Ah, summer. That blissful time when families pile into the car—or perhaps hop a plane or train—and head for vacation spots, relatives' homes, picnics and baseball games. Whether it's a trip across town or cross- country, seasoned travelers, especially those going by automobile, know that any journey goes much more smoothly (and seemingly quicker, too!) when the passengers are entertained. Happily, there's a readily available ingredient that can help determine a trip's success: the audiobook.
Whether played on a car's audio system or on individual tape or CD players, a well-chosen audiobook can engage family members for hours. The listening experience not only provides entertainment but can also help kids maintain or even improve their reading skills—a summertime dream come true for parents. PW recently asked some booksellers to name a few of the audiobook titles they'll be recommending to families this summer.
For Erin Taylor, owner of Wonderland Books & Toys in Rockford, Ill., summer is the time "we push a lot of classic titles—The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare, Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary—that can reach across all ages," she said. "We also recommend titles that we really love—Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, the Series of Unfortunate Events books by Lemony Snicket—and think that the whole family can enjoy." Taylor has taken advantage of a seasonal promotion from Random House (see sidebar) to boost her store's audiobook selection. "I've ordered some of the inexpensively priced classics from Random House and we've already got the display up," she said.
Like Taylor, and like most booksellers in fact, Carol Chittenden, owner of Eight Cousins in Falmouth, Mass., will also be promoting classics. "We sell a lot of classics on a steady basis. The prices for audiobooks are fairly high, and people want to know what they're getting. They tend to go for the more established titles rather than the new ones. With audio it's often a real toss-up between taking a gamble on something new and listening to something you've already read."
Among the tried and true titles that Chittenden suggests to customers are Half Magic by Edward Eager, Three Tales of My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett, the Narnia series, Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg and Frindle by Andrew Clements. Chittenden commented on some newer classics, too. "Harry Potter continues to do well for us and all the Pullman tapes are so well-done [His Dark Materials trilogy]." Chittenden noted that for younger listeners the Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne and the Tintin books sell steadily, too.
As for new releases, Chittenden said, "We'll certainly be recommending Feather Boy by Nicky Singer; it's just a fabulous performance." Since becoming hooked on the genre in the past couple of years, Chittenden said she often orders and listens to new audiobooks by authors she trusts and then places her used copy of the audiobook back on the shelf at half price hoping to get customers to try it.
According to Carol Schweppe of Hicklebee's Children's Books in San Jose, Calif., her store prepares for the summer listening crowd with an annual audio display that reads, "Take a vacation from reading. Let someone read to you." Among the titles that Schweppe considers "good bets for the whole family" this summer are the Lemony Snicket titles, Harry Potter titles, Stargirl and Loser by Jerry Spinelli, the Ramona books, Time Stops for No Mouse by Michael Hoeye, The Land by Mildred Taylor and Lirael by Garth Nix. "Most audiobooks are unabridged now," she continued. "Listening helps kids keep up with their reading and kids who may be having trouble can follow along."
At Flying Pig Children's Books in Charlotte, Vt., co-owner Elizabeth Bluemle said, "We get a large summer tourist crowd here and we sell a lot of audiobooks. I even sell some adult titles, too. Audiobooks just keep getting better and better and people always want recommendations."
Bluemle's suggested summer listening list includes The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald (a title that has been "eagerly anticipated" by her customers), as well as True Believer by Virginia Euwer Wolff, A Step from Heaven by An Na, Troy by Adèle Geras and Big Mouth and Ugly Girl by Joyce Carol Oates, all of which Bluemle called "great YA choices." In addition, she said, "Harry Potter and Susan Cooper titles are staples for us. The Princess books by Meg Cabot have been very popular, and I expect Time Stops for No Mouse to be a popular vacation title this year."
Online booksellers are not missing the audiobook boat, either. At www.barnesandnoble.com, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, The Amber Spyglass and Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn are recommended "family listening" selections. Amazon.com chimes in with Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer and The Secret of the Old Clock (Nancy Drew Mysteries #1) by Carolyn Keene among its choices for summer listening.
With any luck, plenty of summer bookstore browsers will become audiobook buyers, agreeing with Schweppe's assessment—"funny, serious, fantasy, there's everything to choose from."