Family audiobooks on the go

Need a list of vacation suggestions that appeal to all ages? Here’s the list of great discussion starters, fantastic fantasy, historical heroes, and just plain fun from my “Voices in My Head” column in this month’s Booklist. I selected many of my favorite recent youth and young adult audiobooks that hold lots of  interest for grown-ups, and may even teach both generations a thing or two. Listening together leads to meaningful conversations between parents & children, and sharing great books make lifelong memories. Plus, kids will keep their well-earned literacy skills sharp through listening by building vocabulary and increasing comprehension. So turn your car into a mobile storyteller’s circle as you head out on a well-deserved summer vacation.

Happy listening!

Discussion Starters

The Burn Journals. (Recorded Books, 2008)
Mature teens and adults will be moved by Christopher Evan Welch’s reading of this memoir of a 17-year-old who tried—and failed—to commit suicide by setting himself on fire.

Marcelo and the Real World. (Listening Library, 2009)
Booklist’s 2009 Top of the List winner, read by Lincoln Hoppe, is the tale of a teenager with an autismlike condition who spends the summer at his father’s law firm facing real-world challenges.

Peace, Locomotion. (Brilliance, 2009)
Foster care, separation, war, and peace—topics in 12-year-old Lonnie’s letters to his sister are lyrically spare yet emotionally strong in this 2010 Odyssey Honor title read by Dion Graham.

Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time. (Recorded Books, 2009)
Greg Mortenson’s mission to repay kindness with education in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan through the power of individual action is revealed in this memoir read by Patrick G. Lawlor.

Fantastic Fantasy

The Demon King. (Recorded Books, 2009)
Carol Monda narrates this story in which a boy wizard, street urchin, and princess are drawn into an epic battle between a malevolent demon and the heir of a warrior queen.

Graceling. (Full Cast, 2009)
Romantic sparring partners Katsa and Prince Po combine their onerous talents on a quest to battle injustice in a lush and dangerous kingdom; the action comes fully alive in this dramatized production.

The Hunchback Assignments. (Listening Library, 2009)
Versatile Jayne Entwistle narrates this ripping yarn featuring a troubled young hero and his plucky female foil battling a mad scientist in richly imagined steampunk London.

Leviathan. (Recorded Books, 2009)
Exiled Prince Aleksandar and Deryn, a female commoner disguised as an airman, make an uneasy alliance in an alternate WWI Europe where living machines battle mechanical weapons. Narrated by Alan Cumming.

History on the Highway

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream. (Brilliance, 2009)
Inspirational true story of trailblazing women with the “right stuff” who were denied a place in history because of gender bias; read by Susan Ericksen.

Chasing Lincoln’s Killer. (Scholastic, 2009)
Will Patton’s theatrical drawl lends a nineteenth-century tone to this gripping true account of Lincoln’s assassination and hunt for his killer.

Claudette Colvin: Twice toward Justice. (Brilliance, 2009)
Teenager Colvin refused to give up her seat on the bus in 1955. Narrated by Channie Waites, this nonfiction title is an inspiring choice.

In the Belly of the Bloodhound: Being an Account of a Particularly Peculiar Adventure in the Life of Jacky Faber. (Listen & Live, 2009)
This continuing tale of spunky Mary “Jacky” Faber, embroiled in kidnapping and piracy on the high seas, is a 2010 Odyssey Honor title read by Katherine Kellgren.

Mao’s Last Dancer. (Bolinda, 2006)
Listen to Paul English’s authentically accented reading of ballet star Li Cunxin’s memoir about his rise from poverty in Communist China before seeing the movie.

Old Yeller. (Caedmon, 2010)
Texas in the late 1800s is the setting for this heartwarming classic, flawlessly narrated by Peter Francis James.

Riot. (Listening Library, 2009)
Meticulously researched details of the 1863 draft riots in New York City presented as personal narrative in a uniquely cinematic, full-cast production.

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball. (Brilliance, 2009)
Baseball’s forgotten stars take the field in this home-run production, a 2010 Odyssey Honor title read by Dion Graham.

Just for Fun

The Desperado Who Stole Baseball. (Recorded Books, 2009)
Robert Ramirez reads a tale that covers a lot of bases: baseball, bad guys, Billy the Kid, a Wild West setting, budding romance, and plenty of nail-biting sports action.

A Dog on His Own. (Full Cast, 2009)
A cocky stray pup recounts his humorous, heartwarming, and sometimes harrowing adventures, expressively voiced by William Dufris.

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place. (Listening Library, 2010)
A proper young governess instructs three children raised by wolves in this howlingly hilarious tongue-in-cheek romp, narrated by versatile Katherine Kellgren.

Math Curse. (Weston Woods, 2009)
Wendy Wu reads this silly tale about a cursed kid whose life becomes a series of never-ending math problems.

The True Meaning of Smekday. (Listening Library, 2010)
This story of a wisecracking alien and an eighth-grader with attitude joining forces to save the world is read by Bahni Turpin.

Short Takes

The Arnold Lobel Audio Collection. (Harper, 2009)
Four Lobel favorites are read with warmth and affection by Mark Linn-Baker.

The Collected Stories of Winnie-the-Pooh. (Listening Library, 2009)
This British full-cast production (led by Stephen Fry) features two classics, Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner.

Louise, the Adventures of a Chicken. (Live Oak, 2009)
The 2010 Odyssey Award winner, a tale of a chicken’s quirky quest for adventure, is chock-full of whimsical humor, wonderfully narrated by talented Barbara Rosenblat.

Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales. (Hachette, 2009)
An all-star cast (Whoopi Goldberg, LaVar Burton, Samuel L. Jackson, and more) and atmospheric African music infuse this sterling collection of African folktales.

Return to the Hundred Acre Wood. (Penguin, 2009)
Jim Dale narrates 10 stories in this authorized sequel to A. A. Milne’s classic.

The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis. (Recorded Books, 2009)
Popeye’s dull small-town summer is enlivened by a rowdy new friend and a mysterious adventure, all read with aplomb by Scott Sowers.

Winnie, Dancing on Her Own. (Live Oak, 2009)
Laura Hamilton portrays  third-grader Winnie’s realistic challenges as she overcomes elementary-school disappointments with the help of her widowed father and best friends.

Laura Hamilton



About the Author:

Mary Burkey is an independent library consultant in Columbus (OH). An enthusiastic audiophile, she has served on all four of ALA's audiobook award committees as well as the Audies. In addition to writing the "Voices in My Head" column for Booklist, she is the author of Audiobooks for Youth: A Practical Guide to Sound Literature (ALA, 2013). Follow her on Twitter at @mburkey.

3 Comments on "Family audiobooks on the go"

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  1. Mary, thanks so much for the shout out for Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales. And this great list, which I will check out.

    Have you heard The Phantom Tollbooth, narrated by David Hyde Pierce? It was produced in 2009 and is really wonderful. It was one of my favorite books as a kid and Hyde Pierce’s reading is marvelous.

    • Mary Burkey says:

      I loved Pierce’s narration of The Phantom Toolbooth – one of my all-time favorite books. It’s so great when audiobook publishers reach into the backlist titles and create an audiobook edition of a classic!

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