Pop one of these audio books in the car to make any road trip this summer a family pleasure.
THE CHOSEN ONE, by Carol Lynch Williams, read by Jenna Lamia. Macmillan Young Listeners, $24.99. Unabridged, five discs: 5 hours, 30 minutes. Ages 12 and up.
For book enthusiasts, what could be better than a tense thriller in which the spunky heroine escapes in a mobile library? The climactic chase scene of "The Chosen One" has an ignition key hidden by literary clue, books spilling from the shelves, liquid sloshing in the van's cup holder - Horrors! Not in the library!
Our heroine, Kyra, lives in a religious community (not identified but clearly based on the Mormons) sequestered in the desert on the outskirts of the wicked modern world; her family is made up of her father, his wives and their many children. Jenna Lamia's vocal interpretation pitches just the right tone for a dutiful but independent 13-year-old chafing against the rules that allow her no privacy - a conflict any teenager can understand. Add to this Kyra's growing awareness of the injustice of life under Prophet Childs, the harsh leader of their group, who "chooses" her to be married to one of his apostles - her 60-year-old uncle.
There is a splendid portrayal of culture clash when Kyra is taken on a rare visit to town to buy fabric for a wedding dress. Listeners identify deeply with Kyra and will be shocked to see themselves also in the townsfolk who mutter "polygamists!" and stare with disdain at the women in their pioneer-style dress. This sympathetic author does not condemn religious belief - only the extremes of religious tyranny.
THE LAST OLYMPIAN, by Rick Riordan, read by Jesse Bernstein. Listening Library, $44. Unabridged, nine discs: 11 hours, 1 minute. Ages 9-12.The last, eagerly awaited volume of Rick Riordan's "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" series satisfies fans with an epic battle for the defense of Mount Olympus, which, in this updated world of the Greek gods, is reached by secret ele- vator atop the Empire State Building.
Percy, half-mortal son of Poseidon and trouble at any school he attends, has matured (somewhat) over the five books, and Jesse Bernstein's voice now gives him the authority that comes with leading his friends from Camp Half-Blood in the ultimate defense of Western civilization. There's also a lurking insecurity about the prophecy that will be fulfilled on his rapidly approaching 16th birthday. Can his destiny really be to choose between a noble and an ignominious death?
THE ORACLES OF DELPHI KEEP, by Victoria Laurie, read by Susan Duerden. Listening Library, $60. Unabridged, 13 discs: 16 hours, 45 minutes. Ages 9-12.'The Oracles of Delphi Keep" successfully combines many beloved elements of children's literature: orphans who look out for one another like siblings, an ancient prophecy, time travel, magic portals and archaeological adventure. Reader Susan Duerden has the classic British voice we Americans expect to tell us these stories, with the cozy maternal tones of the orphanage's headmistress, the menace of the slightly foreign accent, the perennial appeal of the courageous stiff-upper-lipped schoolmaster who says things like: "Gentlemen, no matter how perilous, we must proceed. Shall I lead?"
Although audio books often carry the same suggested age levels as the print editions, many people let younger children listen because the ability to read isn't a factor. Just be sure the books aren't too scary. The cast of ancient villains in "Delphi Keep" could easily haunt the dreams of a 7- or 8-year-old. This is the first of a projected quartet.
DOMINIC, by William Steig, read by Peter Thomas. Listening Library, $25. Unabridged, 3 discs: 2 hours, 43 minutes. Ages 4-8.
William Steig's classic about a civilized canine adventurer gets a subtle reading by Peter Thomas. Although "Dominic" is marketed for a young audience, Steig is such a nuanced writer that all members of a family could happily listen to this book on a car trip, each hearing things to tickle the ear and excite the mind. Wouldn't Dominic's musings be a happy start for a vacation?
" 'What a wonderful world!' thought Dominic. 'How perfect!' Had it been up to him when things were first made, he wouldn't have made them a whit different. Every leaf was in its proper place. Pebbles, stones, flowers, all were just as they ought to be. Water ran where it should run. They sky was properly blue. All sounds were in tune." And, because Dominic is a dog and William Steig gets every detail right: "Everything had its appropriate smell."