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Those doing their part to self-quarantine have likely found themselves looking for new and interesting ways to pass the time. As much as we support your efforts to make the most of the streaming services you subscribe to, there's another way to fill your free time as a family and no screens are required.
Audiobooks are a great way for families to spend time together and get some reading done at the same time. I'm speaking from personal experience, as "books on tape" were my family's main means of entertainment on road trips when I was a kid. While you might not have a road trip planned in the near future, it's quite possible your family is dealing with an abundance of free time these days. Not only do audiobooks leave everyone's hands and eyes free for puzzles, arts and crafts, cleaning out the garage or whatever other projects are lined up to get done at home, with a well produced audiobook, you're also getting a top-notch reading experience from some world-class narrators. It's with that in mind that I share some recommendations for great audiobooks that should work well for the whole family.
Full disclosure: These are just some of my recommendations for great audiobooks to consider. If you're uncertain whether or not a book is appropriate for your child, I've also provided the link to Common Sense Media's review for each book, which should offer you more insight into the contents of the book and their recommended age bracket.
Finally, all of the books on the list are available through Audible/Amazon. A subscription is NOT required to purchase an individual book through Audible/Amazon, however, with Audible's credit system, a subscription may be a cost-saver if you plan to purchase several audiobooks.
Harry Potter - J.K. Rowling
We'll start with Harry Potter, because you really can't go wrong with J.K. Rowling's beloved tale of magic and adventure. The story of an orphaned kid who learns he's a wizard truly lives up to the massive hype. What's more, the Harry Potter audiobooks are fantastic. Jim Dale rightfully won two Grammys and several Audie Awards for his voice work on the U.S. release of these audiobooks. To say that he "does all the voices" for the characters, in addition to providing excellent narration of the story feels like an understatement. Dale delivers a brilliant performance throughout the run of these seven books, painting a picture in our minds of each and every character. Even if you've read the Harry Potter books multiple times, the audiobooks are a great way to revisit this story.
To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee
Harper Lee's beloved story is one my family listened to on a road trip when I was a child and I never forgot the experience, nor the story. Set during the 1930s, To Kill a Mockingbird is told from the point of view of Jean Louise Finch (aka Scout), a little girl whose father, Atticus Finch, is called to defend a black man who has been accused of sexually assaulting a young white woman. Harper Lee gives us the opportunity to try to understand the world from Scout's perspective, with themes that include racism, growing up and the importance of community, friendship and family.
Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
Whether or not you've seen one of the film adaptations of Louisa May Alcott's classic story, Little Women is a must-experience for kids and adults alike. The story of four sisters coming of age in the 19th century is a beloved classic for a reason. Audible actually has multiple versions of the audiobook available, including the recently-released Audible Original production performed by Laura Dern (who played Marmee in the most recent feature adaptation of the book) and a full cast of narrators to handle the additional voices.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
So long, and thanks for all the fish! Why not escape Earth for a bit with Arthur Dent, a man who's rescued from Earth just before the planet is demolished. He and the alien who rescues him, Ford Prefect, embark on an adventure around the galaxy. Full of humor and adventure, Hitchhiker's Guide is the kind of adventurous sci-fi that the whole family can enjoy. And the audiobook is read by the great Stephen Fry, so it has that going for it too. If you like the first book, Douglas Adams has a whole series that follows.
Get the first Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Audiobook here.
Common Sense review for Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Book 1.
Ready Player One - Ernest Cline
Even if you've already seen the movie, Ernest Cline's Ready Player One is a must-read for (slightly older) kids and parents alike. Set in the future and brimming with '80s nostalgia, the story centers on a kid who's trying to win a Willy-Wonka-like tournament in the hopes of earning the keys to the OASIS, which is effectively the internet of the future, a virtual reality world where people work, attend school, shop, socialize and play video games. While the core of the book remains intact in Steven Spielberg's feature adaptation, a lot of the story plays out differently in the book, which is why this one is well worth a listen for fans of the film. Oh yeah, and did I mention Wil Wheaton narrates the audiobook?
James and the Giant Peach - Roald Dahl
Speaking of Willy Wonka, while Charlie and the Chocolate Factory might've been the obvious pick for a list like this, I went with James and the Giant Peach, as it's a childhood favorite of mine and one of Roald Dahl's best. The story follows and orphaned kid named James who's forced to live with his aunts after his parents die. His adventure begins after he drops some magic crystals near an old peach.
Read by Julian Rhind-Tutt, the audiobook is a great option for families looking for a story on the shorter side, as it only takes about three hours to get through. But if you're looking for more Roald Dahl stories, Audible has a collection available that includes James and the Giant Peach along with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Enormous Crocodile & The Magic Finger.
The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman
If you're looking for adventure with a darker tone, you really can't go wrong with Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. Whether or not Disney gets around to adapting this gem of a story for the big screen remains to be seen, but kids and adults will undoubtedly appreciate Gaiman's story about a kid named Bod who's growing up in a graveyard and being raised by ghosts. Who better to narrate Neil Gaiman's book than the author himself? Ok, this might not be the case with all authors and their audiobooks, but the English writer does a lovely job of bringing this dark, magical tale to life.
A Series of Unfortunate Events - Lemony Snicket
Another great option for an enchantingly humorous audiobook experience is Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, beginning with the first book, A Bad Beginning. So bad it's good? Yes. Even if you've seen the 2004 feature adaptation starring Jim Carrey as the villainous Count Olaf, or the Netflix series starring Neil Patrick Harris, these books are well worth a listen for families interested in joining the orphaned Baudelaire children as they attempt to evade the grasp of said Count.
Why is the audiobook a must-listen? Two words: Tim. Curry. The first book in the series offers narration by the excellent Tim Curry and and multiple other cast members providing voices to the narration.
Artemis Fowl - Eoin Colfer
Kenneth Branagh's Artemis Fowl is expected to come to the big screen this year, so now's as good a time as any to read the book before it does. The first book in Eoin Colfer's series introduces us to the titular character, a millionaire, genius and criminal mastermind who also happens to be a 12-year-old kid who's about to embark on a magical adventure. Nathaniel Parker (Merlin, The Haunted Mansion) narrates the audiobooks in this series, including the first one, which clocks in at a reasonable six hours and change.
Bridge to Terabithia - Katherine Paterson
Adapted twice for the screen, once in 1985 for a PBS TV movie and again in 2007 with a feature adaptation from Gabor Csupo, Katherine Paterson's Bridge to Terebithia, a story about two kids who create a magical kingdom in their imaginations, where both of them rule. Narrated by Robert Sean Leonard, the unabridged audiobook clocks in at an easy three and a half hours, which makes this story of friendship a great option for families looking for a relatively quick read.
If you're looking for more of the classic variety, try:
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou (author and narrator)
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition - Anne Frank (read by Selma Blair)
The Wizard of Oz - L. Frank Baum (read by Anne Hathaway)
Peter Pan - J.M Barrie (read by Christopher Cazenove)
Dune - Frank Herbert (read by multiple narrators)
Animal Farm - George Orwell (read by Ralph Cosham)