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When children struggle with reading, it can be hard to help them understand how fun and rewarding interacting with a book can be. Audiobooks are a fantastic way to introduce a child (or an adult!) to the world of reading. They can experience the magic of seeing a story unfold before them and gain valuable skills even when they can’t yet read easily themselves.

Children are capable of understanding books that are significantly above the level they can currently read themselves, and listening to audiobooks helps them expand their vocabulary, follow more complicated storylines, and generally just have a positive experience with reading.

When I was a child, my parents would check out audiobooks for us to listen to when we made long car trips. Our family still quotes lines from The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, which we listened to on a 10-day camping trip through Colorado in 1994. Twenty years later, I’m still enjoying listening to books, especially children’s novels.

Here are eight of my favorite audiobooks for the whole family to enjoy, whether it’s on the way to and from school and soccer practice, or for a long summer roadtrip:

1. The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud – If you’re going through Harry Potter withdrawals, the Bartimeaus series is for you. It’s not modern, like Harry Potter, but the fully-formed magical world is just as smart, clever, and thrilling as J.K. Rowling’s. Nathanial is apprenticed to a low-level magician and, after a public humiliation, decides to take matters into his own hands and summon a djinni. But that djinni, Bartimeaus, turns out to be a lot for one eleven-year-old magician-in-training to handle. Simon Jones narrates all four of the books, and there is, in my opinion, no one better, not even Jim Dale.

2. Walk Two Moons by Cynthia Voigt – This Newbery winner is ideally suited for a car trip, since it’s about a girl, Sal, on a roadtrip with her grandparents, going to find her mother. On the roadtrip, Sal entertains her grandparents with a long story about life in the town she recently moved to and especially her friend, Phoebe Winterbottom, a girl with a life that seems to have some parallels to Sal’s.

3. Princess Academy by Shannon Hale – This is a Full-Cast Audio production (as all of Shannon Hale’s excellent books are), which means each character has a different voice, there are sound effects and music, and the whole thing is like listening to an old-fashioned radio show. Don’t let the title deter you – this isn’t an overly-girly book. It’s full of adventure, with a couple of surprising plot twists. We listened to this one on a three-day drive cross-country drive and were almost sad to arrive at our destination (almost).

4.A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park – This Newbery winner, set in 12-century Korea, follows a young orphan, Tree-ear, who begins working for an acclaimed local potter, Min. Min has dreams of becoming a potter for the king, but a new one is selected only every few decades, so he only has one shot. As Tree-ear’s responsibilities increase at the potter’s workshop, he also becomes involved in trying to help Min achieve his ambition. The narration for this is superb and the book, which is not very long, ends all too soon.

5. Savvy by Ingrid Law – What kid doesn’t love the idea of a special power? In Savvy, each  member of the family discovers their own ability (or savvy) at the age of thirteen – sometimes they are ridiclously cool, like her brother’s ability to control electricity, while some are a bit useless. Mibs can’t wait to find out what hers is, but the night before her
birthday, her father is in a horrible automobile accident and her excitement over her impending savvy must be put on hold as she sets out to reach her father’s hospital bedside.

6. Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy – My husband and I fell in love with this quick-paced mystery/thriller featuring a walking, talking, snappy-dressing skeleton detective and the crazy adventures he and his 12-year-old sidekick Stephanie get into. I laughed outloud more during this book than probably any other audiobook I’ve ever listened to.

7. Escape!: The Story of The Great Houdini by Sid Fleischman – If you’re looking for a little non-fiction in your children’s lives, there aren’t many easier sells than a book about Houdini. Like a good magician, this book doesn’t give away the secrets of Houdini’s magic,
but it does provide a compelling account of Houdini’s life, and why he’s still so famous and compelling nearly ninety years after his death. Fleischman does a brilliant job explaining Houdini’s flair for doctoring his own life story and gives lots of examples of when the records don’t match up and what various possible realities might be. You’ll be hard
pressed not to listen ahead when your kids aren’t in the car!

8. Bloody Jack by L. A. Meyer – This is the first of a long series of books (so if you or your kids are fans, you have many many happy hours of listening ahead of you!). This one is slightly older, aimed at kids 12 and up, and follows Jacky on adventures aboard a ship in the British Royal Navy. But Jacky has a secret – she’s a girl and girls are DEFINITELY not allowed to be ship’s boys. This narrator is one of the best I’ve ever listened to, with an uncanny ability to do hundreds of voices. I listened to one book after another, reveling in Jacky’s adventures for many weeks during my work commute.


A former school librarian and now full-time mom, Janssen blogs at