Books On CD: The Perfect Road Trip Companion?

I recently returned from a road trip with my two small children.  Fifteen hours in the car (one way) makes for looo-oong driving days with a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old.  To pass the time in the car, I brought along some books on CD.  We have tried books on CD before with only mild success.  Last time we traveled, we brought along Mercy Watson: Something Wonky This Way Comes by Kate DiCamillo.  My kids were already very familiar with Mercy Watson books but seemed only half-heartedly interested in hearing the familiar story read by somebody new.

For this trip (one year later), I decided to try a couple of books that are new to my kiddos.  We stHorrible Harry & the Green Slimearted with Horrible Harry and the Green Slime by Suzy Kline which is read by Johnny Heller.  I chose this one because it is a short chapter book with lots of pictures and I had a copy for my son to follow along with.  Since it is a series, I also hoped that he might take a liking to it and want to try reading more Horrible Harry books after the trip.  I know Horrible Harry books are written to have short, simple sentences that are easy to read but I was still disappointed with the way this book was read out loud on the CD.  While my son listened dutifully (and even laughed occasionally as he listened), Heller read the book with such a staccato, abrupt voice that I found the story to be slightly jarring and uncomfortable to listen to.  The best thing about this book on CD was that it was over in less than an hour.  When I asked him about it later, my son did say that he liked the book though so that’s something.

The second book on CD that accompanied us on our road trip was an absolute delight!  I took along Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo.  I am a huge Kate DiCamillo fan and purchased this book at an author event where I was able to meet DiCamillo just before the book won the Newbery.  This book was read by Tara Sands and shFlora and Ulyssese did a phenomenal job!  Her tone was perfect and the subtle voice changes helped to distinguish each of the characters as they spoke.  The idea of a “superhero” squirrel who writes poetry and the temporarily blind neighbor boy were humorous enough components to the storyline to delight my 5-year-old. What was most impressive to me, though, was the way Tara Sands handled “reading” the graphic novel portions of the book.  She described each scene with simple, straightforward and clear explanations that enhanced the story and (had you not had a copy of the book in front of you like we did) would have made the reader completely oblivious that they were missing any pictures.  It was beautifully done, and I imagine I may have enjoyed the book even more for having listened to it.  My 35-year-old husband, my 5-year-old son, and I each enjoyed the story immensely, which was most evident when my son would ask to hold the book in order to follow along with the words and pictures, and also when he would ask to listen!  When I talked to my son after the trip about which book he liked listening to better, there was no hesitation when he said Flora and Ulysses.  I would highly recommend picking up Flora and Ulysses on CD for your next road trip (with or without kids)!  -Marika


Novels In Verse: 3 Great Reads

Novels in verse have been getting a lot of attention in the children’s book world lately. Let’s start with a definition from Wikipedia: A verse novel is a type of narrative poetry in which a novel-length narrative is told through the medium of poetry rather than prose.

brownBrown Girl Dreaming  by Jacqueline Woodson (copyright 2014) won the National Book Award for 2015, and with good reason. It is a fantastic memoir. Through poetry, Woodson shares what it was like for her growing up as an African American girl in the 1960s and 1970s.

As I read, memories of my own childhood began to flutter around my brain like the butterflies in Woodson’s first book.  I’ve heard it said that we read to know that we are not alone, and even though my experiences are different than Woodson’s, reading her story makes me feel less alone. We may be of a different race, religion, generation, and place, but I think we could be wonderful friends.

One thing that stood out to me in this book was her mother taking her to the public library and allowing her to check out whatever seven books she wanted. Woodson would most often choose what she called “baby” books. As a school librarian, I offer my students free choice over what they want to read. It is my opinion that kids are too often told that they must read books that challenge them. This is fine in the classroom, but to be a reader, we need to right to read whatever interests us.


The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (copyright 2014) is novel-in-verse perfection. This book is everything; energizing rhythm and striking word choice paired with endearing characters. I loved it.

Twelve year old Josh Bell and his twin brother Jordan play basketball. This story, told from the point of view of Josh, chronicles their life on the court, at school, and with their family. Twelve year old boys have a lot to deal with, and this book tackles some tough issues involved in growing up. It is sure to be a hit with boys everywhere, and girls will enjoy it too. Do you know a reluctant reader? Leave this out somewhere. See where it goes.

The poetry aspect of this book means there is little text on each page, and it is a quick read. (The striking vocabulary and imagery make it academically worthwhile, but we don’t need to tell kids that.) If you pick this up you will likely finish it in one sitting. I made myself stop because I didn’t want it to end!

You don’t have to take my word for it. This book won the 2015 Coretta Scott King and Newbery awards. Seriously, you must read this book. And then be sure to find a kid to share it with.

lovethatdog Love That Dog by Sharon Creech (copyright 2008) is an older one, but it is the first novel in verse that I fell in love with. This book is written in the point of view of Jack, a student in Miss Stretchberry’s class who hates poetry and doesn’t feel like he is capable of writing it. This book is a quick read, but it resonates on so many levels. Jack’s relationship with his teacher, his relationship with writing and poetry, his relationship with his dog. It is stunning how Creech brings it all together in so few, important, words.

The classic poetry in the back matter adds to the appeal of this book. Educators, especially, will love it.

Do you have a favorite verse novel not mentioned here? Please leave a comment – I would love to read more! -Erin