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Road Trip Tips: Kids’ Favorite Books on Tape

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My two children and I have been taking long road trips together since they were infants. Ten years later, we’ve all learned what works for us to help make the road trip seem faster and more fun.  (See my other article: The Single Parent’s Guide to Road Trips with Kids.)

At the top of our list you will find books on tape. We like choosing and listening to the books together and there’s also an educational bonus. Children can listen to and comprehend books several grade levels beyond what they can read, which helps with both reading comprehension and vocabulary.

Purchasing new books on tape is expensive. An average size book can easily cost around $50. Your local library should be an excellent free resource or consider a subscription service such as Audiobooks Now.

I like to look for books that are the first in a series, as well as books that are at least three or more hours long. If you haven’t listened to books with your kids before, that probably sounds like a lot, but the time flies by when you love the book. There are so many books on tape from which to choose; here are a few that have made our favorites list.

Gregor the Overlander

Written by Suzanne Collins nearly 10 years ago, this is a five book series aimed at a younger audience than her more well known series, The Hunger Games. The story focuses on 11 year-old Gregor and his adventures in the Underland, which exists below his home in New York City. This series is at the top of our list of the books we’ve listened to and loved over the years. The world Collins creates has amazing and fascinating detail, but she also weaves into the story the realistic struggle of a child trying to help his family during difficult times. The first book alone is over six hours of reading, but we loved the story so much that we started the second book as soon as we finished the first.

Dragon Rider

Brendan Fraser reads this book written by Cornelia Funke and makes listening to the story an incredible experience. It’s a wonderful and very long story filled with dragons and brownies and many other fantastical beings, but Brendan Fraser’s voice will wrap itself around you and keep you listening. He has a talent for accents and emotion that really enhance the experience. This is a lengthy, complex story, perfect for a long week on the road, that follows the difficult and dangerous mission of a trio consisting of a boy, a dragon and a brownie. My kids and I still talk like a brownie (Scottish accent) even years after listening to the book.

The Graveyard Book

I will admit the opening scene is a bit disturbing; less so if your kids enjoy a good scary story. The first chapter is described in every review of the book, so I won’t describe it again, but the chapter ends with an 18-month old boy safely ensconced in a graveyard, with ghosts and an unusual guardian to raise him. The reader then follows the life of the boy as he grows up in the graveyard. The story was written and read by Neil Gaiman, who has written several other children’s stories that are among our favorites, including Coraline and The Wolves in the Walls. Neil Gaiman’s stories are always unlike anything you’ve ever read, and I like introducing my children to these unusual books that have a way of staying with you forever.

Peter Pan

When I saw this in the library, I was curious. I was fairly certain I had never read the original story, just seen the many cartoons and movies. This was read by Jim Dale, the same actor who read the Harry Potter series. He’s a wonderful reader, and the story really held our attention. It was obvious why so many movies had been based on it. This was one of the few cases where we had seen the movies before reading the book, and we enjoyed hearing parts of the story that simply weren’t captured in the movies. This story is likely to particularly appeal to younger children who will be familiar with the story but have yet to hear the original.

Holes

Written by Louis Sachar and winner of both the Newbery Medal and the National Book Award, this book makes our list for its mix of fables, dual timeline, and modern day challenges of some desperate young children who have been sentenced to hard labor in a desolate area in Texas. While the story is written for children, I think this is an excellent book to introduce children to a more complicated way of telling a story. The story gave us a lot of discussion material as we tried to imagine what a scene meant or why a character acted the way they did.

The Red Pyramid

The first story in a trilogy by Rick Riordan of Percy Jackson fame, this focuses on a brother and sister with a dangerous mission to fulfill. The story switches between narration by the brother and the sister, with two different actors reading those parts, which gives the story some added realism. The book also pulls heavily from Egyptian mythology, which tied in with some of my my children’s recent school work, always an added bonus.  We listened to this story as we drove from Las Vegas to Reno, then back again to the Grand Canyon. While it wasn’t intentional, the country we drove through seemed to match some of that described in the book, which added to the fun.

First Test

My daughter was 10, one year younger than the lead character Kel, when we first listened to this book. In this story by Tamora Pierce, the first in a four-book series called Protector of the Small, Kel is the first girl to ever be accepted into training for knighthood in the mythical land of Tortall. Kel stands up to bullies and works harder than anyone at the school to achieve her dreams. The story held the interest of my son also, but really struck a chord with my daughter. It was an empowering book for her with a fantastic story.

Harry Potter and The Hunger Games series

These are deservedly famous books and well worth listening to on tape, even if you and your children have seen the movies. As is often the case, the books have much more detail than can be captured in a movie, and hearing all the specifics that are missed in the movies is just fun. Both of these series had us so engrossed that we often sat in the car to finish a chapter even after reaching our destination. Given the length of these series, it will likely take quite a few long drives to work your way through the stories. It’s the perfect incentive for planning your next road trip.

These are just some of the books on tape we’ve loved over the years. Please share your recommendations as well in the comments!

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Andrea is a single mom in Arlington, Virginia with a 15-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter. Her children took their first trips when they were just four…

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