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It is especially comforting and downright optimistic when children overcome obstacles and win the day when it is difficult. So when I found myself in a reading slump, I turned to a certain type of audio book: the one with young protagonists.

Like many people over the past year, I’ve spent way too much time failing from website to website worrying about things that I couldn’t control. I could not concentrate me. Fortunately, I discovered that I could listen.

According to Psychology Today, I’m not alone when it comes to reading audiobooks during stressful times. Audiobooks can take us back in time when parents or teachers read us aloud, often a calming mood. You can also reduce negative thinking. And because stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end, our worn-out brains can pause to understand our own confusing world. All a win.

I would also like to think that young protagonists add another level of comfort. As I listened to these stories, I was reminded of what it feels like to see the world as a place of exploration and wonder – even when the odds are against you.

For reasons only the reading muses will understand, I have listened to either middle-class or adult literature. (Sorry Young Adult, I love you too.) The three middle-class novels were previous favorites, but most of the adult books were new to me. All have strong narrators and transporting stories that we can make more use of in difficult times.

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Middle class

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, read by Lynn Redgrave

There is a special kind of thrill when you start a new audiobook and know that it is about to become a favorite. That perfect opening music, a skilled narrator, and a hook that goes deep: Inkheart has it all. I’ve heard the opening at least a dozen times now and still give me the chills. Twelve-year-old Meggie is up late at night reading when a mysterious man visits her father Mo. The man warns that someone is looking for an extremely valuable book that Mo has. When Mo tries to escape with the book, he is captured by armed villains. Meggie sets out to get him back. Perfectly voiced by Redgrave, Inkheart is a love story to read.

Audiobook cover for Linda Sue Parks A Single Shard

A single shard from Linda Sue Park, read by Graeme Malcolm

A 12th-century book on ceramics in a South Korean village might not be the first choice for easy reading, but maybe it should be. Park’s Newbery Award-winning story takes readers deep into the world of Tree-ear, an orphan who lives and survives with the help of Crane-man, an older friend who has long struggled for food and safety. But Baumohr has a secret. He loves to watch Min, a master potter, at work. If he accidentally breaks a valuable piece of pottery, he asks Min to work for him to repay it. Along the way, he becomes determined to create his own artwork – a ridiculous prospect for an orphan like him. Tree-Ear’s remarkable journey gives you hope that with luck and hard work, the seemingly impossible will become possible.

Audiobook cover of Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver

Wolf Brother: Chronicles of Ancient Darkness # 1 by Michelle Paver, read by Ian McKellen

Ian McKellen brings 12-year-old Torak’s harrowing journey to life. A demon-haunted bear kills Torak’s father and threatens the security of the world. Torak, Renn and Wolf have to make their way into the mountains to defeat the demon. I’ve now heard this incredible production twice for free on The Guardian Books podcast. McKellen gives a masterful performance that will keep you whipped through each new episode as Torak and Wolf fight to stay alive.


Audiobook covers for everything I've never told you by Celeste Ng

Everything I never told you about Celeste Ng, read by Cassandra Campbell

Okay, this is just the smallest scam. Everything I’ve never told you is told from an omniscient perspective, including adult POVs like Ng’s other novel Little Fires Everywhere. But it’s the chapters with young Lydia that got me to include the book here. Thirteen-year-old Lydia disappears and as her parents search for her it becomes increasingly clear that no one really knew who Lydia was: not her parents, not her so-called friends and not even her brother. What happened to this young girl? Who’s to blame? And what does it mean for a young Asian American girl to disappear from this mostly white small town?

Audiobook cover for The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King

The Girl Tom Gordon Loved by Stephen King, read by Anne Heche

Stephen King has produced many intense child storytellers throughout his prolific career. Carrie is probably the best-known in namesake Carrie. But for me, I’ll always be 9-year-old Tricia McFarland’s biggest fan. The girl Tom Gordon loved is a simple story in many ways – a girl gets lost in the woods and has to find her way home – but it is told with an incredible heart. Tricia only has her Walkman for company. Every night she listens to distant Red Sox games with her favorite mug, Tom Gordon at the helm. As she penetrates deeper and deeper into the forest, something begins to haunt her. The only concern you will have as this story progresses is whether Tricia can find her way home alive.

Audiobook cover for Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead

Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead, read by Joshua Whitehead

Jonny, a two-ghost NDN glitter princess, is one of our oldest storytellers in this group of audiobooks. While we never know exactly how old he is, he left the rez and is alone when the story begins. But when his stepfather dies, he’ll have to figure out how to collect the money he needs to get home to the funeral. Mostly told through vignettes, the novel is an educational novel that shows sex as a destroyer and savior for the young Jonny. The flashbacks to his childhood are intense, but they are also full of humor. Whitehead is a poet and his lyric precision is a joy to hear.

Audiobook cover for Lucy, a novel by Jamaica Kincaid

Lucy from Jamaica Kincaid, read by Robin Miles

At the age of 19, Lucy left her home in the West Indies to work as an au pair in the USA. At first everything is bleak. Even the sun gives it away with its bright shine in the bitter cold. But while Lucy adapts, she judges the people in her life with a razor-sharp vision. This short book deals with race, privilege, and class, but its predominant theme is identity. Lucy has to give up her past entirely in order to create the life she needs. As a powerful novel, you will be amazed at the character’s determination to imagine life on its terms.

For more stress relief suggestions, check out the 10 Best Book Podcasts To Help You Distance Yourself From The News. Or, check out the latest neuroscience on the effects of listening to audiobooks.