By Robin Whitten and Sharon Grover
Whether you are taking a 5-hour road trip this weekend to see fireworks or driving a few miles to partake in a neighborhood BBQ, why not entertain the family with an audiobook? As the editor of AudioFile magazine, I’m excited to share our picks for middle-grade kids below—there are madcap adventures, familiar classics, and challenges facing friends and family. We can pretty much guarantee that the adult listeners will have just as much fun as the kids.
Written and narrated by Neil Gaiman
Harper Audio, 2002
A lonely, doleful girl discovers an alternative world in the apartment next door, complete with “other,” button-eyed parents who promise love and attention, not to mention better food than the girl’s preoccupied parents provide. When the malevolent “other” parents reveal themselves as evil, our unhappy heroine must sort things back to their rightful places. An intensely creepy story with eerie musical interludes by the Gothic Archies, makes this perfect fare for middle school listeners.
Written by Kwame Alexander
Narrated by Corey Allen
Recorded Books, 2014
Basketball teams with poetry in this 2015 Newbery winner that begs to be read aloud. Corey Allen is more than up to the task of taking twins Josh and Jordan Bell rushing down the court or dealing with family tragedy.
The Enchanted Files
Written by Bruce Coville
Narrated by Euan Morton with Nancy O’Connor and a Full Cast
Listening Library, 2015
A 150-year-old brownie in Connecticut?! Bound to a very messy 11-year-old girl? Join the fun as a full cast explores the enchanted hijinks in Coville’s (My Teacher Is an Alien) latest supernatural journey linking magical Scottish creatures and an American family in an attempt to break a curse as old as time.
Written by Gary Paulsen
Narrated by Nick Podehl
Brilliance Audio, 2010
What happens when three 12-year-old boys have too much time on their hands? Disaster, that’s what! Nick Podehl shines as he narrates these delightfully ridiculous escapades from the pen of Paulsen — a master raconteur specializing in the dare, the challenge, and the resulting chaos (think dumpsters and methane gas) in which boys excel.
Infinity Ring, Book One
Written by James Dashner
Narrated by Dion Graham
Scholastic Audiobooks, 2012
Is The 39 Clues your cup of tea? Then listen to this series and play the game online. In a future where history is broken, three young friends must band together, travel in time, and save the world. The series has several authors, with narrator Graham providing the glue that binds them together in an exciting, roller coaster adventure.
Written by Sara Pennypacker
Narrated by Michael Curran-Dorsano
Harper Audio, 2016
A boy and a fox are the central characters in this heart-rending story of loss, friendship, and war, narrated with appropriate nuance by Curran-Dorsano. When his father enlists in an un-named war, Peter is sent to live with his grandfather and must leave his pet fox behind. Desolate at the loss of his companion, Peter sets out to find Pax, who is struggling to live in the wilderness. The emotional resonance of the story makes this an ideal choice for family listening.
Written by Rick Riordan
Narrated by Jesse Bernstein
Listening Library, 2015
Percy Jackson made Greek mythology cool and this long introduction to the heroes of old will be perfect for those rides to school or to sports — just enough time to dip in an out of a very tongue-in-cheek exploration of the likes of Hercules, Perseus, Jason, and Atalanta, with all of their extraordinary exploits.
Written by Rudyard Kipling
Narrated by Bill Bailey, Richard E. Grant, Colin Salmon, Tim McInnerny, Bernard Cribbins, Celia Imrie, Martin Shaw
Audible Digital Download, 2015
The real story of the man-child Mowgli, raised by wolves and hunted by a relentlessly evil tiger, unfolds in this full-cast aural delight. The lightweight Disney animated feature pales in comparison to this battle for jungle supremacy, complete with the sounds of the tropical rainforest and the frightful roaring of Shere Kahn.
Written by Robert Louis Stevenson
Narrated by Alfred Molina
Listening Library, 2007
This swashbuckling exploits of a young boy, a foolish squire, an adventuresome doctor, a menacing pirate, and a search for buried treasure is truly the stuff of classic literature. Molina’s (Doctor Octopus in Spider Man 2) rich vocal characterizations brings this old-fashioned adventure to life for modern families.
All the Wrong Questions Series
Written by Lemony Snicket
Narrated by Liam Aiken
A teenaged Lemony Snicket shares his (ahem) autobiographical story of how he became a famous sleuth in this hysterically morose first installment of a series sure to be as popular with his fans as were his adventures with the Baudelaire children. Cliffhangers abound, so be sure to sign up for all installments to get your burning questions answered!
Robin Whitten is the editor and founder of AudioFile magazine. AudioFile publishes a print magazine 6x a year, maintains an active web site, www.audiofilemagazine.com, featuring the curated booklist Audiobooks for Kids & Teens, and runs the popular program SYNC that gives free audiobooks to teens every week during the summer. She has seen audiobooks evolve over 25 years of writing about and reviewing them.
Sharon Grover is a Youth Services and Audiobook Literacy Consultant. She chaired the American Library Association’s Printz (2013) and Odyssey (2010) Committees. Her book, co-authored with Lizette Hannegan, LISTENING TO LEARN: Audiobooks Supporting Literacy was published in 2011.