Sure Beats Raffi

When we finally bit the bullet and decided to buy a minivan back in ’04, we were asked, “Do you want the optional DVD player?”

I looked at my sweet girls who were pleading “yes, yes, yes” with their eyes, turned to the salesperson and said, in no uncertain terms, “Hell, no!”

Most of you know that I am not a “TV hater”. I admit that I am conflicted about television—-laughing uproariously with “America’s Funniest Home Videos”, basking in the quiet of three children watching “Curious George” and tsktsking the antics on shows like “Keeping Up With the Kardashians“.

Highbrow, I am not.

On the other hand, I wish my kids didn’t want to watch TV as much as they do. My oldest negotiates her TV intake as if her life depends upon it.

I knew a DVD in the car would be an endless source of whining, begging, pleading and general pain-in-the-ass frustration. My idea of using it “only for long trips” would turn a trip to the Target down the street into a “long trip”. So, I nixed the idea right away.

However, after months and months of children’s music CD’s, I was ready to shoot myself (most of the CD’s I like have a pesky “Parental Advisor” stickers on them; we tried the Classical Music station for a while, until I developed a twitch).

So, I turned to something we all seem to enjoy: books . . .or, more specifically, audio books (which I stubbornly still call “Books on Tape” even though we only listen to CD’s). With our library card, we have borrowed hours and hours of great literature that is read over the speakers of our car stereo.

In honor of Children’s Book Week, which will run November 12-18th, I will run down the titles we have heard, along with some comments. These books are listen in the order of when we listened to them.

The Little House Series: If you want to commit to audio books, this is a great way to start. Beginning with Little House in the Big Woods and ending with The First Four Years, we listened to ten separate audio books about Laura Ingalls and her family (one of the books, Farmer Boy, covers Almanzo Wilder’s younger years). This is pretty safe stuff for young kids to hear; some mild corporal punishment and loads of drama—after hearing The Long Winter, I vowed that I will never, ever complain that my car does not heat up fast enough on a snowy morning.

Charlotte’s Web: Even if you know this story inside and out, or have seen the movie on the big screen, this is well worth a listen. Read by the author himself, E.B. White has a wonderful voice that brings his characters to life. Belly and I both wept when Charlotte died.

Five Little Peppers and How They Grew: I probably would not have been able to sit down and read this as a chapter book. However, as an audio book, its ‘quaintness’ and formal speech are easier to digest; we really did grow fond of this story. However, remember that language has changed quite a bit in the past 100 years and do not take a slurp of coffee as the narrator reads, “Joe ejaculated . . .” In this case, “ejaculate” means “to exclaim”. Now get your mind out of the gutter.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: This is where I wish I still had a brain. Nothing like putting in a CD and wondering, “hmmmmm. . .what age is this book written for?” just as the “N” word is uttered into the confines of our minivan. “Ejaculate, I mean, eject that disc rightaway! Sorry kiddos! Nothing to see here”. . .

The Trumpet of the Swan: How is it that I made it to the age of 40 and never even heard of this book? Another E.B. White title that is read by the author, The Trumpet of the Swan is the kind of story that gives me goosebumps when I think of it. The premise sounds ridiculous: a Trumpeter Swan named Louie is born without a “voice”, i.e., he cannot trumpet. Despite this rather large handicap in the swan kingdom, he goes on to achieve great fame and fortune, and plays a pretty mean trumpet as well. You must hear this story.

The Mouse and the Motorcycle: A sweet, short story about a mouse who communicates with a little boy. Oh, and there is a motorcycle, too.

The Secret Garden: Starts off with a very unlikeable main character who goes through major transformations after being orphaned. Beautifully written and unforgettable.

The Magic Tree House Series: Book Listening Lite. Easy to understand with likable characters who time-travel in a tree house. Got a bit sick of hearing the lead character say, “Oh, Man!” every time he was amazed, but my kids were entertained.

Peter Pan: I was surprised at how much I disliked this story. First, it is WAY too graphic for young children—people are threatened with death, stabbed and even killed in large slaughters. Peter Pan speaks about mothers in a very derogatory way, and comes across as a little prig. I had seen Peter Pan performed on stage when I was 6 (Cathy Rigby was Peter Pan), and remember it as delightful. The book itself? Not so much.

A Little Princess: By the same author of The Secret Garden, there are a few similarities in this book (both star an orphaned girl from India living in England). I knew my daughter would love this book based on its title, but the heroine in this story is more kind and quirky, than royal and aloof.

We currently have The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread all queued up and ready to go in the van. If there are any other books you can recommend, I’d love to hear about them.


  1. suburbancorrespondent says

    It’s a good idea – I don’t know why I haven’t tried it yet. I love A Little Princess – I think I read it in one sitting as a child. I love it, I love it, I love it.

    And I don’t find the corporal punishment in the Little House books offensive – better than nagging your kids to death, the way I hear people doing all the time these days.

    I am always quoting or referring to The Long Winter. My poor kids can’t eat an apple without my saying, “Boy, that would have looked like a feast to Laura during the long winter!” I can’t stop.

  2. See, when we brought our van, they only had one’s with DVD players and we needed one ASAP – talk about procrastinating! But we’ve kept to our “only on long trips” and you know what, the kids don’t even ask! It still works out great for us.

    I don’t know if they have the attention span to listen to audiobooks.

  3. Why is “children’s music” the only thing people let their kids listen to (and test their own sanity in the process)? What’s wrong with “normal” music?

  4. Fairly Odd Mother says

    Hi guys and thanks for the comments:
    KJC—my problem with ‘normal’ music (I assume you mean pop or rock) is that 1) the radio stations around here often feature content that isn’t appropriate for children—either it is a ‘hot bodies’ contest or a song that is, IMO, not suitable for little kids–and I may not ‘catch’ this stuff in time to change the channel; 2) we do listen to some of my CD’s, but many have lyrics that aren’t great for kids. I simplified my post a bit to remove these observations but they were in my original draft. Plus, some ‘normal’ music that my oldest loves (High School Musical comes to mind) makes me want to rear-end the car in front of me, lol.

    Whirlwind–I think audio books are something you sort of ‘work into’. If your girls can sit and watch a 1/2 hour television show, chances are they can handle 10-20 minutes of an audio book (most of our trips are about that length). We don’t ALWAYS listen to audio books and don’t even listen to one from start to finish. We break things up with music or even some NPR (although, again, some of the news programs can be tough for little ones). The key is to abandon a book that hasn’t ‘hooked’ them. Try to find a book that is behind a favorite movie or character (Mary Poppins, Stuart Little, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, etc) and they may like it.

  5. Be Inspired Always says

    We do the audio thing too. WE turn it on when we jump into the car to go to school, on the way to the grocery store, everywhere. WE started this when my kids were really young and they still love it. Recently we listened to

    The Monstrous Memoirs of a Mighty McFearless by Ahmet Zappa, Its really funny and cute in someplaces, but some of it gets somewhat boring at least in the middle. The writing is excellent though. We haven’t gotten to the end yet, but my 11 year old can’t wait to get into the car.

    Another one we listened to was “A Wrinkle in Time.” A very good book, even better when you have the Author herself reading it to you.


  6. We listened to the Harry Potter series on a cross country move. What a life saver!

  7. Despereaux is sooo great! Your kids are too big but Adventures with Frog and Toad can hold Z’s attention for a good long time in the car.

    He also “wikes opewah” and asks to listen to the “biscotti” song.

    ::translation – “likes opera” and “Pavrotti” ::


  8. What a fantastic idea – and we love all the stories you listed. Thanks!

  9. Mrs. Chicky says

    I love the idea of audio books in the car. Right now I’m a fiend for the podcasts I get on iTunes but I don’t think Chicky is going to stand for another episode of “Wait, wait, don’t tell me”.

  10. AnotherMomCreation says

    We also do Audio books. The library in our town has a lot of short books from the Smithsonian institute. Our favorite is the Arctic Hare. We’ve checked that out more times than I can count.
    And of course Clifford is still a big hit with both the girls.

  11. I read Five Little Peppers to the Girl over the summer, and golly. Those Peppers ejaculated a LOT.
    We like the story tapes of Jim Weiss – they’re terrific. Right now, we love the Mystery! Mystery! one the most. But Treasure Island is grand, also.

  12. What fun – and what a great list of books. I may try that next time we have a longish ride.

  13. Was thinking more about books on tape…do you get the Chinaberry book catalog? They have carefully selected books and tapes for the whole family. I absolutely adore this catalog. Look at it online at

  14. Blog Antagonist says

    We compormised. It really is a life saver on long trips, so we got one that was not integrated. I can put it in for long trips and take it out when it’s over. And, we always choose an audio book when we drive to my parents house every Christmas. Not even my kids can watch tv for 18 hours straight!

  15. We have a portable dvd player that really truly only comes out on trips at least several hours long. It’s been a lifesaver. Maybe when Maya’s a bit older we’ll try audiobooks, but for now they’re too hard for her to process. In the meantime, I’m just going slowly batty listening to children’s music.

    The Little Princess was one of my Very Most Favorite Books growing up. (Shhh, don’t tell, but I still reread it once in a while even now.)

  16. sandy shoes says

    YAY for audiobooks. I can see a portable DVD player for r-e-a-l-l-y long trips, but otherwise, a screen? In the car? Pfffft.

    Thanks for the list. My girls are going to love the Little House books on audio.

  17. We do alot of books on tape too. We’ve heard Little House and they loved it. They were over the moon when they found out they could actually WATCH it.

    Some others…
    The Spiderwick Chronicles, Molly Moon’s Incredible Book of Hypnotism, some book about saving endangered owls, a Judy Blume/Fudge book which surprised me with a comment about how Santa was for babies and he didn’t believe in that stuff anymore, Despereaux (which my daughter pretty much slept through and my son didn’t care to finish), Half Magic, Ribsy, The Trouble with Miss Switch and some others whose names escape me.

    What always surprises me is how rude a lot of the kids seem. The Spiderwick kids and Peter in those Fudge books…they’re obnoxious.

    Thanks for the suggestions…

  18. That’s a grat list! We almost never do books on CD, though I think about it at times. Car time is my music time though. LOL

  19. What a great idea. I would never have thought of it. Thanks!

  20. This is so awesome of you. And boy you just gave me a hankering to read Little House again.

    One of Nate and my continual arguments is that I refuse to have a DVD player in the car. I’m like, if staring out the window and getting car sick was good enough for me…

  21. Also, add to your list anything by Jim Weiss or Odds Bodkins. Absolutely wonderful. Chinaberry (mentioned in a previous comment) carries both, but I think they’re both online, too.

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