Turn Drive Time Into Story Time!
“Do you have the iPad? The Kindle? The DVDs? Are the wireless headphones for the DVD player working? Do you have other headphones or earbuds to use? Do we have all the power cords and plugs for the right devices?”
These are some of the crucial conversations happening in our house as we leave for any car trip that is more than an hour long. We have family that lives five hours away by car, and with two kids in travel hockey, we’ve had our fair share of long car trips in the last few years.
Even though I’ve always loved reading, I never really thought about audiobooks, because trying to check out tapes or CDs from the library seemed so hard. I don’t even remember how I learned that you could check out digital audiobooks from your library and listen to them from your phone, but my life was changed forever! And so were our family car trips. We might still have approximately seventeen devices that we bring in the car between the four of us, but we make a point to listen to audiobooks during at least part of every trip.
Here are a few hints and tips for picking out great audiobooks that hopefully everyone in your family will love.
#1 Choose titles that you think you will enjoy.
Nothing is worse than listening to something you have zero interest in, and that goes for both your kids and you. Our first audiobook selections were the Percy Jackson series, because my husband and I both love Greek mythology, and we had seen the movie based on the first book, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. My son was about 6 when we started listening, and while some of what was happening was going over his head, he really enjoyed the story and the action. It is also important to try to find something that kids of multiple ages, with multiple interests, might enjoy. My son is much more easygoing about our choices than my daughter. So I try to think about what she might like, that the rest of us will like, too.
#2 Pick a childhood favorite that maybe your kids wouldn’t pick up on their own.
I had purchased a bunch of kids’ audiobooks this summer when Audible was having an incredible sale—hundreds of kids’ titles were $3.95! I specifically purchased one of my favorites, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, because I knew that neither of my kids would be likely to pick this one up at the library. I also chose it because it’s about a big sister–little brother dynamic, and I knew that my older daughter and younger son would love Claudia and Jamie. They did, and I loved listening to it again, because there was so much I had forgotten.
#3 Listening doesn’t have to be for long trips.
Over the summer I was in the car for a relatively short amount of time with the kids, taking them to camp. For those 10 minutes in the car each morning, we would maybe be able to listen to one chapter. This also made them want to listen to more, because they inevitably had to get out of the car right when something good was going to happen! They couldn’t wait for the drive home to keep listening!
#4 Pick a book that is being made into a movie, or is already a movie.
Both the first and second Percy Jackson books were made into movies a few years back. Neither movie follows its book narrative very well, and let’s just say, I don’t want to turn this into a rant about how it’s so annoying when they take a great book and make it an average movie. However, the movies are still super fun to watch, and the casting of all the characters is right on the money. My kids LOVED watching the movies after listening to the books and being OUTRAGED by all the changes. It was fun for them to really scrutinize the movie and shake their fists at the TV—“That never happened!!” We are looking forward to seeing the movie version of Wonder in the theater. That was another one we listened to this summer, knowing the movie was coming soon. We have watched the trailer together several times and can’t wait to go see it!
#5a Be prepared for the fact that, just like with a regular book, your kids might not like the story…
I had seen an audiobook that I thought my kids would find interesting, and when I put it on the other day for my 8-year-old son, both of us were bored to tears after just a few minutes. He said to keep it on, but after about 15 minutes he fell asleep, and I put on the much more thrilling adult audiobook that I had been listening to on my commute. I’m glad I only paid $4 for this title, because I really doubt we’ll ever finish it.
#5b …or the narrator.
I’ve had a few audiobooks that were almost ruined by the narrator. This one that I just mentioned, it was not only the story, but the voice of the narrator that was putting us to sleep. If you can, listen to a sample first on Audible or Overdrive. It might sway you one way or another if you are on the fence about the story. Though narrators can surprise you, too. One of my favorite audiobooks was narrated by Martha Plimpton, and I didn’t think she was going to fit the characters at all, but she was awesome! Harry Potter has two audio versions, with two very different narrators. I know there is a lot of debate on which version is better. I have only ever listened to Jim Dale, and I think he’s great.
#6 If you don’t mind waiting for a popular title, borrow it from your local library.
Most of my audiobooks I “check out” for free on my phone through Overdrive and My Media Mall, through my library. I do have an Audible subscription, and I use those credits to splurge on titles that aren’t available through my library, or that I want to own forever (all seven Harry Potter books!). My Audible subscription also allows me to purchase things on sale for lower prices. I bought probably 8 books when they had the kids’ audiobook sale over the summer. That way I have a bunch of choices on hand if they want to listen to something on a trip and I can’t plan to get something from the library.
#7 If your kids get antsy, take a break or try listening at different speeds.
Just like with reading a book (you get tired and your eyes start to blur and you know you haven’t really absorbed the last two pages), listening to the same voice for several hours can get tiring and you might tune out. My husband and I love listening to the Harry Potter books, so we take turns with the kids on what we listen to. We listen to their story for a little bit, and then later when they want to watch a movie for a while or take a nap, we switch over to Harry Potter, and the kids can listen if they want, or not. Also, I listen to all of my audiobooks at 1.25x speed, because 1.5x speed is too fast, but normal 1x speed can be too slow. I find that most narrators are reading at a slower pace, so you can fully understand what they are saying. If you find that you are wishing the narrator would talk faster, take matters into your own hands!
Here are some books we have listened to on our trips over the last two years, which were enjoyed by two adults, a 9-to-11-year-old girl, and a 6-to-8-year-old boy.
The Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling (version narrated by Jim Dale)
This blog post was written by Kerry Finnamore, our Contracts and Acquisitions Manager. Her kids, Izzie and Liam, approve this message!