Matilda combines all the elements of a Roald Dahl classic: awful teachers and caregivers, brilliant kids, a ton of humor, and a little bit of magic. For decades, middle grade readers have loved rooting for whip-smart (and superpowered) Matilda as she struggles to triumph over parents who keep her down and a downright monstrous head of school, Ms. Trunchbull. The dulcet and expressive tones of actress Kate Winslet will grab listeners, as she brings the story to life with energy and warmth.
You don’t need to be a fantasy fan to fall under the spell of the Potter-verse, especially when it’s voiced by Jim Dale. A former Broadway actor who worked with Lawrence Olivier, Dale has earned 10 Audie awards, 23 Earphone awards, and an MBE from Queen of England for his narration work in children’s lit. Dale created 200 distinct character voices for the Potter series, which took him more than 8 years to record. Get kids invested in the first book, and your summer plan will be set in (sorcerer’s) stone.
When Aven Green, a 13-year-old girl born without arms, moves to Arizona so her family can run a dilapidated theme park, she is ready for the questions she’ll get about her limb difference. She is not ready, though, for the unexpected friendship she’ll find with Connor, a boy who has Tourette's Syndrome, as well as the mystery they’ll uncover together in the theme park. Karissa Vacker’s bouncy, conversational narration, paired with the novel’s hilarious, heartfelt writing, makes Insignificant Events a slam-dunk for picky readers, especially those with differences of their own.
Twelve-year-old Zoe Washington has never met, or heard from, her father Marcus, who has been in prison for a terrible crime. So when she receives a letter from Marcus telling her he’s innocent, her world is turned upside down. Zoe secretly tries to uncover the truth behind her father’s story, and to win his freedom in this fast-paced story, which will win readers’ hearts and open their minds to the inequities of the criminal justice system. Voiced by all-star Bahni Turpin, who was recently named Narrator of the Year by Audible and inducted into its Narrator Hall of Fame, this audiobook will keep readers rapt.
By Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan
Narrated by Josh Hurley and Vikas Adam
Told from the alternating perspectives of two very different fifth graders, Save Me A Seat tells the story of Joe, a boy with auditory processing disorder who struggles to find his footing socially after his best friends move away; and Ravi, a student newly arrived from India who feels like an outsider. When the school’s worst bully serves as a common enemy, the boys discover they share more similarities than they’d thought. Not only are the performances lively and engaging, the alternating voices of two different narrators works as an added hook for readers who need extra stimulation.
Fans of spooky stories like A Tale Dark and Grimm will love this new take on a beloved Haitian folktale. The Jumbies follows Corinne La Mer, a fearless girl who unwittingly unleashes a dangerous force upon her town the day she enters the local forbidden forest, home of the jumbies. Corinne must summon all her courage and magic to stop Severine, the beautiful and dangerous creature intent on taking over Haiti for the jumbies. Narrator Robin Miles, who has narrated more than three hundred books and who helped popularize the audiobook medium, uses her voice talent to captivate readers with the suspenseful, lyrical tale.
When it comes to voice talent, you don’t get much more legit than Lynn Redgrave, a legend of stage and screen. Redgrave’s narration of Funke’s bestselling book, the first in a trilogy, is as magical as the story she helps spin. Inkheart recounts what happens to Meggie when the dangerous, bewitching characters from the book she’s reading jump off the page, right into her life. Full of adventure, mystery and heart, this audiobook is a must for fantasy lovers.
What’s life like on Mars? Find out in The Lion of Mars — Jennifer Holm’s vivacious novel about Bell, an 11-year-old who’s spent his whole life on the red planet, where life is surprisingly similar to, and also vastly different from, the life of Earth-dwelling readers. When a virus causes all the grownups to become sick, Bell and the other kids have to rise to the challenge of uncovering the truth behind some big secrets and saving the planet in the process. A fun, energetic reading by Maxwell Glick makes it even more difficult to resist the book’s charms.
This critically acclaimed book by Newbery-Award-winning novelist Lauren Wolk unfolds during the Great Depression, when dire financial straits force Ellie and her family out of town and into the countryside of Echo Mountain. Disaster strikes when Ellie’s father is left comatose by a terrible accident, one for which Ellie is blamed. In order to save him, Ellie must enlist the help of a frightening but powerful woman known as “the hag” who lives on the mountain. An emotional reading by narrator Holly Linneman will leave young readers rapt.
By Rita Williams-Garcia
Narrated by Sisi Aisha Johnson
The year is 1968 and 11-year-old Delphine is traveling across the country with her two little sisters to visit the mother who abandoned them years ago. Delphine’s hopes of a happy reunion are dashed by the reality of her mother’s cold and disinterested reception — until the girls attend a Black Panther rally that changes their mother’s approach. With Sisi Aisha Johnson’s dynamic narration, One Crazy Summer, a National Book Award finalist and Newbery Honor book, will transport kids across time, tug at their heartstrings, and make them beg to keep listening.
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Best Audiobooks for Middle Grade Readers
Tell any reluctant reader that it’s time to tackle summer reading and you’ll endure groans, moans, and major eye rolls. Though it’s sold as “fun and stimulating,” summer reading is anything but for many readers with ADHD and learning differences. For these kids, who dread cracking open a hardcover, audiobooks may be the secret to unlocking summer growth.
Audiobooks can build and bolster reading skills for a wide range of kids, a fact supported by research. A recent study published in the Journal of Neuroscience mapped the brains of participants while they listened to content vs. read it in print, and it found the brain responded the same way to the content, regardless of its format.
For kids with dyslexia who struggle to decode books with grade-level content, audiobooks offer the ability to access more sophisticated (and often more engaging) writing, which strengthens reading abilities and nurtures an interest in books. For some kids with ADHD who find sitting still and attending to the page tedious, an audiobook can provide just the right kind of stimulation and motivation.
Not all audiobooks are created equal, though. So, we’ve amassed a list of 10 amazing middle grade audiobooks that combine attention-grabbing voice talent with attention-keeping story lines and characters. While the books span genres — from fantasy to historical fiction and everything in between — what they all have in common is engaging writing and narration that will pull reluctant readers right in and keep them hooked.