Friday, June 25, 2010

Family-Friendly Friday: Great Audio Versions of Favorite Tales

Summertime means travel, and for many people that means lots of books, movies and other "stuff" in the minivan/car to keep people busy on long trips.  Audio CDs can be a great way to while away those hours.

Here are just a few great audio versions of favorite books to delight the whole family.  I can think of many more, but these ones shout out to me, "Summer!":

1.  One of our family favorites is the Radio Theatre production of the Chronicles of Narnia.  Normally, I'm an unabridged snob, meaning that I much prefer the unabridged versions of novels to their abridged or shortened versions.  This 19-CD set is abridged, but so well done and so captures the spirit of Narnia that we listen to it over and over.

2. The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster's classic comic tale of the conflict between numbers and words (and a whole lot more), is available in a fantastic narration by actor David Hyde Pierce. I've tried to read this aloud, and it's a real challenge, so I'm grateful for this version. Bonus at the end of this audio version is an interview with Norton Juster about his writing of the book. Terrific!

3. Betsy-Tacy, first in the series of Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace, is nicely done by actress Sutton Foster. I wish more of them were in audio format, but I've only seen Betsy-Tacy.

4. We've read many times, but not yet listened to The Penderwicks, Jeanne Birdsall's wonderful summer novel on audio CD. I see one is available now, and I've got it reserved at the library. Birdsall writes multi-sibling stories in the wry and charming style of E. Nesbit and Edward Eager.

5. All-of-a-Kind Family tells the sweet, slice-of-life story of a Jewish family in early 20th century New York's Lower East Side. The narration is lively and enjoyable.

6. E.B. White narrated two of his classic novels, and these are still available as audio CDs. I can't pick a favorite, so I'll list them both: The Trumpet of the Swan and Charlotte's Web. White's spare and just right; in Trumpet of the Swan, in particular, there is humor for both the children and the adults.

In our family, we do own some favorite audio books on CD, but often we will borrow them from the  library through the inter-library loan system.  Some libraries have online audio downloads available, and there are services like

What are some of your family's favorite Audio CDs? Or can you share some ways you enjoy your family's favorite books?


  1. We had, years ago, an audiobook of Treasure Island (abridged but un-kidded-down), narrated by Jasper Somebody (if I can dredge up the tape I could give you his whole name, but an English actor), which my then-4-year-old listened to addictively. He then went around saying things like, "Those skateboard boys should be wearing helmets, by thunder!"

    Another English audiobook which became a family favorite: Biggles Learns to Fly, by Capt. W.E. Johns. The Biggles books were a series (of, like 102 titles -- the Captain really cranked them out) about the adventures of a WWI flying ace. In Biggles Learns to Fly, he's 17 and has just fudged his age to get into the newly-formed Air Corps, where he summarily learns to fly these wood-and-canvas machines and gets sent to France. We've since read a number of Biggles books, but loved this first one on tape. Wish I could remember the narrator (Tim Somebody, another English actor). There are Biggles books narrated on tape by Michael Palin, and they're not bad, but we vastly prefer this first one. At any rate, these are great hero-type books for boys, and my girls like them, too.

  2. We too have thoroughly enjoyed E.B. White's readings of Charlotte's Web and The Trumpet of the Swan.

    Our all-time favorite is the HarperAudio complete Chronicles of Narnia boxed set - unabridged - read by Kenneth Branagh and Lynn Redgrave, as well as others. I found it used on Amazon & it has been a great investment for the whole family. We listened to it for the majority of our rainy drive to the North Woods this weekend. Excellently done and our girls love it.

    We've also enjoyed The Secret Garden, unabridged, read by Wanda McCaddon and The Frances Audio Collection by Russell Hoban which is read by Glynis Johns. Our littlest ones enjoy the latter one, with interesting talks about it afterwards.

    I would love to get Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons audio books that are available via for our car trips...great memories to be sure.

  3. Heather and Sally, thanks for the great suggestions! I do need to give the unabridged Narnia a try, as people keep recommending them. I also love the Frances books (Best Friends for Frances is my favorite) and had no idea there was an audio version.

    I am searching around for the Biggles books in audio format. I think they may only be available widely in the UK?