I’m not sure about you, but we listen to a lot of audiobooks in the car. So during stay at home orders, we acutely felt the loss of our listening time – though, unsurprisingly, we didn’t miss the drives. Yes, we tried at home, and often succeeded. But there’s something about listening together while you’re stuck inside a moving vehicle, peering out at scenery, that’s been our best listening time. Possibly there’s just more room to sink into a story?
Also, since they were three, each of my kids has had a CD player. Sometimes they listen to music, but more often they’d listen to audiobooks. This allowed my son to play Hank the Cowdog over and over, every single one (there’s 56+ now), and my daughter to do the same for Matilda, then Harry Potter.
This year I loaded Audible’s app onto their iPads, so they can re-listen to six years’ worth of purchased books. I love how they can dive deeply into favorites, on repeat, without anyone else suffering. I might have bought noise-cancelling headphones to drown out Neil Patrick Harris’s voice as Henry Huggins from the family speaker – playing nonstop since January – if the kids weren’t able to mobilize now. There’s something about those Beverly Cleary stories that appeals to them still, even after their sixth go-round.
All this to say, we love audiobooks. What follows is our collective car favorites , books that appeal to adults as well as kids – at least the first time you listen.
1 Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier
Honestly, we have loved each of Auxier’s stories (just started Sophie Quire last week), and so this one appearing on our list wasn’t a surprise. I swear his books are like Pixar movies: equally appealing to all ages. This one reads like Oliver Twist with orphaned chimney sweeps working for a feckless London master.
Nan Sparrow’s life is devastating, and sometimes creepy, a state Auxier doesn’t shield from readers. Inserting us directly into a terrifying life of child labor and ignorance well before reform, Auxier holds Nan in his palm and shows us both the horror and the unpredictable magic of life. I often cry during children’s books, and this was one where I sobbed quietly while driving. The bittersweet, often painful world of this book has so many tendrils of present misery – maybe because of my adult context?– but into this Auxier weaves the absolute gift of weird, amazing friendship in a memorable way.
2 The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett
I hadn’t read this one since childhood, and I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed the tale of children getting outdoors and growing stronger. That’s the clear moral of the tale, and commented on prodigiously by all of the adult characters. Also, growing a garden in secret, caring for a little space all their own, seems to be a universal childhood need, and the kids found it highly relatable. Period literature, such as this, builds slowly, and I want the kids to experience the difference. We’d listened to Pollyanna this year as well, and the difference in the treatment of children between that book and this one, and how they’re treated now was the focus of a long comparing/contrasting discussion.
3 Endling: The Last by Katherine Applegate
Meet Bix, the last of her kind. This kindly, truth-telling dairn travels her world, following a poem in search of more dairns, hidden in a secret place. She stumbles across other rejected souls, forges connections built of desperation that lead to hope. Cara, who pretends to be a male thief. Tobble, a sailing, vegetarian wobbeck. These unlikely travel companions aid Bix on her journey. Is she truly the last dairn? All she wants is not to be.
4 Silverswift by Natalie Lloyd
Summoned by her Nana Mora to find the bay of folk tales, Siren’s Harbor, Eliza embarks on a journey to find the spot where mermaids gather once each year. As they wander, Nana tells Eliza the epic tale of Silverswift, a mythical mermaid, weaving a story we listened to after dinner each evening – and one with a surprising end.
5 The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson
If you’re not a fan of the pirate tongue, you may want to skip this one as your kids will be spouting it for weeks, during and afterward. Carlson’s likeable heroine, Hilary Westfield, has dreamt of piracy for years, of following in her Admiral father’s footsteps and traversing the high seas. Imagine her shock to be summarily sent to Miss Pimm’s Boarding School for Delicate Ladies instead! Yet Hilary finds her way onto a ship at last, and into a series of mysteries like a map without an X, an unexpected villain, and a rogue governess with astonishing skills.
6 Arlo Finch and the Valley of Fire by John August
Moving isn’t much fun, especially when you’re seeing things nobody else can see. That’s Arlo’s welcome to Pine Mountain, Colorado. He joins the Rangers, a local scouting group, thinking he’ll learn the outdoor skills he needs to survive in the wild. Instead, his mettle is tested in supernatural ways, finds himself at the center of adventure, and help in unexpected places. An adventure story for the 10+ crowd.
The links provided show where to buy the work, no matter where you live. However, please consider supporting independent bookstores. If you live in Colorado, these stores are my favorites:
I also support buying used whenever possible. Online, try https://www.thriftbooks.com/
Previous Book Lists
Books we read in June, May, April, March, February, January, December. My Best Reads of 2020 for adults.