Audiobooks are my secret weapon. I’m an elementary librarian and a mother of young children. I’m a huge proponent of reading. I’m a person who wraps a lot of her identity in books and stories. And yet, there are times when I go…a while…without picking up a book. Which means my children are going awhile without me reminding them to pick up a book. Which means my students are going awhile without their librarian gathering recommendations for new books. An identity crisis often ensues.
Instead of overthinking or panicking, I can turn to my trusty audiobooks. Doing dishes, driving home from soccer practice, piling in the car for a weekend at the lake — all the perfect backdrop for a good story read to me with a dramatic flair. From the time they were very young, I’ve leveraged car time with my sons into audiobook time. The educator in me loves that this has increased their expression and vocabulary, but I also treasure the times we’ve all gasped in unison at a great plot twist, or turned a nasty traffic jam into a spirited discussion about what might happen next.
I’ve gathered a list of audiobooks for the whole family to enjoy. The secret bonus is that a good number of these start a series, so you could rack up even more reading hours without blinking an eye. Remember, finding the right audiobooks for the whole family is an art! If one feels boring or you don’t click with the narrator, turn it off and try something else. Use library apps like Libby or Overdrive get access to thousands of titles for free. And congratulate yourself- you just seamlessly added extra reading time into your family’s routine!
Must-Read Audiobooks for the Whole Family
Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi
Did I mention series are a great idea when picking audiobooks for the whole family? This is my family’s absolute favorite audiobook series. My sons are 8 and 9 and we’ve been working our way through this series for the past three years. Hindu mythology meets feminist fantasy in a slow-burn series that starts out good and just gets better. Aru is a hero you never stop rooting for, but her collected group of sisters and friends steal your heart. The fifth installment is being released in April 2022, and we cannot wait.
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser
Blessing you with another multi-installment series. This warm family story set in New York City is full of characters that siblings and parents alike will relate to. The first book kicks off with the Vanderbeeker children trying to convince their grumpy landlord to renew their lease and allow them to stay in their beloved neighborhood. You’ll fall more in love with these characters each time you listen to a new book!
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
I was totally unfamiliar with Doreen Green before I listened to this novel, and Squirrel Girl instantly shot to the top of my superheroes list. This duology about Doreen and her amazing squirrel super powers is engaging and uplifting — her optimism and anti-angst somehow manage to never get annoying. Listen to both for the bonus chuckles as Squirrel Girl interacts with the other Marvel Universe characters!
Holes by Louis Sachar
This book has been read by elementary students everywhere for several decades, but listening to what I would call a tenderly performed audio rendition really sealed this as a personal favorite. What seems like a simple story about a group of juvenile delinquents in the desert reveals itself to have truly gorgeous layers, with absurd details connecting as the book goes on to show a constellation of a narrative. You can get into some excellent family discussions about this one.
From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks
Sweet and serious balance in this debut novel about young girl struggling with middle school, an upcoming baking challenge, and the news that her imprisoned father might not be guilty of the crime that has separated them since her birth. This could be a really fun one to listen to before the Disney TV movie comes out.
The Wild Robot by Peter Brown
If you listen to this audiobook with your family, I suggest having a debate about whether this falls into the fantasy or science fiction genre. The story centers around a robot named Roz who washes up on an island, gains the trust of the animals, adopts a gosling, and begins a new life under incredible circumstances. What at first seems absurd starts to make one question. Tackling both the meaning of community and effects of climate change, The Wild Robot (and it’s sequel) are great for listening.
Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez
Quantum physics, artificial intelligence, parallel universes, and a performing arts middle school collide in the endearing story of Sal, who enters his new school with a lot of talent and a huge secret. Sal is one of my favorite characters I’ve ever read, fighting toxic masculinity with every smart, vulnerable, powerful move he makes. This one required a good amount of pausing to make sure everyone was up to speed on the twisty, turning plot, but also made even the most audiobook-adverse in the family cling on to every word.
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
Sometimes you have to go with a classic when searching for audiobooks for the whole family. This is a classic for a very good reason, but the latest edition of the audiobook, read by Rainn Wilson, is a joy. Short and interesting and strange and silly, everyone will enjoy this story about words, numbers, and the adventure waiting right outside your door.
Ghost by Jason Reynolds
Jason Reynolds is one of my favorite authors, and the Track series, starting with Ghost, is no exception. Each book follows one student on an elite middle school track team. Each student deals with very different circumstances in every different ways. Ghost is the first runner we get to know, and his difficult past (a warning here that we learn about Ghost’s father trying to shoot him and his mother in the past) might just push him off track. This is a story of finding your place on a team and growing to trust yourself.
Front Desk by Kelly Yang
Mia’s family runs a motel. And being in middle school doesn’t mean Mia is off the hook from helping out. A lot. It’s a hard job. People aren’t always nice. And Mia’s family also makes sure any immigrant family who needs a place to stay can stay for free — but if the owner found out, it would be very bad. While Mia’s story shares a lot of hard truths, it also brims with family love, community, and lengths that people go to in order to care for one another.
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
This was a favorite when my children were very young. Similar to Holes, this story crisscrosses through many different timelines and narratives, weaving together in a lovely tapestry. A young mouse swoons for a princess. A serving girl longs for a different life. A hurt soul tries to hurt others. Each action taken by one weaves into the story of another until all are joined. Magical and bittersweet with a fairytale feel.
Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate
Even though you’d think the man-sized imaginary cat would be the main thing, Crenshaw is a story about being unhoused. It’s a story about Jackson recognizing a pattern he’s lived before, and seeing that his family might be living in their minivan again soon. Crenshaw helps Jackson process what the family is going through, but in the end, Jackson needs to talk to his parents to truly connect and feel secure in uncertain times. A great story about an important and pervasive problem.
BOB by Wendy Maas and Rebecca Stead
BOB is a weird, magical mystery about imaginary friends who aren’t imaginary, and magical creatures who aren’t sure what they are, and a mystery that is five years in the making. Bob and Livy unravel clues on Livy’s grandmother’s farm, trying to get Bob home…if only he could remember where home is…
Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac
This recent release is the only book on this list that mentions the COVID-19 pandemic. While I haven’t read it yet, I would love to with my sons, because I think they would be excited to hear about a phenomenon that they actually lived through. In this story, Malian is visiting her grandparents on the Wabanaki reservation when a new virus hits and all travel shuts down. Throughout the duration of the pandemic, Malian is protected by her family, and she supports and protects them, as well. When one of the reservation dogs comes to their door, he becomes a part of the circle of protection as well.
Starfish by Lisa Fipps
I first read Starfish early this year, and it has remained one of my favorite books of 2021. This middle grade title follows Ellie, a fat girl with a thin family who endures abuse at school and from her mother. Working with a therapist, she accepts that she does not deserve such treatment. This work is hard and the interactions where she sticks up for herself don’t always end up perfectly rosy, but Ellie grows and gives important representation in a very underrepresented arena.
Stand Up, Yumi Chung! By Jessica Kim
Yumi Chung is trying to study hard and win a private school scholarship (which would really help her parents out) but her secret dream is to be a stand up comedian. When the chance to study stand up comedy presents itself, there is only one problem: everyone thinks she’s a girl named Kay Nakamura, and Yumi lets them go on thinking it. Hilarity (and growth) ensue!
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Another classic on this list. One of my favorite things about this recent edition is the note from Ava DuVernay, read by Ava DuVernay, about deciding to adapt this book into a movie. Meg’s flawed and strange story remains so important to those of us who feel hopeless, wrong, and mad, like she often does, and her commitment to action in the face of what seems impossible is incredibly encouraging still.
Night Magick by Suri Rosen
This Audible Original is a mystery with scavenger hunt clues that would put Leslie Knope to shame. Full disclosure, my boys and I are about 3/4ths finished with this book and spend SO MUCH TIME debating who the main character should trust. This story follows Cole Balek, a junior magician who is trying to piece together clues left by his recently deceased father. With his two best friends, he travels along the Las Vegas strip, ducking evil Elvis impersonators and hiding out in casinos, trying to find the book his father left for him — and figure out who is trying to stop him.
Zoey and Sassafrass: Dragons and Marshmallows by Asia Citro
This early chapter book series is totally delightful. Zoey, like her mother, is able to see magical animals that are invisible to everyone else! These animals seek out Zoey and her mother for help. Using the scientific process and responsibly designed experiments, Zoey works out the best way to help each special animal, keeping notes in her science journal the entire time. Quick listens with a perfect mixture of fantasy and science.
Love, Sugar, Magic: A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano
Coming in hot just in time for Halloween, the Love, Sugar, Magic series is about a family of brujas who also run a bakery. Leo, the youngest daughter, is sick of feeling left out, so she sneaks in the bakery and discovers her family’s secret — real magic! Impatient to start her own practice, Leo steals a spell book and tries to make some magic of her own, with not-so-great results. First in a series, you’ll get some excellent stories (and a strong craving for baked goods) out of this one!
There you have it! Twenty excellent audiobooks for the whole family to enjoy. Happy listening!