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Our family is hitting the road on a trek to the grandparents house. Everyone is excited for the epic adventure to come, but the 17+ hours ahead of us in the car makes me wince a bit.

While I am prepared to download all the shows from Netflix, Disney+, and Amazon Prime while also stocking up the Kindles and iPads with games, I’m wondering if there can be a few hours of our car drive that brings the family together in a different way?

Now let me age myself here.

I was born in 1986, so I am one of those weird Gen-Y Millennials that did not grow up with a cell phone until I was in high school (and even then it was the boxy Nokia). The internet we had was dial-up at best. I know what a floppy disc is. In high school, I ran with a compact disc player that I held steady in one hand to keep from skipping. My iPod, when I got one, was a BIG DEAL.

I think the funniest term I’ve heard lately is that I am just a year short of being a “geriatric millennial.” But I think that term gives me a bit of an edge too.

I am sitting on a weird cusp of knowing what a world without big tech looked like as a kid, and yet I also love how technology improves my life in the present. I live for the travel days where I can toss the screen at my children (there are no screen limits on survival travel days).

But as we approach this summer, I want to straddle both lines. I am bringing tech in the car, and I also want some time without it. I am ready to break my own “no screen limits on survival travel days” rule and try a new approach.

Perhaps I’m a little bit crazy. Perhaps I’m a lot nostalgic.

My parents took my sister and I on epic road trips too, and obviously they did not have all the added tech of the present. I remember nodding off on naps, playing games, and most notably- listening to audiobooks as a family. I would stare out the window as the miles drifted by, and we would play books on tape. All of us would be engaged in the stories, begging dad to leave the car on at the rest stop so we could finish a chapter. We would talk about the books, and we would look forward to strapping our butts back into chairs to hear more of the story. 

four books together wearing a pair of white headphones

Of course the vacation part of our trip was memorable as well, but experiencing stories on the road together sweetened the deal.

Are you headed out for your own adventures or even a PCS drive?

Even if you aren’t driving anywhere, the extra time with kids at home during the summer can be the perfect opportunity to squeeze in a story. We play a lot of audiobooks during our lunchtime, when I’m tapped out on conversation but want some bonding time, too.

How do you play them?

We play most of our audiobooks through the Audible app or through Hoopla, which is supported by our public library. If you want your child to listen solo, you can download the same apps onto their own devices if they have them, but remember that sharing the story is so fun!

Below you will find some of our family’s favorites, but never fear if you don’t find one to match your own crew. I get most of my read aloud ideas from Read Aloud Revival; they even have a “What to Read Next?” quiz available, as well as age appropriate reading lists.

The descriptions of the books below are quoted from Audible.

Please note while we have listed the general ages for each selection, you know your child best. Some books may be beyond what they are ready for, use your discretion.

photo grid of four audio books

For the Littlest Listeners (all selections preschool & up)

If your child is new to audiobooks, the following selections should be able to ease them into the process. If they have a hard time with audio only, consider a book with a CD included so they can look at the pages and listen like this Poppy and Sam Complete Book of Farmyard Tales.

Flossie and the Fox – Author Patricia McKissack (13 mins)

A wily fox, notorious for stealing eggs, meets his match when he encounters a bold little girl in the woods who insists upon proof that he is a fox before she will be frightened.”

Princess Cora and the Crocodile – Author Laura Amy Schlitz (39 mins)

“An overscheduled princess gets a day off- and a deliciously wicked crocodile a day on.”

365 Bedtime Stories by Disney Press – Author Disney Press (14 hours 35 mins)

Listen along as Woody and the gang go on a campout; Anna, Elsa, and Olaf have a slumber party; Pongo puts his puppies to bed; and more! With one story for every day of the year, bedtime has never been so much fun….”

*Please note that even though this is labeled as Bedtime Stories, you can use them as anytime stories! Also, while the timing of this audiobook (14 hours, 35 mins) is long, the stories themselves are very short.

Classics

Which books did you love as a child? Is there a story you long to share with them but it is hard to carve out read aloud time? See if there is an audiobook version now! Here are some other classics to consider, please be mindful of the age and stage of your listeners.

The Hobbit (ages 6 & up) – Author J. R. R. Tolkien

Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys a comfortable, unambitious life, rarely travelling further than the pantry of his hobbit-hole in Bag End. But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard, Gandalf, and a company of 13 dwarves arrive on his doorstep one day, to whisk him away on a journey “there and back again”. They have a plot to raid the treasure hoard of Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon…”

This classic is available in a shorter dramatization and longer full-length offering:

 The Hobbit BBC Dramatization by full cast (4 hours 13 mins)

The Hobbit, Narrated by Andy Serkis “Gollum” himself! (10 hours, 25 mins)

Their Eyes Were Watching God (ages 13 & up) – Author Zora Neale Hurston (6 hours, 44 mins)

Their Eyes Were Watching God, an American classic, is the luminous and haunting novel about Janie Crawford, a Southern Black woman in the 1930s, whose journey from a free-spirited girl to a woman of independence and substance has inspired writers and readers for close to 70 years.

This poetic, graceful love story, rooted in Black folk traditions and steeped in mythic realism, celebrates boldly and brilliantly African-American culture and heritage.”

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (ages Kindergarten & up) – Author C.S. Lewis (4 hours, 21 mins)

Yes, this is part of the larger Narnia series, but if you are going to start with any of the books, this is a great adventure to go on first as a family! 

“Don’t miss one of America’s top 100 most-loved novels, selected by PBS’s The Great American Read. Four adventurous siblings – Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie – step through a wardrobe door and into the land of Narnia, a land frozen in eternal winter and enslaved by the power of the White Witch. But when almost all hope is lost, the return of the Great Lion, Aslan, signals a great change…and a great sacrifice.”

photo grid of four audio books

Sink into a Series (6-7 year olds & up)

There are so many excellent series out there! I picked the two below because I think the majority of age levels in a home could enjoy them, for old to young, these are fun!

The Green Ember Series – Author S.D. Smith

Our daughter liked these so much she saved her chore money to buy them for herself. They are excellent.

Heather and Picket are extraordinary rabbits with ordinary lives until calamitous events overtake them, spilling them into a cauldron of misadventures. They discover that their own story is bound up in the tumult threatening to overwhelm the wider world. Kings fall, and kingdoms totter. Tyrants ascend, and terrors threaten. Betrayal beckons, and loyalty is a broken road with peril around every bend. Where will Heather and Picket land? How will they make their stand?”

The Green Ember

Ember Falls

Ember Rising

Ember’s End

The Vanderbeekers – Author Karina Yan Glaser

This series has a character for everyone. With humor and pluck, the author tells the tale of this endearing city family, where the kids and parents are heroes, and the neighborhood encourages one another.

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street (5 hours, 39 mins)

The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden (5 hours, 32 mins)

The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue (6 hours, 12 min)

The Vanderbeekers Lost and Found (5 hours, 57 min)

Please keep in mind that while many of the selections above can be purchased through Audible, you can also find many of them for free through your local library. Most libraries now support audiobook apps such as Hoopla. Ask and find out!

Which book(s) are you going to try?

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