something we got right

I spoke on a panel last weekend at the Texas Book Festival with the very charming Jancee Dunn, who has a baby.  Fellow panelist and Houston author Gwendolyn Zepeda and I wound up giving her parenting advice.  And while we were talking, I heard myself say something very true.  It can be so easy to second-guess the parenting choices you’ve made — but there is one thing I know for sure we got right: Audiobooks.

As babies, both my kids hated the car.  Like, any time I drove anywhere for the first two years of their lives, they cried.  It was awful.  It made me completely crazy.  ‘Cause Houston is a driving town.  If you don’t drive, you just stay in the house.  So that was my choice: total isolation or baby torture.  

Until I discovered quite by accident that my infants found Garrison Keillor‘s voice soothing.  Which is not surprising, really, because I myself find it soothing.  One day in the car, I turned on his audiobook Lake Wobegon Summer 1956, and the crying stopped.  

From that moment on, we have never been without an audiobook in the car.

Now, at 4 and 6, my kids are audiobook champs.  They prefer us to read to them, but they’re perfectly happy with audiobooks, too.  It’s how I make dinner every night–them in the living room, playing trains and listening to the Chronicles of Narnia, or Katie Kazoo Switcheroo, or The Magic Treehouse, and me in the kitchen, listening to NPR

After all this time, I have some favorites for the 3-and up set.  Here they are, my Top Five kids’ audio books — though they are just as good for grown-ups.

5. The Tale of Despereaux

This story is totally spellbinding — and way better than the movie.  Because, as with so many books, it’s not what happens that really gets you — its how Kate DiCamillo tells the story.  And the voice of the story, the way it reveals itself, is magical.


4. Little House on the Prairie Series

I was raised on the 1970s TV show, so it’s hard not to picture Michael Landon as Pa.  But I’m very glad my kids are starting off with the real thing.  The books are warm and dramatic and very engaging.  My kids love hearing about life in the Olden Days, too.  And Cherry Jones, who narrates, has the most wonderful, buttery voice…


3. The Cricket in Times Square

My son used to be obsessed with this one.  Every time we got in the car, he’d say, “I want Cricket in Times Square by George Seldon!”  And I totally get why:  it just makes you feel good.  The voices are fun and engaging, and the story is sweet-natured.  And children of the ’70s will appreciate that narrator Rene Auberjonois used to star on Benson.


2. Harry Potter, Books 1-3

A little on the scary side at times, so depending on your kids, you might stop at Book One.  But absolutely, completely addictive.  We read the books first together, and then listened to the audiobook of Book 1 on a car trip.  The kids were mesmerized, and so was I.  Shoooowee, that J.K. Rowling can write!


1. James and the Giant Peach (and also pretty much every single thing Roald Dahl ever wrote.  Except The BFG is a bit too scary for little ones…)

What I particularly love about James and the Giant Peach is Jeremy Irons doing the voices of all the insects.  He makes it better than it sounded in your head when you read it as a child–and better than you could do now if you were reading it out loud.  Sorry, but it’s true.  There are so many different insect characters that it can be hard to keep them all straight.  But when Irons reads the book, the Earthworm has a thick, deep, earthwormy voice, and Miss Spider has a prim, spiderly voice.  Not to mention Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker!  It’s beyond great.  I never, ever get tired of listening to this one–and I’ve probably heard it a hundred times by now.  At least.



Filed under crazy personal stuff, for writers, news!, other people's books, prose

13 responses to “something we got right

  1. liz

    I’ve been reading your blog for a bit, but this is my first time posting. I have an eight-year-old and a four-year-old, and we also listen to audiobooks ALL the time. Check out The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. It is read by the author and it is one of my absolute favorites.

    I love your books too.;)

  2. I’m older than you and had read the Little House books too many times to accept Landon as Pa, so I hated the TV series. I can see Robert Duval as Pa. maybe Jeff Daniels. Landon might have made a good Almanzo.

  3. Writergrrl

    Wow – had never thought of audiobooks for the kids in the car, but at 3 & 5 years I think it might be a good fit…especially when we need to get out of the house to try to calm down during their mad half-hour wild time just before dinner. Thanks for the great list!

  4. Sophia

    I will try these with my girls. Thanks for the idea.

  5. My son, a bit older than yours(he’s now 11) loves listening to some of my audio books too. Fanny Flagg narrates her book Redbird Christmas on audio and it is just fantastic and so G rated and entertaining. It might be something you would all enjoy during the holiday season.
    Earlier this year I had to drive from my parents home in Dallas home to FL and I did it all listening to A Thousand Splendid Suns….where would I be without audio books?!

  6. Barchbo

    I got into Harry Potter ONLY because I listened to the audiobook. I was mesmerized enough by Jim Dale to continue reading the rest of the books on my own, like a big girl! (I was 30)

    Cherry Jones is the best audiobook reader. Well, my mom says she is (and I agree). My dad thinks the girl who reads the Stephanie Plum books is the best, but that’s not really relevant to the 3+ set.

    We all agree that Fanny Flagg writes wonderful books and is a superb audiobook performer.

    And if you ever find Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle on audiobook, PLEASE let me know!

  7. mommamd

    Thanks for this post! Am always looking for good kids’ audiobooks. Somehow this peace-inducing process fell off my radar in the past few years. With your help, I will re-instate the practice with vigor! Riley, Henry, Nori, and now Beckett will vociferate about Pa.
    BTW, Jeremy Irons also reads Lolita…not of course for kiddos, but a dark, rich mead for grown-ups.

  8. Jet

    Reading aloud to kids is such a joy – even though mine was an early reader, we still treasured that time bringing books to life (i did voices with great enthusiasm). Of course, that couldn’t happen on our drives between Seattle and Vancouver, which happened about once a month when she was wee.

    She is now a teenager, but we occasionally still pop one of those in. We had every Jim Weiss CD made (these are not audio books per se, but are his retellings of stories and myths) and she loved them all, he is another one with a buttery voice.

    We found them and other WONDERFUL audio stories for kids at Chinaberry.

    Odds Bodkin was another favourite for us, and if you can get your hands on anything by Jay O’Callahan, you’ll be so glad you did.

    Thank you, Katherine for bringing to mind these wonderful travel/driving memories.

  9. Perfect timing! We’re driving from Houston to Amarillo for Christmas and I am searching for highly recommended audio books for my boys: 2 years and 5 years. We have the portable dvd’s but I really wanted audio books. Thanks so much!

  10. most of the time i listen to audiobooks while surfing the net, i love to multitask he he “

  11. i love to listen on audiobooks while travelling on a bus, i could learn a lot from it while travelling ‘*-

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