Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate, narrated by Kirby Heyborne tackles childhood poverty and homelessness. It is an important book and will encourage well-off kids to have compassion for others, as well as allow underprivileged kids to be heard. Crenshaw is 10 year old Jackson’s imaginary friend. Jackson’s family has fallen on hard times and Jackson is frustrated with his parent’s inability to acknowledge the seriousness of the situation. Crenshaw offers Jackson a way to work through his emotions and helps him realize he doesn’t have to feel responsible for everything. This book does not gloss over the difficulties that millions of children face everyday but Crenshaw adds in a bit of humor. For ages 7 and up.
Frindle by Andrew Clements. We've listened to quite a few of Clements's audiobooks, but this remains a favorite. Frindle is the story of Nick Allen who decides to show his vocabulary-obsessed fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Granger, that if he wants to, he can invent a new word that will end up in the dictionary. With the help of his friends, Nick succeeds in renaming a "pen" a "frindle". Both my kids found this book hilarious.
As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds. 11 year old Genie and his brother travel from Brooklyn to Virginia to spend the summer with their grandparents. Audiobook narrator Guy Lockard hits some high comic notes, perfectly capturing the enthusiasm and energy of Genie's insatiable curiosity as he gets to know his grandparents and adjusts to rural life. Ages 7 and up.
The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White. Narrated by the author. Louis the trumpeter swan is mute, which is a problem when he wants to attract the attention of Serena, a lovely female swan. With the help of a trumpet he finds a voice, but also a quest for honesty and redemption. Along the way he develops a friendship with Sam Beaver, a boy who helps him to learn how to read and write.
The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates by Caroline Carlson. Adventures are excellent for long road trips. Hilary wants to be a pirate. Unfortunately pirates don't take young ladies into their ranks and she is sent off to finishing school. With the help of her gargoyle (that's right) she escapes and runs off to join the ship, "the Terror of the Southlands". From then on it is a non-stop treasure seeking adventure. Narrator Katherine Kellgren is a whiz with voices and accents.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (and two companion books) by Grace Lin. This is possibly my favorite chapter book ever and I consider it a modern classic. Minli's family lives in poverty and Minli sets out on a quest to find the Old Man of the Moon and change her family's destiny. Along the way she is accompanied by the Jade Dragon and her journey is filled with twist and turns of fate. Lin deftly weaves together Minli's quest, and her father's stories to create a memorable tale.
Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty E. Birney. In the 1920s rural midwest, Eben is obsessed with visiting the seven wonders of the world and doesn’t believe his father who tells him there are wonderful things to be seen right in Sassafras Springs. But then Pa challenges Eben to find seven local wonders and offers up the prize of a trip to the mountains if he can do so. A audiobook with an old-fashioned feel.
Zorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston. I highly recommend any of the Roald Dahl audiobooks that are out there, but this is a great alternative. Written in rhyming verse and narrated by Alan Cummings. The fast-paced, clever, rhyming story follows Katrina Katrell, who runs away from her evil guardian, and alights on an adventure with a strange creature called a Zorgle from Zorgamazoo. A twisting mystery, with bizarre and hilarious characters follow. Winner of the 2009 E.B White Read Aloud Award.
Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle (narrated by the author). 13 year old Nate's snappy narrative about his adventure in New York City auditioning for E.T. The Musical (yes, that's right) is marvelous and incredibly funny. The scene in which Nate reads the "sides" during his audition had me laughing so hard I could barely see the words through my tears. I am currently reading the sequel, in which Nate experiences the ups and downs of rehearsing for a Broadway show and it is just as wonderful as the first. A 2014 Odyssey award honor audiobook.
We are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson. I thought I'd throw a stellar nonfiction book into the mix. This recording, narrated by Dion Graham, was the 2010 Odyssey Award honor audiobook.This book is a fascinating narration of the history of the Negro League, its talented players, the struggle of the teams' owners and the important role the League played in the history of the sport in America. Be sure to pick up a copy at the library as well because the whole family will love studying Nelson's fantastic illustrations. For ages 7 and up.
How Tía Lola Came to Stay by Julia Alvarez. 10 year old Miguel, his sister Juanita and his mom have just moved from NYC to Vermont. His aunt Lola comes to visit from the Dominican Republic. Tía Lola's dynamic and outgoing personality helps Miguel navigate his feelings about the divorce, his new status as the only Latino in his school class as well as adding humor, joy and adventure to his daily life.
Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan. I can't believe I've never included this on a list before. This masterful novel is told in several parts that cross historical and cultural boundaries. The thread that binds the narratives together is a magical harmonica. Music is such an integral part of the story and the audiobook format helps that to shine. Narrated by Mark Bramhall, David de Vries, Andrews MacLeod, and Rebecca Soler. This is better for families with children ages 8 and up because of the sophisticated storylines. A 2016 Odyssey award honor audiobook.
Find more of my audiobook selections here:
Audiobooks for kids All of the selections on this list are also good for the whole family, including preschoolers. (I didn't want to duplicate my lists, but you can be assured that the books here are also some of the best audiobooks for family road trips! )
And get some tips: