I love my stories, and my kids do too. We listen to audio books whilst I chauffeur my kids from activity to activity, and the kids get 45 minutes of story-time from their father each night. (As I write this, they are 9 and 11 years old and they still demand story-time. I don't see this changing in the next few years.) Some books work better than others. We've developed a quasi-system to figure out good family books form not-so-good family books.

Family audio book requirements

My husband and I have several requirements when selecting books. I won't listen to just anything; after all, most books are at least 4 CDs long, or four and a half hours. That's a lot of time to invest. Since my husband reads books to the kids at bed time, he invests even more time.

The story needs to interest me. 

I love my kids, but I'm not going to listen to an entire book that puts me to sleep or bores me. I want to hear the story too. Besides, it's my responsibility to listen to it. Opportunities for education and conversation occur frequently. "Mom, what does that word mean?" "Mom, I didn't understand that." "Mom, is that true?"
For a book to be interesting to my husband and/or I, it generally needs to be science fiction, fantasy, funny, or be on a list of cultural books for reference purposes we should know but haven't gotten around to reading yet.

The story needs to interest the kids.

While I might enjoy listening to (well, I prefer reading, but you can't read in the car) a Jim Butcher or Janet Evanovich story, my kid's won't. I want them engaged in the story as well. My kids don't want a lot of kissing scenes. They don't want politics that goes over their heads, or science for that matter.
Generally, if a book has a dragon in it, or some kind of escape-from-real-life, my kids will give it a shot.

The story needs some redeeming quality. 

I like to think my kids will learn something from the story. Maybe they'll learn a bit of history or a bit of science in the story. Maybe they'll learn something about human relations or politics. Maybe they'll learn a few vocabulary words.
A successful audio story generates at least a few questions or "Mom, can we listen to the story in the house?"

In general, these types of novels work.

  • Young adult novels seem to work well. They tend to not have a lot of kissing scenes, but pretty much everything else seems to go in YA books these days.
  • Fantasy books are generally a hit. Fantasy books are where you find your dragons and magic and fun stuff like that, after all.
  • Science fictions works well in my family.

Excellent family books

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

These long Tolkien books are almost the archetypes for fantasy books. My husband read these books to my kids when my son was six and my daughter was eight. They followed the books and understood them. They asked for extra story time. When they finished the books, they got to see the movies as they came out in the theatre. The kids were captivated and my husband loved rereading some of his favorites. What did the kids learn? Well, they learned a lot of cultural reference; at least, it fits our family's culture. What are hobbits and dwarves and goblins and orcs? Which species has breakfast twice a day? What are elves and why do they live so long? This fantasy trivia is excellent to have under your belt because most sci-fi/fantasy writers have read Tolkien and they often use it.

Veronica Roth's Divergent series

I read the first book in this series, Divergent, and then told my husband he had to read it to the kids for story time. He loved it. They loved it. Besides some fine vocabulary words, this book causes questions and thoughts of what's fair, what's right, and how should people be governed.

Allen Steele's Apollo's Outcasts

This book is about a group of children who are sent off to live on the moon during a time of political turmoil on earth. The main character is a sixteen-year-old boy who, on Earth, can't walk. On the moon, he can, so all of a sudden he's not as limited as before. There's an accidental rite of passage for several of the kids and a lot of political "who gets what and who does what" to think about.

The Chronicles of Narnia

Kids love these books. If you have a son, show him a toy of Caspian's sword or Susan's bow and arrow, and he'll probably get excited. If your kid likes animals, tell them these are stories with talking animals in them. If you have a girl that likes dress up, explain that there are princes and princesses aplenty. I had my kids listen to each story before they watched the respective movie. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is coming out at the end of 2010, so you better get to it. I'm looking forward to hearing my kids tell me if the monopods they envisioned in their heads match the monopods that end up on the big screen. The books in this series are, in the order of the Narnian world, The Magician's Nephew, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Horse and His Boy, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, and The Last Battle.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

This is a wonderful book about a young girl living at the turn of the century-the 19th to the 20th centuries to be precise. Calpurnia Tate isn't interested in embroidery, piano, or knitting, but she loves learning and spending time with her grandpa. Her grandpa, a naturalist, is considered eccentric, but the community puts up with him because he made money when younger and handed over his company to his son. Calpurnia and her grandfather spend six months in the book learning about nature and each other. Opportunities to talk about botany, zoology, and history show up several times in each chapter.

Madeline L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time series

The most common questions my kids had with Madeline L'Engle's stories were, "Is that real, mommy?" and "How does that work, mommy?" Meg, her younger brother Charles Wallace, and Calvin battle evil in many forms. They fight evil with love and understanding. In a Wrinkle in Time, they travel across the universe to rescue Meg's father, who was caught by the evil It. In A Wind in the Door, Meg and Calvin, save Charles Wallace's life by entering one of his mitochondria. In a Swiftly Tilting Planet, Charles Wallace, with Meg's help, travels through time with a unicorn trying to make subtle changes to prevent a nuclear war. Meg and her twin brothers (not Charles Wallace or her boyfriend Calvin) travel in time in Many Waters. And finally, in An Acceptable Time, the next generation enters the battle.

Witch Week

On the surface, this book is about witches. Set in an alternate universe, one of the kids in the house is a witch. Who is it? The kids try to find out and start accusing each other. To me, this book seemed to mimic the Jane Elliott's experiment with blue eyes and brown eyes. Either way the kids loved it, as did I, and we found ourselves looking up a lot of stuff on the computer to see if that was really real. Did that happen in history?

Starters by Lissa Price

A bug hit the world and killed off the middle aged. Only the young and the elderly survived the virus. Kids don't have parents anymore. Kids are lucky to have grandparents to take care of them. The elderly are often the haves and the kids are the have nots. The main character is a girl who rents out her body in order to gain financial security for herself and her younger brother. Basically, her consciousness is put to sleep for a spell, and an elderly person lives in her body for that time period. And, of course, something goes wrong.
This book is the first in a series. I read it and loved it and bought the audio for my kids. My son loved the book. Just from the description you can see a bunch of fine things to talk about.

The Savvy series by Ingrid Law

All kids dream of super powers and the Savvy series has these. Each kid in the family gets a different "savvy" or "super power" that the kid must learn to "scumble" or "control."
The books are about growing up, which all children think about, but with the twist of super powers. Basically, they're fun.