Roadtrip special: our top ten audiobooks

When Holly was younger we considered the option of getting an in-car DVD system for long car journeys. We were torn on the issue: on the one hand, it would help alleviate boredom on terribly long drives, on the other we never had TVs in the car and managed (just about) to remain sane. Surely the travelling is part of the experience? There’s at least one famous quote from a famous writer on that but my tired, weekend brain can’t summon it.

Update – thanks mum! (Sam’s mum): ‘To travel hopefully is better than to arrive.’ Robert Louis Stevenson

Luckily, Holly solved this problem for us by declaring that she gets carsick (she doesn’t) and so doesn’t want to read or watch anything while in the car. This left us with the option of audiobooks and, equally luckily, there are some fantastic examples out there to amuse everyone. Though I must say I am glad Holly is a little older now to move beyond the extremely abridged Peter Pan audiobook she had that was over in ten minutes and which we must have listened to thousands of times.

In three weeks’ time we’re heading off to the Jura region in France, which will involve a lot of driving, so we’ve already started thinking about our listening choices. For those days when you spend most of the time in the car, it’s handy to have a longer story that you can keep tuning into, rather than a series of short ones that you flick between. I’ll let you know our final selection soon but Holly and I thought we would share our current top ten favourites in case they come in handy for you. There is something for children of all ages too! The last few lack Holly’s verdict – something I will add in a day or two (we ran out of time because bed beckoned!).

Top ten audiobooks (in no particular order of preference)

The Star of Kazan, by Eva Ibbotson, read by Ruth Jones

Holly’s verdict: This is an adventurous book and audiobook and is read clearly.

Sam’s verdict: Ruth Jones, best known from her Gavin and Stacey role, makes a great narrator, capturing the different voices well but not caricaturing them to the extent of detracting from the story. This is currently Holly’s favourite to listen to as a treat at bedtime and she’s always disappointed when we change it over to something less stimulating so she can go to sleep! It’s also a good listen for parents.
The Boy in the Dress, by David Walliams, performed by David Walliams and Matt Lucas

Holly’s verdict: This is a story about being yourself and it is read in a very funny way.

Sam’s verdict: We all hoot with laughter when we listen to this audiobook – and any of the collaborations between Walliams and Lucas (check out Mr Stink too). Imagine a sanitised version of Little Britain and you’ve got the voices here on an audiobook the children can listen to with pleasure and parents can laugh along to with the crazy voices. However, it’s not just silliness: this story (in my opinion, Walliams’ best) does look at the problems children – and adults – face when they feel different to others. A great way to while away a few hours.
Winnie the Pooh, by AA Milne, read by Judi Dench, Stephen Fry, Jane Horrocks and Michael Williams

Holly’s verdict: This seems like a babyish choice but it isn’t. It is not what you think at all – some adults still read it. I think it is read in a very funny sort of way.

Sam’s verdict: This is Holly’s number one comfort listen. She goes to sleep each night listening to it and I am sure that she can now recite it by heart. The performances are lovely on this CD and suit children of any age.

The Twins at St Clare’s, by Enid Blyton, dramatised version

Holly’s verdict: This is excellently told. It is very descriptive especially with food.

Sam’s verdict: There are a few dramatisations of Enid Blyton’s boarding school series and this is Holly’s favourite. It brings the writing to life more to have a dramatisation rather than a sole reading but I must admit that some of the speaking grates a little on me. Equally, having grown up with the ‘Mamzelles’ I found the casting on this to be totally strange – they sound like university students, not eccentric spinsters.

Image courtesy of

Mary Poppins, by P.L. Travers, read by Sophie Thompson

Holly’s verdict: Mary Poppins is funny and tells a nice story and is calming.

Sam’s verdict: We enjoyed listening to this on a 4-hour car journey but I must admit I just had trouble with some of the narration. Perhaps this is because I have Julie Andrews cemented so firmly in my head (from countless views of the film) that anyone else doesn’t live up to expectations. A great story though.

Image courtesy of

Mr Popper’s Penguins, by Richard and Florence Atwater, read by Nick Sullivan

Holly’s verdict: An exciting story and funny too because all these babies come along. The narrator reads it in a funny way especially when he does the female voices.

Sam’s verdict: I downloaded this because I wondered if Holly might like the story … and she did! At first she seemed unsure but then she became enthralled and demanded to listen to the rest of it once we got home. The narration itself is rather peculiar, with a most bizarre drawl, but it suits the story no end. It’s very different from the film, which Holly also enjoyed, as it takes place much earlier than Carey’s noughties version.

Just William 10, by Richard Compton, read by Martin Jarvisguardian/Observer giveaway

Holly’s verdict: I think personally that it is very funny because it’s about a really naughty boy and he likes going around and playing tricks on people. The narrator is hilarious.

Sam’s verdict: Martin Jarvis is a marvellous narrator and he brings the Just William stories to light excellently. We all love listening to them, and have moved on to the books from the CD, which is great as I doubt Holly would have considered picking them up otherwise.

Matilda, by Roald Dahl, fully dramatised (including performances by Rula Lenska and Christopher Timothy)

Holly’s verdict: To come…

Sam’s verdict: Holly loves this and I can see why. The casting is spot-on, particularly Rula Lenska as the dreadful Miss Trunchbull. We never tire of listening to this and I defy anyone not to laugh aloud, particularly at some of the punishments Matilda metes out to her parents.

James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl, fully dramatised (including performances by Timothy West and James Saxon) – part of the Daily Telegraph giveaway

Holly’s verdict: to come

Sam’s verdict: I am not quite so familiar with this audiobook as it tends to be a bedtime choice more than one that comes out in the car. However, the story itself, as with all of Dahl, is energetic, if rather surreal, and there are some musical interludes which children can sing along to if so desired.$(KGrHqNHJBkE9spKJ85QBPkC(CPpD!~~60_35.JPG

The Cat in the Hat and Other Stories, by Dr Seuss, read by Adrian Edmondson, Daily Telegraph giveaway

Holly’s verdict: to come

Sam’s verdict: We haven’t listened to this much in the car but who else to convey Dr Seuss’s zay writing than the superb Adrian Edmondson? This selection won’t take ages to listen to so is good for short car journeys or times when you just don’t want to listen to anything lengthy.

Over to you:

What audiobooks do you love to listen to? We’d be grateful of some recommendations before we make our next selection!


  1. Winnie the Pooh was always a favourite. Hitch hikers Guide to the galaxy was loved by all four, from 10 to 14 and for many years. our eldest can still recite it! The lake woebegone stories were much loved and almost any Roald Dahl story.
    I love your selection and will look for the David Walliams one which is new to me. Thank you to you and Holly. 🙂


    • Thanks for these suggestions. I haven’t read Lake Woebegone yet so will look into them as I’ve been interested in them for ages. Same goes for The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy!


  2. What a timely post – I was just discussing this very topic with someone yesterday!
    My children are one and nearly three, so we’re still at the shorter story end of things.
    C loves all fairy stories at the moment, so we have repeated requests for ‘The Gingerbread Man’, ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’, etc. Unfortunately, they are all on separate CDs, so we have the problem of frequent changeovers. Do you know of a good CD ‘anthology’ of fairy stories, by any chance?!
    He also loves the ‘Paddington’ audio CD. Otherwise, he tends to want the CD version of whichever books he’s into at that time, which we often don’t have. He will accept me reading them while my husband drives, but as I get (genuinely!) carsick, this isn’t really an option.
    H is younger, so he’s still in the nursery rhyme CD phase.
    Thanks for an interesting post!


    • Glad to hear this was timely, and thanks for the recommendation of Paddington Bear, who is a wonderful character!

      I’ve had a quick look and have found some audiobook compilations. On amazon, there is a CD of tales read by Victoria Wood that has some good reviews: Also, I don’t know if you are a member of You can buy titles off there if you’re a member or not but it’s cheaper if you sign up. Anyway, if you enter ‘fairy tales’ in to the search box, it comes up with a good range of fairy tales compilations, including a rather lovely looking one of Oscar Wilde’s stories, read by great actors. And hopefully with some of these (one clocks in at 30 hours!) you will save yourself from carsickness!


  3. As storyseekers says, what a timely post! I’m just putting a summer holiday pack together – of bookish treats to help me and the kids when we need a bit of time on our own – and part of that is a load of audiobooks. We have them on in the background as we play. You’ve reminded me about Just William – will be adding that to the list. Just this week we got The Boy in the Dress, and that’s gone down v well. David Tennant’s readings of Cressida Cowell’s dragon series are all excellent – his voice is superb, and the music/ sound effects are really well done. If you can get hold of them, I’d recommend some of Michael Rosen’s poetry CDs too. Not sure if you can buy them, or only get them through the library nowadays. And that of course is something to add – in many public libraries you can borrow audiobooks for free.

    If you’re looking for some great music to listen to rather than stories (but still aimed primarily at kids), can I recommend a browse of – a brilliant blog about kids’ music, kids’ music that everyone will love. I don’t mean the Wiggles, but way better stuff!


    • Thanks very much – I had forgotten about the Cressida Cowell dragon series and I can imagine how great David Tennant is at reading them. I must download a copy. Holly sometimes finds it hard to choose from a list of books on audible so I tend to do the preliminary weeding-out. This is usually successful but we’ve had a couple of duds such as The Hobbit, which she hated (dramatised version instead of narrated and she found it too confusing with all the noise happening in the background). I will check out Michael Rosen too, and the music link – thanks!


  4. Hi!
    I’ve read all the St. Clares books (fantastic!) The Wind in the Willows is always a favourite. 🙂 I love audiobooks: you can get ones called playaways from the Woden library: they’re little audiobooks preloaded. Google it!


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