If Only Little Brothers Had an Off Button

Published on July 09, 2024

Vintage photo of a blue, 1980s model Chevrolet car.

Books to read on family road trips!

By Kara V.

As a child, I loved summer vacations. I’m from a small town in Iowa, and we have often had to travel to find adventure. Family vacations required us to drive long distances in our four-passenger Chevy (pictured) to some far-off, exotic place like Orlando, Florida, or Branson, Missouri.

I have a younger brother, and having a little brother on a road trip is a lot of work. They require you to pay attention to them when you just want to listen to your Debbie Gibson tape on your Walkman.

On one particular trip, when my brother wanted me to engage with him and I didn’t want to, I had an idea. My brother has a scar in the middle of his forehead; being a genius big sister, I decided this was his off button. This gained me a few minutes of quiet to enjoy “Electric Youth” before he pressed his scar and turned himself back on. Much to my dismay, I had created a new game. 

In the yesteryears, cars didn’t have fancy devices that attached to your phone and allowed you to stream music or movies, nor did they have TVs to pop a DVD in. We had to entertain ourselves. If only (insert dreamy sigh) we had these future comforts in the 80s and 90s. Now, I can make a call from my dash or hook up my phone and listen to an audiobook on hoopla or Libby. I can entertain my children for hours with family-friendly stories that distract us as the miles fly by. Don't get me wrong, I still have to intervene when someone crosses over the armrest, but modern-day conveniences have made family road trips manageable. I don’t have to use an off button on my children to listen to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.” We all sit back and enjoy the scenery.

Getting ready to travel this summer? Plug in your phone and pull up Libby and hoopla to enjoy movies, music, and books! It will make the trip to the Wisconsin Dells that much more peaceful. Most of the audiobook recommendations below are a series that’ll make the hours fly by—unless you forget the snacks. Friendly reminder: DON’T forget the snacks.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by JK Rowling The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling: Face it, we all grew up with Harry Potter, and it is never too early to introduce the next generation to the Potterverse. There are seven books in this series, and they get longer as they go, so that is hours of entertainment. Looking for magic elsewhere? Try the Simon Snow books by Rainbow Rowell, Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, or Fablehaven by Brandon Mull.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman The Princess Bride by William Goldman: This would be an excellent opportunity to see if the book is as good as or better than the movie. Take a few hours to find out. You might find it inconceivable that the book could be better than the movie, but you might be surprised.


Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar Sideways Stories from Wayside School series by Louis Sacher: I loved this book as a child and still find it entertaining. You will laugh through the Midwest as you follow the adventures of the students and teachers at a school accidentally built with one classroom on each floor. It has 30 classrooms!


Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins Gregor the Overlander series by Suzanne Collins: A coworker told me both her son and husband liked this youth-friendly Hunger Games series. I might have to add this one to a family TBR when we road trip next. If you are traveling with teens, The Hunger Games is a pretty good bet for adventure.


Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder is a gentler read and a classic. This autobiographical story about settling in the “West” will entertain everyone as you travel through the Great Plains. Companion reads for a broader perspective: Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManis and Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park. 


Hatchet by Gary Paulsen The Hatchet series by Gary Paulson: The ultimate survival story. The Hatchet series is sure to make long rides short. Try this story if you plan to head north toward Minnesota or Canada and take in the majestic atmosphere of this book about a young boy surviving in Canada alone.




My family's road trip soundtrack: 

  • “Electric Youth” by Debbie Gibson   
  • “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynard Skynyrd 
  • “Tubthumping” by Chumbawumba 
  • “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey   
  • “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel   
  • “Call Me Maybe” by Carley Rae Jepsen
  • Whitney Houston's Greatest Hits—all songs, any song.  

Selfie taken in the car with Kara and her family