by Kara Kling
Every year our family migrates north for summer vacation. And we are not alone: whether it is for a week or two, or, if you are really lucky, a month or two, families flock to the beach and to meet up with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. We stuff what seems like all of our worldly belongings, including, one year, a small tuba, into and on top of the SUV and venture onto the main migration path for all similar vacationers, Interstate 95. For our family it is about ten hours, door to door.
There are lots of things one can do to make this a less tension-fraught and more harmonious experience, including supplying everyone in the car with their own set of headphones and an electronic device of one kind or another so that they can each enter their own private virtual worlds, but my preferred strategy is a simple and more communal one: the audio book.
The best thing about audio books is that they are a shared experience: the driver gets to participate just as much as the passengers. If it is a book that no one has read before, everyone shares in the suspense and the revelations. If it is a family favorite being listened to for the umpteenth time, everyone shares in the anticipation of familiar passages and favorite lines. Even afterwards, the books you listen to together become something that you can talk about, make allusions to, and make jokes about.
We’ve tried various methods for listening, including hooking up the iPod to mini-speakers or broadcasting through the radio (perhaps your car is Bluetooth enabled, but mine is not), but I still prefer actual CDs. I recommend purchasing a few “classics” (that will mean something different to every family depending on your children’s ages and preferences, but I am basically using the term “classic” to mean a book that your family will want to listen to repeatedly – books that will become your family’s road trip canon) and then using the public library or a subscription service, such as audible.com, to experiment and add variety.
The list of books we’ve loved listening to is too long to include here, but the books that we’ve literally gotten the most mileage from are The Trumpet of the Swan and Stuart Little, both by E. B. White, and The Cricket in Times Square, by George Selden, as well as The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer. A last minute trip to the bookstore, where they don’t always have the widest selection, but often have a few gems, will sometimes result in a great find. Recent successful acquisitions include The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin, and Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman.
Since your family’s tastes may not be the same as mine, below are several links to lists full of great suggestions. Whether your “migration route” is an annual voyage to the beach or a daily trek to and from school, audio books are a terrific way to spend your time together in the car.
Kara Kling is a middle school English teacher. The mother of two boys, she is the driving force – behind both the packing and the wheel – for her family’s road trips.