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Backseat Reading: Best Books for a Long Car Ride

by Devon A. Corneal

Photo credit: petrenkod, iStock/Getty Images

There’s nothing I won’t do to avoid the inevitable “Are we there yet?” from the backseat. I am willing to let my kid eat candy and go blind playing video games if it makes a long car trip go by more quickly. Ideally, however, I prefer to keep him occupied with books.

Thankfully, there are wonderful series and fabulous stand-alone stories to distract even the antsiest kid from the passing miles. If you (or your child) get motion sick if you try to read in the car, or you like to experience books as a family, try audiobooks. If your children have eReaders, load them up with a handful of titles before you’re out of Wi-Fi range. If your kids prefer real pages, visit the local bookstore or library before you leave home and stock your bag with a few favorites. Whatever you do, if you’re going on a long drive, don’t pull out of the driveway without at least one book.

  • Eric Carle’s Book of Many Things

    by Eric Carle

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    I’ve yet to meet a child who doesn’t love Eric Carle’s vibrant, interactive work, and this special compendium, as its title might suggest, is full of many words and concepts to explore — over 200, in fact. With foods and colors, shapes and feelings, animals, numbers, and more, it’ll keep little ones entertained (and learning!) for hours.
    (Ages 3 – 7)

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  • Mercy Watson Series

    by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

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    Mercy Watson, porcine wonder and buttered-toast connoisseur, might just be the cutest pig around. And for kids who appreciate plenty of cute with their hijinks, Kate DiCamillo’s beloved picture book series is just what the road-trip doctor ordered. Don’t miss Mercy’s origin story in DiCamillo’s latest, A Piglet Named Mercy.
    (Ages 5 – 9)

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  • The Unicorn Rescue Society Series

    by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hatem Aly

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    This globe-trotting, mythical series is so much fun, it should be considered in audiobook form so the whole family can enjoy it. When the strange Professor Fauna recruits Elliot and Uchenna to be part of a super-secret group called The Unicorn Rescue Society, they have no idea just how wild their adventures are about to get.
    (Ages 7 – 10)

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  • Magic on the Map Series

    by Courtney Sheinmel and Bianca Turetsky

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    For road-trip reading, it really doesn’t get more fitting than this new series. Twins Finn and Molly are less than impressed when their dad parks an RV in the driveway. As it turns out, the RV has a bit of Magic School Bus flair, and it transports the twins to a different U.S. state in each exciting installment.
    (Ages 8 – 12)

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  • To Night Owl From Dogfish

    by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer

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    Especially ideal for young readers feeling down (or downright grumpy) about leaving a friend behind, this sweet novel told entirely through emails and letters might pique their interest. Bett and Avery are sent to a sleepaway camp to bond — their dads are in love, and they want the girls to get along. Co-written by two bestselling authors, it’s a modern Parent Trap full of heart.
    (Ages 10+)

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  • Hot Dog Girl

    by Jennifer Dugan

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    Good luck getting your teen reader to put this one down when you reach your destination. Hot Dog Girl takes place at Magic Castle Playland, where Lou Parker’s spending the summer dressed as a giant — you guessed it — hot dog. A coming-of-age queer romance with full-of-life characters, it’s a must-read for summer vacation.
    (Ages 13+)

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  • Americanized: Rebel Without a Green Card

    by Sara Saedi

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    Sara Saedi’s memoir of growing up undocumented in America is a perfect example of nonfiction that’s just as riveting (if not more so!) than fiction. Sara didn’t learn about her undocumented status as an Iranian immigrant until she was 13. In Americanized, she recounts her fears both huge (getting deported) and seemingly-huge (finding a prom date). Funny, poignant, and incredibly moving.
    (Ages 13+)

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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2015 and updated in 2021.