As a child, I always wanted to read in the car during long road trips. But somehow reading in the back seat of our wood-paneled Aspen station wagon usually left me dizzy and heaving on the side of a highway. Plus my mother said it was bad for my eyes (that part might have been right, judging from my contact lens prescription).
My own children are blessed with a built-in DVD player in our minivan. But a parent can only take so many animated features during a long car ride — and so much whining and poking of little brothers. And what if we have to drive Dad’s (more, err, “rustic”) vehicle?
That’s where audiobooks comes in. OK, they’re technically not reading, but it is listening to literature read aloud — verbatim — by people who can do the voices much better than Mom or Dad, and they lack the noisy sound effects and soundtracks of most kids entertainment. Plus, there’s usually a good supply of high-quality stories available at your public library.
Here are a few of my favorites:
- “Stories of Robots,” edited by Russell Punter: This is a collection of three short stories, read with a delightful British accent. The stories, which are about robots with surprisingly human foibles, have enough slapstick humor to be entertaining to the preschool to early elementary set coupled with a surprising dose of irony to keep the parents engaged. The publisher, Usborne Children’s Books has a whole series of these CD/Book sets, featuring the typical preschool lineup of dinosaurs, mermaids, fairies and knights, but the only other one I’ve been able to get my hands on is “Stories of Pirates.” Our family has owned the robots and pirates audiobooks for about five years and we never get tired of them.
- Beverly Cleary classics: Ramona, Beezus and Henry were some of my favorite literary characters, even though they lived a generation before my childhood. With Neil Patrick Harris voicing many of the Henry stories and Stockard Channing reading the Ramona series, the tales from Klickitat Street come alive for my boys, who ask how it’s possible that kids are riding buses alone and knocking on strangers’ doors. These are especially a nice break from the popular eye-rolling, gross-out chapter books aimed at mid-elementary boys.
- Modern Classics: such as Carl Hiaasen’s “Hoot,” Louis Sachar’s “Holes” or Linda Sue Park’s “A Single Shard.” I have to admit, I have not read — or listened to — these books all the way through. They were part of a CD sampler we got at our local independent children’s bookstore. All I can say is that at the time we got this disk, my older son (who was only 3 at the time) would listen rapt to to this entire CD (which also included chapters from many other Newbery Award-winning children’s books, such as “Island of the Blue Dolphins”) and ask to ask to hear it again.
Maybe I’ll have to track down “Hoot” or “Holes” (which both have nature or outdoors themes) to play on the way to one of our summer camping trips.