In our last episode, I had some thoughts to encourage you with reading aloud to the children — just some little tips to make it more enjoyable and comfortable for everyone. I promised some favorite audiobook suggestions from all of us over here (and you’ve already chimed in with some of yours on that post — we’d love to hear more!), so this is that! All our recommendations below!
But — let me just reiterate what I said in the comments before: don’t let the professionalism of audiobooks deter you from reading aloud to your children. They love you! Reading to them is so different from listening to a recording. Each has its own merits, but when you read aloud to your children, you have the chance to stop and talk about things, to laugh and enjoy and savor something you really love, to reread a particularly relished section, to shed a tear together. Bridget and I practically sobbed through the ending of C. S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, just the two of us on the sofa; for both of us the vision of heaven was so beautiful and moving, and for me, I was conscious that this would be the last time I’d read it to one of my children, making the tears extra bitter-sweet.
Relaxing on the couch with each other means so much, you know?
(I really got a kick out of this pic of Deirdre’s kiddos with their young Auntie!! What a good sport she is!! Sitting down to read with them before she even gets her coat off!)
Do you have that one child who rarely lets you give him a hug? Do you know that you have to work on making sure you physically touch your children more? In this rushed, busy, hectic life of ours, we need a good excuse to build cuddles into our lives. Reading together is that. And more. So don’t give it up!
All that said, we might as well listen to something good in the car! So, without further ado, here is a list of our favorites — and that means that we love the narrator. As always, the links to Amazon are affiliate links, meaning we get a little something when you buy — and if you sign up for Prime using our links, we get a nice little bonus, so thank you! If you buy or already have a book on Kindle, often the whispersync version (which allows you to go seamlessly from reading to listening and back again) is not much of an add-on. And while some of the selections are pricey, they are not bad if you have a subscription to Audible.*
(For me, anything narrated by Martin Jarvis is so worth it. The man can channel any number of voices and sustain them for however long it takes, making Dickens a veritable feast for the ears. His readings are also highly intelligent; he gets the nuances of the sometimes intricate language, and conveys them.)
The Tale of Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter When I was little, I had a (vinyl) record of this whimsical and adorable tale, narrated by Vivien Leigh. Somehow when I had children of my own, I found a copy in a record store! I really did shed tears when I heard it again, with its fun and bittersweet songs. For some reason, no one has put it on CD, but you can buy just the one story at least. On YouTube they have the others, but the Peter Rabbit is the best.
Frog and Toad, by Arnold Lobel Suki says: although Bridget didn’t like it, which makes me question everything! It’s read by the author! The kids and I like it!
Curious George, by Margaret and H. A. Rey plus others in the series.
Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder — includes Pa’s fiddle!
Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary – Neil Patrick Harris
Beezus and Henry by Beverly Cleary – William Roberts
Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery – As Deirdre says: “It will never get old. I say that having grown up on it myself and now listening to it at a rate that would make me want to smash and burn a lesser recording — but I still love it to pieces.” NB: Not many available, but I include the link so you can see it (older versions have a different cover) and possibly recognize and snatch it up at a book/CD sale!! By the same company, we aren’t excited about the Mozart one but Mr. Bach Comes to Call is nice — not as stellar as the Vivaldi but fine.
Winnie the Pooh, by A. A. Milne – Deirdre prefers this Jim Broadbent narration to the others, even the Stephen Fry one.
Great and Good books for older children and adults:
The Canterbury Tales, by Chaucer This one is narrated by Jarvis and others; if you go to the listing on Audible and look at the reviews, you will find a very helpful one in which the reviewer has offered a helpful “index” in the form of times at which to find each Tale.
Orgueil et préjugés, by Jane Austen Have someone learning French? How about Pride and Prejudice in French! My thinking is that if you already know a work backwards and forwards, listening to it in another language helps with facility. Great narration by Évelyne Lecucq. The translation has come under criticism from some reviewers on Amazon, but it sounded fine to me.
The Abolition of Man & The Great Divorce, by C. S. Lewis The former work must be read carefully and absorbed slowly. But hearing it can be a good supplement!
Uneasy Money, by P. G. Wodehouse I also like Simon Vance’s narration (he did the one above as well). His relaxed voice is easy to listen to!
Dombey and Son, by Charles Dickens Different narrator, not Jarvis — pretty good!
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight For the advanced student who really wants to hear the Middle English.
Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien This recording comes highly recommended; I’ve listened to a snippet and it certainly sounds amazing, but full disclosure, we haven’t heard the whole thing. Maybe they have it at the library?
Bonus: A couple of fun reads for you:
What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty (Edited to add: I love the narrator of this book — her accent is perfect for the Australian setting. I will say that it’s a book that is only for adults. It’s a delightful read that makes you look at life differently, and overall the message is a good, even excellent, one, well delivered. However, there are moral issues that are dealt with in a less than upright way — IVF is taken for granted as a good thing, and even abortion is passed over lightly. In a lesser story these things would be dealbreakers; in this story I think the mature person has enough to consider, and the main message is cleverly enough delivered, that it’s worth simply having one’s own mental reservations and moving on. I don’t think a teen should be subjected to that, though.)
One Hundred and One Dalmatians, by Dodie Smith Another Martin Jarvis!
*It took me a while to wrap my mind around how Audible works. You can get a subscription and then use your credits wisely to get the more expensive audiobooks. But you don’t have to subscribe! You can buy (less expensive) ones without a subscription. You can certainly subscribe for a month or two and then quit — whatever you have bought stays bought and in your library. You just need to use your credits before you quit.
The photos are all by Deirdre!