Ask the grumpies: Audio Books for car trips?

Natka asks:

We have a tradition to listen to audio books during car trips. A car trip is coming up in April, but I am having a hard time finding audio books that would be a good match for our family (and exciting to listen to).

We have 3 kids ages 8, 11, and 13. We have already listened to The Hobbit and LotR. Older kids already read all the Harry Potter books. Flora and Ulysses, Matilda, and The Mysterious Benedict Society series were all great hits as audio books. We are not fans of Narnia or The Wrinkle in Time.

Any recommendations for audio books that are not too adult, not too childish, and are entertaining for both kids and grownups during a 5+ hour drive? We have never tried non-fiction titles, but that may be interesting.

My first thought is the Alcatraz and the Evil Librarians series by Brandon Sanderson. DC2 cannot get enough of the audiobooks (DH and DC2 listen to them while doing calisthenics and on car trips).

Audible has some free Sherlock Holmes that makes for good car listening.

We’ve listened to a LOT of John Scalzi on trips (he’s my go-to on long drives), but you have to be careful about what you listen to because there is swearing in some of them.

We also listened to To Say Nothing of the Dog which is a time travel book that does not have swearing in it. It’s a bit complicated so some parts might need to be explained to the 8 year old, but also they might not.

Andrea Vernon was very popular on the last trip but we had to fast forward through some sex-ish stuff (not actual sex, but there’s a very horny water buffalo minor character who isn’t getting any, and there’s hints of it with Andrea Vernon and the Big Axe, but nothing explicit there).

For non-fiction, we mostly listen to podcasts (for a long time we reserved the Splendid Table for car trips, but now we just listen to Dear Hank and John).

Grumpy Nation– what are your recommendations?

30 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: Audio Books for car trips?”

  1. Leah Says:

    I really like the Cat Who mysteries. The audio books are great. People do die in many mysteries, but they’re not grisly. I’ve read them since I was 11 or so.

    Julie of the Wolves is also good. Oh, and Fantastic Mr. Fox is hands down my favorite audiobook. Any Roald Dahl kids books would be awesome.

    I’m not sure if it’s age appropriate, but I think Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy a great option too. I can’t remember every detail, but it’s generally good.

  2. Chelsea Says:

    I don’t know if these are 100% age-appropriate, but the titles that come to mind are The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith, Jurassic Park and other Michael Crichton titles, Carl Hiaasen novels (crazy characters having adventures in Florida), Jasper Fforde novels (witty and fantasy-ish), and Agatha Christie mysteries.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      You have to be really careful with Agatha Christie novels– I don’t know about the audible, but the kindle versions have copious and completely unnecessary use of the n-word all over the place. (Pretty sure this was not true of the 1970s/80s paperbacks most of us read growing up which were sanitized for American audiences.)

      • Alice Says:

        I think it depends on the novel. To my memory, only a few do… but that’s probably mostly because so many of her novels are white-only, so there isn’t space for other races.

        There are books where I give some leeway for being products of their time, but others where I don’t. But that’s for me as an adult: I would not choose a book with that word or similar ones for a kid. For fear that the kid would think that the word was an okay word. Or choose it as something to test out because they didn’t believe me when I gave the never-say-this speech.

        I still remember when I realized that “savages” was not actually an acceptable word to use for Native Americans– it was so prevalent in some of the books I read as a kid and used by “good” characters as if it was an ordinary thing. I didn’t understand it was a pejorative term. I’d rather not set my kid up for a similar realization.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I recently reread almost all of them. She uses the N-word in lots of completely unnecessary sayings even when there’s only white people. And I looked it up and they were sanitized from the American first editions along with other awful stuff. So they knew it was unacceptable to US audiences then. But they’re in the kindle editions now.

  3. Alice Says:

    I’m forgetting which one it was, but we had some good luck with an NPR science-y podcast a few years ago. It was interesting and fun for the at-the-time 8-year-old and also for the adults. One of the ones we listened to was about sleep, and I still remember some of the genuinely interesting information about how different species sleep differently. (When ducks sleep in a row, the ducks on each end sleep with one eye open!)

  4. Shannon Says:

    We loved, loved, loved Dragon Rider. Brandon Frasier does the audio, and he is SO, SO good. Everyone in the family, including the adults, were totally caught up in the audio book.

  5. Matthew D Healy Says:

    Scalzi’s latest might not be kid-appropriate: it’s got some mild profanity, and a few jokes about alien reproductive biology. But it’s great fun. DW and I went to a local independent bookstore last night to hear him read a chapter and get a signed paper copy (all wearing masks in Iowa’s most vaccinated County) . I finished reading it about 2AM.

    DW will read it this weekend.

    You’ll love the fate of the repulsive billionaire…

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I finished it yesterday! Very nice overall. I was a little disappointed but only because all of scalzi’s other first books in their series have a nice twist at the end on top of the world building and this one didn’t. But that twist was always something extra special and not needed for enjoyment. (Here he’s stealing a lot from his previous series.)

  6. CG Says:

    We are not big audiobook people, but what about the Penderwick series? My kids and I have all read them on our own and everyone liked them regardless of age or gender. Not science fiction/fantasy, though, if that’s more your thing.

  7. grrlpup Says:

    Akata Witch and Akata Warrior were awesome! I haven’t read or listened to the third one yet.

    The two Sal & Gabi books by Carlos Hernandez were also great, and funny.

  8. delagar Says:

    I’ve been listening to The Railway Children at night when my eyes don’t want to focus. If you access the Libervox recording via YouTube, it’s free! It might be a little too young for the 13 year old, but then, I’m enjoying it, so maybe not. Very Edwardian, so no cussing or sex.

  9. natalieinne Says:

    I listened to many of the Tamora Pierce YA and MG books with my daughter on gymnastics car trips.

    The True Meaning of Smekday and Smek for President by Adam Rex are highly amusing. The first book is the basis for the animated movie Home, if you remember that.

    I enjoyed Elatsoe, and bit of MG fantasy with interesting Native American cultural aspects.

    I’m always on the lookout for quality audio books, so I’m watching this thread!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Be careful with the Tamora Pierce stuff though– some of them have sex scenes!

    • Steph Says:

      I was thinking of Tamora Pierce’s books too, because I listened to a few of the later Circle books on audio and enjoyed them. I think the Circle of Magic books would be safe, even for an 8yo, since the kids are still quite young (preteen?). The Circle Opens and the later books are once they’re older teens, so more sex and related topics sneak in there.

  10. Lisa Says:

    Although my older kids have read the Harry Potter series a gajillion times each, they still enjoy listening to them as audiobooks in the car. We love “The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland” series read aloud for bedtime stories, I assume it would be a hit as an audiobook as well.

  11. Debbie M Says:

    No specific recommendations here, but my mom loves listening to books set in the places we are driving ever since we listened to a Dick Francis novel while driving through the west.

  12. Turia Says:

    The Roald Dahl books are amazing on audio – so many great people read them.

    My other top choice is How to Train Your Dragon. Twelve books! David Tennant! Everyone in my family loved these.

    • languagetx Says:

      Second the penderwicks.

      Also consider the house by the cerulean sea by tj Klune. Recommended to us when we made a similar request and the whole family including adults enjoyed it.

      I also suggest braiding sweet grass in the nonfiction category – I listened to it while Housecleaning and 9 asked after it when it was out of rotation but not finished.

  13. Natka Says:

    Thank you Grumpy Nation! Lots of amazing suggestions!

  14. ZM Says:

    Bit late to the party, but I loved the Penderwicks series too. We also have listened to some Gen Z media podcasts (Mars Patel, 6 minutes) that were really fun

    For non-fiction – my kids LOVED the BBC “Homeschool History” podcast from the writers of the show Horrible Histories. (I also really enjoy their AO version called “you’re dead to me”) We also like the kids philosophy series “Short & Curly” from the Australian Broadcast Corp. It builds in ‘time to talk’ which is good on long trips. Brains On is fun too.

  15. Natka Says:

    Update: we listened to the The True Meaning of Smekday. It was perfect!!!!!! Grown-ups and the kids all loved it. (Bahni Turpin was fantastic at doing all the voices). I am totally checking out everything by Adam Rex now.

  16. reddressgnome Says:

    The Wizards of Once, by Cressida Cowell, author of the How to Train Your Dragon books, and read by David Tennant. Very cute and silly magic adventure quest, spectacular voices and sound effects (and occasional warbley songs).


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