As the summer travel season approaches, I thought I’d share something I learned on our family trip, something that saved our collective sanity during the long, wearing days of the Heinous Driving Vacation. And that something is this:

Books on CD are a gift from the very hand of God.


Back seat squabbles? Pop in a story. Everyone listens. No one talks. More important, no one squawks.

Long day in the car? Pop in a story. Transport everyone far from the monotony of the drive to a land of fairy dust, adventure, chivalry, you name it.

I know that some people have swanky new cars with DVD players in them. We don’t have one of those. Even if we did, we couldn’t use it on account of Jane’s motion sickness. So we had to settle for audio with no video.

Luckily, there are loads of great books on CD. Pretty much anything that Jim Weiss reads is going to be good. He has an amazing voice, and his retellings, even of rather bloody tales, focus on character over violence.

The kids loved his Tell Me a Story, a collection of folk and fairy tales (“The Hare and the Hedgehog” was a particular hit; I loved hearing them laugh over the hedgehog’s cleverness) and Tales from Cultures Far and Near, especially the Spanish story of Manuel and his three friends, which they asked for, I don’t know, half a dozen times at least.

And we’ve checked Weiss’s Heroes in Mythology out from the library so many times I need to just go buy it. Jane loves the story of Theseus; she wants to dress up as Ariadne for Halloween. Jack prefers Hercules: “I like the story of his battle with the Hydra,” he told me once, “but my favorite part is the Nimean lion.” (If your kids listen to this CD, they’ll sound this smart, too, I promise!)

Weiss also has a reading of Rudyard Kipling’s delightful Just So Stories, which I wish our library had a copy of. We listened to a different version, which was fine, but not nearly as good as the Weiss CD’s.

We also discovered a couple of Rabbit Ears CD’s we liked a lot. On one, Emma Thompson reads the lovely fairy story of “The White Cat.” I think it’s at least in part Thompson’s voice that lends this story its feeling of magic and beauty. We listened to it three times. On the same CD Robin Williams read “The Fool and the Flying Ship,” a very silly Russian folk tale that delighted the kids. Another CD featured Susan Sarandon reading a version of “The Firebird” that we’d not heard or read before.

My coup was the discovery of The Bible Experience, a reading of the entire New Testament by African American actors (I recognized the voices of LeVar Burton as the apostle John, Samuel L. Jackson as God, and Angela Bassett as the angel of the Lord in Matthew).

But it’s more than just reading. It’s acting. It’s amazing, rather like listening to a movie. Doug asked me where I found it. “It’s not cheesy,” he said. “I really like it.” This is high praise. Doug is a self-proclaimed snob and eschews Christianity-gilded crap.

Jack kept asking for the next CD. We listened to all four Gospels as we drove up and down the West Coast. It was very, very cool to hear the Bible like that.

Next road trip, we’re listening to the Book of Acts.