‘Tis the season for holiday travel. If you’re anything like us, putting two adults, four children, and a rambunctious dog in the car for a road trip can be challenging—and that’s before you factor in holiday traffic. Reading tastes vary widely in my family, but we all agree on this: a good audiobook can be a lifesaver on a long drive. If you’re looking for a book to keep the whole family entertained during holiday travel this year, this list of middle grade titles is for you.
Middle grade books usually cater to an audience in the 8-12 year old range, but can be universally appealing for readers who appreciate quirky characters, adventure stories, and (mostly) happy endings. The books on this list not only have broad appeal, but are fantastic on audio.
12 Adventure-Filled Audiobooks for Your Next Family Road Trip
A. A. Milne said that while the merits of most books are debatable, "one does not argue about The Wind in the Willows." There are at least ten different versions of this classic, including some that have been dramatized to include sound effects, music, and the full cast of the National Theater production. My favorite version is linked, but whichever you choose, this story of the four friends Mole, Ratty, Badger, and Toad will have the grown-ups feeling nostalgic for childhood while keeping the whole family thoroughly entertained. 6 hours 46 minutes. More info →
Another animal fantasy, The Green Ember follows rabbits Heather and Picket as they encounter extraordinary adventures. Many readers who love this series compare it to Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, for its slower lead into action and gentle lessons in morals. The world of The Green Ember contains all of the classic fantasy elements: heirs battling for the throne, pernicious enemies, and a resistance effort to restore peace to the tumultuous kingdom. Three books in the series (and two companion novellas) complete the saga. 7 hours 55 minutes More info →
In the summer of 1968, Delphine and her younger sisters journey to Oakland, California. They plan to spend the summer vacation with their mother, who abandoned their family years earlier. When the girls arrive, they find a mother who is radically different from the one they’ve imagined. Seemingly annoyed by their presence, Delphine's mother wants to send them off to a Black Panthers summer camp. With historical context for young audiences and a rich, atmospheric narration that puts listeners right into the heat and heart of the story, this is one book that will have you sitting in the driveway to listen to "one more chapter." 5 hours 6 minutes. More info →
The first novel in The Land of Stories series, this adventurous tale follows twins Alex and Conner as they (literally) fall into a favorite book from childhood and find themselves face-to-face with classic fairy tale characters. In The Land of Stories, happily-ever-after is not as peaceful as it seems: Goldilocks is a wanted fugitive, and the Evil Queen has escaped from her prison. Desperate to get back to reality, the twins set out on a quest, collecting magical items for a special spell to send them home. With six books in the series, these are great for families who love a twist on classic fairy tales. 8 hours 59 minutes. More info →
This WW2 adventure will appeal to fans of historical fiction and underdog stories. Nine-year-old Ada has never been allowed to leave her family’s small apartment. Her foot is twisted and her mother is too ashamed of the physical impairment to let Ada out in public. When the war arrives in London, Ada's little brother is put on a train to safety and Ada makes a daring escape to join him. Out in the countryside, a woman named Susan begrudgingly takes the children into her home. There, Ada learns to read, ride a horse, wiggle her way into Susan’s heart. Listeners will be riveted by the danger, daring, and risks that both Ada and Susan take to discover true belonging and a place to call home. 7 hours 38 minutes More info →
From the author of the well-loved Mysterious Benedict Society series, this story will appeal to readers who love a good adventure with unexpected magic. Eleven-year-old Reuben likes to roam in the abandoned part of town, where he stumbles upon an antique pocket watch that grants the ability to become invisible. With his new power in hand and a villain called The Smoke on his tail, Reuben must decide whether or not to play the hero and keep this dangerous secret to himself. Bonus: The audio version is nearly 16 hours long, making it perfect for a long ride. 15 hours 45 minutes More info →
NPH narrates The Magic Misfits himself, with many Lemony Snicket-esque asides to the audience. The story follows a street magician named Carter, who runs away from his arrogant and dishonest uncle. Carter then teams up with five of his fellow kid magicians to battle a crew of crooked and greedy carnival workers. Families love this because it's not just a story -- its supplementary reference material teaches readers (and listeners) the secrets behind popular magic tricks, so you'll have something to do when you arrive at your destination. 4 hours 14 minutes More info →
This clever tale is perfect for bibliophilic families. Twelve-year-old Emily is eager to explore her new city when her family moves to San Francisco. The city is home to her literary idol, Garrison Griswold, an iconic publisher and puzzle-creator. Garrison is scheduled to release a new version of his popular online creation, Book Scavenger, when he falls mysteriously into a coma. Emily teams up with a new friend to uncover the secrets of Griswold's new game. As with many middle grade novels, there's a group of nefarious adults chasing after the young adventurers. This novel will appeal to anyone who would eagerly partake in a literary scavenger hunt in which players must solve puzzles to find hidden books. 8 hours 17 minutes. More info →
A heartwarming adventure for families who love animal characters. Hermux Tantamoq is a well-mannered, shy mouse who works as a watchmaker. He’s comfortably settled in his routines and enjoys his quiet life until a beautiful, bold aviatrix named Linka Perflinger bursts into his shop. As Hermux repairs Linka’s watch, he can’t help but daydream about what he'll say when she returns. When she doesn’t come back, Hermux flings himself headfirst into danger and adventure in the name of love and gallantry. Narrator Campbell Scott is a charming storyteller, and there are two additional books in this series available on audio. 5 hours 23 minutes More info →
For families that love the outdoors, this adventurous tale combines nature and magical realism. Arlo Finch wants desperately to become a Ranger, trained in wilderness and survival skills. When he arrives in Pine Mountain, Colorado, he discovers that the mountains are also home to dark and ancient magical forces. Arlo and his mountain scouting team take the Ranger’s vows to uphold loyalty, kindness, bravery, and truth, and soon find that they'll need all of those things to survive in a wilderness that’s far more dangerous than they could have imagined. Teamwork is one of the bigger themes in the book, and the story will have you itching to get outside and imagine something fantastic. Author John August was a guest on What Should I Read Next Episode 115: Books that bridge two worlds. 6 hours 51 minutes. More info →
For fans of Kate DiCamillo's The Tale of Despereaux, this story about unlikely friendship is on the gloomier side, but features unforgettable characters and a heartwarming ending. Liesl is a lonely little girl who befriends a ghost named Po and an alchemist's apprentice named Will. The trio set off on a quest to deliver the ashes of Liesl's deceased father to his final resting place, encountering trouble and villainous grown-ups along the way. Jim Dale, the narrator of the Harry Potter series, does a wonderful job bringing the story to life. 5 hours 55 minutes More info →
This full-cast narration brings an alternative format to the audiobook experience. Listeners hear 11-year-old Alex narrate his journey from his Colorado home to the site of a conference for fellow astronomy-nerds in L.A. There, he’s hoping to fulfill his dream of launching his recordings into space (and hopefully, into the hands of aliens). Alex is quirky and determined to see his plans through, making him endearing to his audience. With a far-from-perfect home life and a penchant for making friends with unusual people, readers will root for Alex every step of the way. 6 hours and 10 minutes More info →
From the publisher: "A gentleman needs hobbies. For Lord Peter Wimsey—a Great War veteran with a touch of shell shock—collecting rare books, sampling fine wines, and catching criminals are all most pleasant diversions."