An Open Book: May the Fourth Be Bookish

Carolyn Astfalk has a first Wednesday of the month book review linkup!


Ugh.  I know, I know.  That post title is pathetic, but I’m running on fumes here.  What kind of fumes? The kind that broke me enough to give in to… audiobooks.  Audiobooks have been around longer than books, actually, because hello? Storytelling around the fire while digesting the freshly roasted mammoth meat?

I, however, just never got into audiobooks, because:

  1. I can get to the end of the story so much faster in my head.  Why would I wait around for someone else to read it for me?
  2. All my time available for audiobook listening, if I could get past that first issue, is spent in the car with kids, and you can’t listen to grown-up audiobooks if you have little pitchers and their big, giant ears in the backseat.

Why did it never occur to me that it’s not just contemporary pulp on audiobook but literary classics as well?

So that library trip when I stumbled upon this on our weekly trip to the library:

The Adventures of Odysseus by Hugh Lupton & Daniel Morden, Illustrated by Cristina Balit


This was my very first audiobook, and since it wasn’t packaged as an audiobook, I was cleverly tricked into picking it up.  I didn’t even see the CDs in the front and back of the gorgeously illustrated covers until we were in the car and headed for our next task.  The Odyssey was one of my favorite reading assignments from college, and I was pretty sure there wasn’t anything completely untoward for both shifts of kid to hear (I’m more comfortable with kids learning of the horrors of war than the seduction of the flesh, frankly).  I was not disappointed in this version: there’s nothing immodest, and the retelling of the tale does not skip over the violent parts (Polyphemus and Scylla aren’t tidied up, for instance).  The narrators never use syrupy voices-for-the-kiddies.  I loved hearing Second Shift cheer when Odysseus sent the arrow through the axe handles.  All in all, I highly recommend this version.  Everyone can listen to the story while those who aren’t driving and can’t even read yet can appreciate the gorgeous, stylized illustrations.

Once we’d enjoyed that, I tried thinking back to literary classics I’d tried to get First Shift to read but which they’d eschewed because they prefer non-fiction so blastedly strongly.  The first one that came to mind was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.



I’ve struggled to get my older kids to read fiction, because their interests are limited, and they don’t see the point in fiction.  Even if they never, ever enjoy fiction (sniffle!), fiction-reading is still a part of learning how to be human–seeing how characters face conflict and deal with it, for good or ill.  Then there’s the ability to follow along with literary allusions without getting lost.  Both of those tasks can be conquered adequately (perhaps not well, but adequately) through audiobooks–force-fed to unwilling brains while on long car rides.  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is one of those books that my kids just did not want to read but that we enjoyed listening to (maybe not as much as the next one, but more on that in a bit).  Narrator Jim Dale handled the ridiculousness with the exact right amount of wryness but still kept it whimsical.  I enjoyed this version immensely, moreso than I ever enjoyed the text version or any movie version (Sorry, Mr. Carroll).

Lastly, a book I read only once in my college years: Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery.


The story, as always, is wonderful: the tale of an unwanted orphan who finds family in the most unlikely pair of brother and sister Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert.  The example of a flighty but well-meaning girl who gets into particularly feminine adventures, who in turn learns from each hilarious mistake she makes, is a precious example I really wanted to share with my three young ladies.  Hearing the story now as a parent myself was that much more poignant than it had been when I was a childless college student, struggling to pass her own exams and such.  I love how much of a family story this is, with appeal across the ages.

As for this production in particular, the editing in this one could use some smoothing out, and I think the narrator went a little too far on the wry side and not far enough on the wonderment side.  That said, we had a great time listening to this one.  Second Shift loved it as much as I did; as Cordelia Chase would say, “Overidentify much?”

Adding audiobooks to our homeschooling has already been such a boon.  First Shift has phenomenal reading skills, but they shy away from personal stories; Second Shift loves fiction but struggles mightily with reading.  Audiobooks have given us the opportunity to share literature with each other, discuss it, talk about conflict and description and language.  I can’t believe I’ve let us miss out on this rich resource for so long.

In the time I’ve had to read books rather than listen to them, I’ve started in on From Grief to GraceFrom Grief to Grace coming out next month by Jeannie Ewing.


I’ve also read another Chime Travelers book by Lisa Hendey, but that one won’t be out until Christmas, so look for a review in, say, November.

Do you have reluctant readers?  How do you tackle their challenges?  Do you use audiobooks?  What are some of your favorites?  And don’t forget to link up with Carolyn!


  1. My reluctant 14-year-old reader is such a challenge to me. It’s Harry Potter or NOTHING. He has to read “The Alchemist” for school this summer (it’s a One School, One Book program at the high school). I recently heard about this audiobook program for teens (one of the Pauline Sisters on Twitter recommended it): and I’m considering signing him up for it, possibly against his will/without his knowledge.

  2. Also. I just don’t know how to relate to a reluctant reader. It’s just not in my experience. In my house growing up, we were ALL readers–some more voracious than others, but we all read avidly. I don’t know what to do with a kid who’s not into it.

    1. I’m in a similar boat. First Shift kids are voracious readers, but they’ll only willingly read, say, the Cultures of the World series, or meteorology books… Right now they’re into Horrible Histories, but that’s as close to story as they’ll willingly go. THAT I don’t get. They read Harry Potter in 2-4th grade, and now that’s too “babyish.” I just. Don’t. Get. It.

      1. Maybe if you let them read as much history as they can soak up, they’ll eventually veer off into historical fiction? (And WTG on the meteorology books!)

      2. They did read that first Flowers of Eden book by Myra Johnson (title escapes me) and liked it well enough. Next year we’re doing TAN’s Story of Civilization, and I’m hoping to find good mythologies for each culture.

      3. OOO, mythology! Get them the Edith Hamilton book. And I can get my older son to recommend some Norse stuff. He was big into that in middle school/early HS (he also liked the Horrible Histories.)

      4. They’ve read both already, actually. I need to research YA-friendly versions of Gilgamesh and Egyptian myths, however (that last one may be trickier, if memory serves….)

      5. They won’t read Rick Riordan’s books? He’s got a couple of series, Greek and Egyptian-mythology based.

  3. No kids here, but audiobooks have undoubtedly saved my life. I live 4 hours from my family, so I’ll occasionally drive home on a Friday evening to visit the parental units for a weekend. I get SO BORED (and sleepy) while driving…by myself…in the dark…for four freaking hours…so I discovered audiobooks.

  4. I have never read Anne of Green Gables, a situation I plan to rectify eventually. While I enjoy audiobooks, I find them difficult to listen to because of the constant noise in my life. It’s always backing up and replaying and backing up and replaying. They are great for long car rides, although we don’t do many of those. I’m so excited about my own audiobook though, that I’m looking at how to better incorporate more into life, like listening while waiting for the little ones to doze off at night. And, yes, I can read faster, so I face that same obstacle of just wanting to maximize my time with words on a page or a screen.

    1. I know your kids are younger than my youngest, but the thing that finally got Second Shift to stop talking every BLESSED minute of a car ride was audiobooks. DH dug out some old Magic Treehouse CDs to fill the gaps between the larger audiobooks, and they really are an absolute sanity saver.

      1. We haven’t tried any lately, and now that I think of it, that coincided with when we had to get the minivan, which comes standard with the video screen. Hmm . . .

  5. I love audiobooks, myself; I commute over an hour each day to work, and I’ve gone through quite a lot of them. Some of my favorites are “Moby Dick” and “A Tale of Two Cities”, narrated by Frank Muller, “The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen,” by Lloyd Alexander and narrated by Steven Crossley, and the Lord of the Rings series, narrated by Rob Inglis. That one is a particular favorite; Inglis sings all the songs in the books, and it’s beautiful.

    1. Dickens is on our list. I tried reading Oliver Twist out loud to them last year, but I just couldn’t make the time fit into our school day…because we have to commute so far to everything and spend so much time in the car. Now I’m with you –audiobooks are literally saving our collective minds, and our family relationships, too. We bicker less and have more to discuss with each other. Thanks for commenting!

    2. Oh, and LOTR: First Shift kids LOVE the movies but can’t get int the books (they come by that honestly; it took me 20ish years of trying t get through them myself). LOTR on audio is a BRILLIANT idea. Thank you!

  6. Anne of Green Gables is my absolute fave! But I’m not sure how I’d feel about listening to an audiobook version of it. My sixth grade students just read a readers’ theater version of The Odyssey last week, and we’re now digging into Joseph Campbell’s theory of the monomyth so I got to spend today’s classes talking about all my favorite hero stories (The Odyssey, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, The Wizard of Oz, and of course, Star Wars). May the fourth be with you too! 🙂

  7. I love using audiobooks for homeschooling! They give me an hour or two every day when I don’t have to listen to my own voice. 🙂
    Jim Dale is THE GREATEST. I’d listen to him recite my grocery list. But on a slightly more literary scale, his narration of A Christmas Carol and Around the World in Eighty Days are super fun–and his collection of James Herriot stories for children is much beloved in our house.
    And while I prefer in my own reading to hold a book in my hand and read quickly, I’ve found that listening to audiobooks greatly enhances my children’s reading comprehension.

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