Our family loves audiobooks. When our oldest child came home from Ethiopia as a toddler, we played free audiobooks (see below for a note on Librivox) of Pride and Prejudice and The Wind and the Willows at night in his bedroom, because he wasn’t used to sleeping in a silent room. True to form, language is his biggest strength, and his flair for drama and unique vocabulary expressions never cease to amaze us.
However, it’s not just our oldest that loves audiobooks. We all enjoy them as a family. Almost every single car ride, I hear begging from the kids for me to put on their current audiobook.
Before I get to our favorites, I want to share a FREE resource with you all. Librivox.org is one of our tools in our parenting toolbox, I guess you could say. It’s free audio recordings of books that have been in the public domain. (Read: old books.) My only caveat in suggesting this excellent website is that you need to listen to a sample of the narrators before you download the book. As it’s a free resource, the narrators are on a volunteer basis. Because of this, some are… less than enjoyable. But overall, we have loved and enjoyed 30 or 40 different books for free on Librivox.
We have owned and loved all of the below audiobooks at some point or another. (However, several of our CDs are scratched from overuse, so I’m rebuilding up an mp3 collection of some of our favorites.)
I’m going to begin where we began with audiobooks. Jim Weiss, the golden voice for our kids.
I first found Jim Weiss in a thrift store. It’s true. I was looking through the CDs and found a couple CDs that looked to be educational. Little did I know what delight my boys would get from these CDs.
I have since heard that some people aren’t exactly fond of Jim Weiss’s voice, for whatever reason, so I’ve included a YouTube clip of him telling The Tortoise and The Hare for you to decide for yourself. He’s a win for our family, and when he abridges stories he does so tastefully without an appetite for violence or excessive swooniness.
Of the above, our kids’ favorites are Giants! and the Robin Hood/Three Musketeer combo, although for many months, Galileo and the Stargazers was a top pick as well.
The below are a series of history books written by Susan Wise Bauer, narrated by Jim Weiss. We have listened to the first three volumes of CDs but cannot speak to the fourth. One thing to note about this series is that it does mention historical accounts of the formations of all of the world’s main religions. It also is a book converted to an audiobook, so sometimes he will read about a diagram on the next page or whatever. It hasn’t tripped up our kids at all, and they (and we) have gained a greater appreciation for the grander story of history through these audiobooks.
Our family enjoys listening to a series of CDS called the Classical Kids Collection which includes a dramatized story played over pieces of music that introduce children to great composers. Our kids can now remember composer names and pick out famous pieces by six or seven different composers. Mozart’s Magic Fantasy is the only one that I dislike (due to a simply ridiculous storyline of a girl getting trapped in an opera), but the kids love it, so I’m usually overruled. Note: Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery does contain one graveyard scene, but there are no ghosts, just a girl reading a tombstone. Hallelujah Handel could also potentially bother a more sensitive child, as one of the main characters is an orphan that is abused and forced to sing in captivity. Beethoven Lives Upstairs mentions an alcoholic father. I’ve only linked to the ones that I’m familiar with, but there are more in the series.
Oh, Despereaux. This audiobook is absolutely delightful. However, if your child is sensitive to verbal or physical abuse in a story, you may want to consider reading this aloud to them and editing it slightly or waiting until they’re older. (A child is boxed in the ears repeatedly, and her father sold her into captivity.)
Everyone’s heard of Charlotte’s Web. But not everyone has actually heard the author read his own work. We love this audiobook. I listened to it when I took the kids on a road-trip this spring. It was interesting to hear E.B. White’s accent say “wil-buh” instead of the very brittle northern “Will-Brrrrr” that I’ve grown up with.
Next, not so much an audiobook as an audio dramatic retelling. Our kids love these seven audiobooks and have listened to them repeatedly. The drama and the music is excellent. (Although sometimes Aslan’s expressiveness makes Michael and I roll our eyes a touch.)
Our boys have developed a love for Almanzo Wilder. They like Laura, but they LOVE Almanzo. This is the audio version that I keep on my phone in the car for when they’re feeling like it’s an Almanzo day.
The next three aren’t classics, although Michael would probably argue that they are. I downloaded the first as a joke more than anything, but our family quickly fell in love with the quirky retelling of Star Wars. (Our kids haven’t seen the second or third movies in the original trilogy.) Hearing R2D2 have an inner monologue and Chewbacca and Princess Leia sing a dirge after Han is frozen is a unique experience. And I’m pretty sure my kids think that all Star Wars was originally written in Shakespearean now. I may wait a few years to correct that assumption. 🙂
This is our current listen, and even our 3-year-old is begging for more any time we go on a drive.
Speaking of our 3-year-old, here are Jubilee’s favorite audiobooks. (Winnie-The-Pooh has both Stephen Fry and Judi Dench in the retelling, and it’s fabulous.)
And apparently, I just love Stephen Fry’s voice, because he’s up in the Paddington collection there as well. And this one. Not for kids, but for me. Because sometimes I need a good Sherlock story, and it’s better when it’s read in an English accent.
Short disclaimer: The below two books are ones that my kids love and ask for over and over again, but I don’t love 100% because the narrators are familiar actresses, and it’s hard to get into the stories when I hear them read by these particular individuals. I was pleasantly surprised by them, but as I said, it was hard to commit fully to the story.
As with all of our lists, I’m sure I’m forgetting some of our favorites. In fact, our library has a fantastic unabridged edition of Heidi read by an older gentleman, but I can’t find that online right now. Your local library is a fantastic resource when you’re checking out audiobooks for your next road trip or for pleasure listening. I hope you find some new favorites in this list, and let me know what yours are!
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For more lists in our Those Kinds of Readers series, see the below list: