Top Ten Middle Grade Audio Books to Make the Long Car Ride Bearable for Everyone by Kathy Cowie
During the summer, my family spends a lot of time in the car. We have portable TVs for trips over six hours, but for everything else, we have audiobooks. We have downloaded some, but most we borrow from our local library. They have a large selection, and you can rent an individual device if you can’t agree on a book.
In the beginning, my husband and I imagined we were great parents — doing something just for the kids. But we found out quickly that the stories were fun for everyone. Some lasted over a couple of weekend trips, so we sometimes had to tell Grandma or other random guests, “Sorry, we’re in the middle of the story, here’s what you missed.”
If you are worried about the “reading” value for your children, a Forbes magazine article “Is Listening to Audio Books Really the Same as Reading?” referenced several studies. “The way this is usually interpreted is that once you are good at decoding letters into sound, which most of us are by the time we’re in 5th or 6th grade, the comprehension is the same whether it’s spoken or written,” explained University of Virginia psychology professor Dan Willingham.
Of course, the stories you choose depend on your family’s tastes. We have two girls, but we try to be fair to Daddy, and go easy on the girly books. We have also found that a good book can be ruined by a bad reader; and that we particularly like narrators with English accents. So this list is not at all objective, but we tried.
10) The Magic Treehouse, Books 1-8 by Mary Pope Osborne, read by the author
These books are short, so a compilation is a good idea for a longer trip. Having it read by the author is a bonus, since she has a warm voice and is especially attached to the story. We went through a phase of reading all of these books, so they were always a hit.
9) Mercy Watson by Kate DiCamillo, read by Ron McLarty
This is another series of shorter books, so it benefits from having a collection. We own these, but they are still funny the fourth and fifth time we hear them. Really, what’s not to like about a pig who loves hot buttery toast?
8) Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean, read by Tim Curry
My daughter read this, and recommended it. We are fans of anything related to Peter Pan, so the sequel was an easy bet. It’s a little darker than the Disney versions you may be used to, but the story is terrific.
7) The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, read by David Hyde Pierce
This is one classic that I honestly can’t remember if I read it as a child. Afterwards, I could not figure out how I would have missed it. David Hyde Pierce is a fantastic reader, and the many odd characters are brought to vivid life.
6) The Doll People / The Meanest Doll in the World, by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin, read by Lynn Redgrave
(Brian Selznick’s illustrations are awesome too)
Even my husband admits to loving these books. I’m not sure if it was the idea of Mean Mimi, the wicked doll in charge, or Lynn Redgrave’s voice that won us over, but this is an amazing series. We especially loved “Doll State” (being frozen because you were seen by a human), and “Permanent Doll State” (which is similar to your face freezing permanently in the awful look you gave your mother). The Runaway Dolls is next.
5) The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald, read by Ron McLarty
This was one of my husband’s picks. We laughed hysterically through most of this, and, in some parts, we cried. (Well, mostly Dad, Mom and Grandma, the others missed a little of the subtlety.) This is the beginning of a truly exceptional series, based on the childhood of the author.
4) Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, read by Jim Dale
I think Jim Dale could read the phone book and we would happily listen. We have not heard his Harry Potter, because that would be mean to Daddy, who read them all aloud (twice), albeit without 1300 accents. In any case, Peter and the Starcatchers is an awesome story, even if I read it aloud to you. If you get the chance, see the show.
3) Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, read by Cherry Jones
My husband balked when we brought this one home, but he was more surprised than anyone how fierce it was. The rest of us had read the books, so we were prepared. We learned all sorts of useful skills — like how to harvest honey from a beehive; which I’m sure will come in handy someday.
2) Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce, read by Simon Jones
We loved this book, especially the premise: what would you do if you found a million dollars in cash? We laughed hysterically at the things these kids thought up. We loved it so much we rented the movie to watch with friends. It was critically acclaimed, and, despite some religious references, widely popular. The author wrote the screenplay. I won’t say he distorted the book, though he did change it; but I will tell you that this is where you realize that listening to a story and seeing it right in front of you can be two very different things. If your kids are younger, I recommend you listen to it.
1) The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, read by Judith Ivey
After we read The Tale of Despereaux, I bought Tulane to read to my daughters. For some reason, we could not get into it. So when I rented the audiobook, I expected some resistance. After we listened for a while, we were in love. I cannot explain it. This was a couple of years ago now, but if you mention the title to my kids, they will say “Tulane!” in a perfect imitation of the growling voice of the hobo from this truly miraculous adventure.
Kathy Cowie is lucky to live in a house filled with love, and overflowing with books. She lives with her patient husband and two beautiful, book-loving daughters in New Jersey. She is a partner at c-squared design, a package design firm, and a contributor to a new tween lifestyle website betwixtgirls.com. In her free time, she blogs about books on Goodreads and at blah, blah, blah, book blog. She spends a lot of happy hours with her family at the Ridgewood, NJ Public Library.