What We’re Listening To During Self-Isolation

Canva - Turned-on Black Samsung Smartphone Between Headphones
Photo by Vlad Bagacian

Before the world closed down for this surreal global pandemic, we spent a fair amount of time in the car. I certainly drove less as a work-at-home mom than I did when I had a 45 minute commute each way to work, but between visits to grandparents, trips to children’s museum or playgroups, and ice skating and swimming lessons, we still clocked between forty and ninety minutes in my truck some days.  I am a super lucky mom in that my kids like audio books and will listen peacefully in the car to the right story for extended amounts of time.  Truthfully, it’s a nice break during which I can either enjoy the story or zone out and just drive. Even now that we are sticking to only seeing the other people in our house, we have been known to pack the kids in the car and go for an audio book drive when we need a change of scenery.  Or just want the kids to stop moving for more than ten seconds.

I know other families that put on audio books when their kids play or do other things.  That rarely works for us.  My kids are loud when they play and very little of the story can be heard over their enthusiasm.  So other then the car, the only other time of day we can enjoy audio books is when they are falling sleep at night.  At first, I worried they would miss parts of the story when they finally dozed off, but often we listen to the same audio book multiple times and I realized quickly they were taking it all in.  And there is always the option to rewind if need be.

My kids won’t always listen happily to long books without a lot of pictures if I read them, but on audio, they are often mesmerized.  I can’t say that I blame them.  There are some pretty talented audio book narrators out there.  Over the past two months, these are the stories that we’ve enjoyed having read to us:

zapatopowerZapato Power series by Jacqueline Jules.  This series is delightful.  The audio books are not long (usually around thirty or thirty-five minutes), so if your kiddos aren’t ready to listen for a couple hours at a time, these might be a hit. And who wouldn’t enjoy a story about a kid who is gifted sneakers that give him superhero powers like super-speed, super-hearing and super-bounce? From my perspective, it’s an added bonus that Freddie Ramos and his mom are Hispanic. We live in an incredibly non-diverse area and it is very important to me that our children be exposed to children of different races, ethnicities, religions and gender identities.  I am a big believer in the We Need Diverse Books movement and that these books show an ordinary kid having great, believable adventures makes these a win-win-win in my book.

pipbartlettPip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures by Jackson Pearce. Both my boys are going through a big Unicorn Phase. We have unicorn clothes, unicorn puzzles, unicorn toys and naturally, unicorn books. The first of the Pip Bartlett series that we listened to was the second book in the series: Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Unicorn Training.  I stumbled across it on CD at our public library. Happily, Pip’s adventures entertained both me and the kids so we quickly devoured Pip’s Guide to Magical Creatures (#1 in the series) and Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Sea Monsters (#3 in the series). Pip, who can talk to magical creatures, and her new best friend Tomas, who is allergic to everything, are likable, quirky and scrappy.  Although the stories are clearly aimed at children in the eight to eleven age range, there was nothing that I found problematic for my four year olds to hear, so I can honestly recommend Pip to magical creature lovers of any age. I’m just hoping that Pip is currently working on a Guide to Mermaids.

pippiPippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren. While Pippi will never claim the title of my favorite red-headed literary heroine (Anne Shirley shall always hold that place in my heart), she has captivated my boys. They find her funny and charming. They often want to pretend to be Pippi, Tommy and Annika and the other day when they found a pretty beaded necklace in a pile of dirt near our house (don’t ask me…), they declared themselves “Thing Finders.” Some of the more dated content gave me a bit of pause at the beginning, but it’s led to some good conversations.  When the library re-opens, I’ll be heading over to get books two and three in the original Pippi series.

new-anna-hibiscus_7Anna Hibiscus series by Atinuke.  I love Anna Hibiscus.  In fact, this is probably my favorite series of kid’s chapter books that I’ve discovered since becoming a mother.  She lives in Africa… “amazing Africa” with her large extended family.  She has twin brothers (Double and Trouble), loves snow before she ever sees it and has taught me and the kiddos a bunch about Africa.  The characters are loveable, the chapters are short and and Anna’s experiences keep our attention.  We have checked out four of the series from our library’s electronic audio book collection and listened to each multiple times.  There are more books in the series I haven’t yet found through the library, so I may just have to buy them.  They are definitely worth having in my collection.

ribsyRibsy by Beverly Cleary. So far, the boys favorite Cleary books are, hands down, the Ralph S. Mouse collection but they certainly do enjoy a good tale about Ribsy and his human Henry Huggins. In this story, Ribsy gets lost from his family and spends the remaining chapters trying to find his way back to Henry. Along the way he encounters a number of different families and has a number of adventures, including a particularly fragrant lavender scented bath.


chittychittybangbangChitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming.  I watched the movie version of this classic British tale many times as a child (yes, I can still sing the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang song), but somehow I missed out on the book series.  I am happy that I discovered them now though for the Potts family’s adventure with their magical car outwitting a gang of bandits delighted all of us recently. I foresee checking out the others in a series soon.


fathersdragonMy Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. This is another new to me classic.  I had never even heard of My Father’s Dragon before I started devouring lists of books to read to your preschooler.  This books was on every list.   The first time we listened to this story of a young boy who runs away from home to free an abused dragon from evil animals, I wasn’t sure if the kiddos actually liked it.  They listened in total silence and made no comment when I asked if they enjoyed it.  I think it was a little tenser than our usual stories, since the brave boy must outsmart some pretty scary animals.  But by the time they had asked to listen to it for the four or fifth time, I figured out that we had a winner on our hands. This is yet another book that is the first in a series that we haven’t completed. Isn’t it wonderful to know we will never run out of lovely stories to share with our kids?

A quick note on where I get audio books. I have never purchased an audio book for me and the kids to listen to.  I spend plenty of money on physical books (ask my wife!), but I am content with the library for my audio books.  When they are open, I will check CDs out of the library to listen to, but by far my favorite way of getting kids audio books are through the library’s e-collections.  Download an app, enter your library card number and boom… audio books galore.  And no CDs to change while you are driving or to forget to put back in the case before you return them.  Most library’s utilize Overdrive for their audio and e-book collection and the Libby app is easy to use.  The only real downside to Overdrive collections from the library is that there are often long waiting lists for books you want (especially right now when everyone is relying on electronic media from their libraries).  If your library subscribes to Hoopla this is not an issue since all Hoopla content (they have e-books, TV shows, movies, and comic books too) is always available.  I am a huge fan of Hoopla and during all this extra time at home I am devouring their content.

What are your family’s favorite audio books?  Do you purchase your audio books or do rely on the library to satisfy your listening needs?

Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.  Bookshop.org supports independent bookshops.

What We’re Listening To During Self-Isolation

What We’re Reading During Self-Isolation

We haven’t been leaving the house for our regular activities since the middle of March. With no visits to grandparents, no trips to children’s museums, no playgrounds, no playgroups, no swim lesson and no library visits (this is a particularly hard pill for me to swallow) to break things up, the days sometimes… well… drag by. I would be perfectly happy to sit on the couch all day, sip enjoyable beverages, eat comfort food and read.  Since my four year olds seems to need more variety to their days then this (whyyyy?), we mix things up with other activities, but we still squeeze in quite a few stories every day.  Here are a few of our recent Covid-19 companions:

helloneighborHello, Neighbor: The Kind and Caring World of Mr. Rogers by Matthew Cordell.  Most (ahem, all) people who know me have a vague idea that I have a soft spot for a certain television neighbor in cardigans and sneakers.  And when I say soft spot, I mean that my wife and I drove ten hours in a car with twin two-year olds to go to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the premier of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.  But we met the real Mr. McFeeley so obviously it was well worth it.  Anyway… I digress.  Hello, Neighbor is the recently released authorized picture book biography for children, so naturally I had to do curbside pick-up to get a copy from our local independent bookshop.  And I ensure you, my Internet neighbors, it does not disappoint.

doryDory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon. To make myself feel better about purchasing the Mr. Rogers picture book for myself… I mean for them, I let my kiddos select a book to get from the bookshop at the same time.  This is the one they chose. I wasn’t familiar with Dory before this and I can say truthfully that was a shame.  The whole family read it together within two hours of arriving home with our new books. We were giggling like crazy at Rascal’s antics.  This is the first in a series and we’ll certainly be finding a way to get our hands on the others.  And I am dead serious.

A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond. We are currently reading a chapter a day of this classic bear’s tale. Somehow I never read Paddington as a kid, but as an adult I have developed quite a book crush on Paddington. Plus this emigrant bear’s antics are sure to elicit at least one laugh out loud reaction everyday from each of us.

rescuebotsRescue Bots books. When I was working full time as a librarian I spent a lot of time exalting the value of parents and school letting children choose what they want to read. I felt very virtuous when I would quote Maya Angelou: “Any book that helps a child form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.”  Of course, at the beginning of my career I didn’t have children and then later on, they were too young to express a preference in story time material.  In those early days, I was free to read them whatever wonderful literature I deemed worthy. So such advice was easy to dispense.  Now that my kiddos are four and half, however, my chickens have come home to roost.  They love the television show Rescue Bots. It’s an older show, but a couple of seasons stream on Netflix and Amazon Prime. Transformers are at the center of their lives right now.  They watch as much Rescue Bots as we allow, play with Rescue Bot toys, pretend to be Rescue Bots and recently started dictating Rescue Bot fan fiction stories for us to transcribe. So I knew they’d love the various TV-show tie-in books and I bit the bullet and bought a bunch of used ones from Better World Books. Predictably, they want me to read them frequently.  And I do. Time to practice what I preach, right?

Chandra’s Magic Light by Theresa Heine. After seeing a solar lamp in the market, two sisters set about earning money to buy one in hopes of easy their baby brother’s breathing difficulties caused by their family’s kerosene lamps. Chandra and her sister are compassionate, determined and hardworking. This is a lovely story set in Nepal that I really enjoyed sharing with my little ones.


thestorytree_genpb_qr_cover_rgb_72dpi_wThe Story Tree by Hugh Lupton. Anytime I make oatmeal for breakfast, the kiddos are sure to request that I read the Magic Porridge Pot from this collection.  Like all Barefoot Books, this compilation of classic folk tales is heavily and eye-catchingly illustrated. Including classics from around the world like Jack and the Beanstock, The Three Billy-Goat Gruff and Monkey-See, Monkey-Do, these seven stories have been read-aloud hits around here.



invisiblestringThe Invisible String by Patrice Karst.  This book was gifted to us by an important person in our lives and one of my little ones frequently requests this book at bedtime. In it a mom tells her twins that no matter how far the distance, they are always connected to the people they love by an invisible thread. Here’s a story that may bring comfort to kids and adults who are missing family or friends during the pandemic.


twotimesthefunTwo Times the Fun by Beverly Cleary. This was the kiddos first chapter book and it continues to be much-loved. My own childhood was heavily flavored with the wonderful characters and stories created by the indomitable Beverly Cleary (who recently turned 104!), so I love sharing her work with my children. They’ve enjoyed several of her stories on audio (stayed tuned for a future post on audio books that we’ve been enjoying), but this story of four-year old twins we read as a paperback. Jimmy and Janet are thoroughly relatable four year olds, who love getting new boots, surprising their mailman friend and digging holes with real shovels. Even though Beverly Cleary was writing several decades ago, my thoroughly modern kids easily see themselves in her characters. I am always on the lookout for good books featuring twins (there’s another future post) and this one tops my list!

merywatsonMercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo. Mercy Watson is a porcine wonder! Or at least that’s what Mr. and Mrs. Watson of 54 Deckawoo Drive believe. Our family tends to agree.  These silly tales of a pet pig and her neighbors are sure to delight. After checking each of them out of the library several times last year, we added a complete used collection of Mercy books to our shelves. If your kids are as taken with this darling, dear pig as we are, you’ll want to do the same.


daraDara’s Clever Trap by Liz Flanagan. I have two avid future inventors around here, so they love almost any story about engineers, inventors and makers.  Dara’s Clever Trap fits the bill nicely and gives them the additional thrill of hearing about a princess who outsmarts the “bad guys.” For my part, I love that it features a strong female character from Cambodia. Add the appealing illustrations and there is much to like about this short chapter book.


My hope for all of you is that during this time when you can’t be physically present with others, your family will meet some new friends and revisit many old friends in stories.  What is your family reading and loving during self-isolation?

Disclosure: As a Barefoot Books Ambassador, I earn commission on any of the Barefoot Books ordered from these links. I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.  Bookshop.org supports independent bookshops.


What We’re Reading During Self-Isolation