You try to sell the view: caramel wheat stalks reaching through Prairie snow; the brutal majesty of Northern Ontario; the river-bisected beauty of Rivière-du-Loup in eastern Quebec; the centuries-old dikes of Acadian agriculture; the New York skyline from the New Jersey Turnpike.
They peek out the window for a second - and then they're back, thumbs clicking, shoulders jerking, eyes fixed on the Nintendo DS screen. You deflate, your vacation seemingly sucked into an electronic vortex.
But there is a way to have your children see the natural and man-made wonders flashing by - and be engaged by a parent-approved electronic form of entertainment: audiobooks. Great stories, great scenery, no motion sickness from reading in the car - and hours and hours of reprieve from the dreaded four-word mantra of those condemned to the back seat.
In either CD form or downloaded onto an MP3 player, audiobooks can make the summer driving season a fulfilling time for all. Here, some titles that are sure to captivate:
Fantastic Mr. Fox and Other Animal Stories
By Roald Dahl. Includes Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Enormous Crocodile, Esio Trot and The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me. Dahl's sense of humour never fails to amuse children and adults alike. And the English accents make you feel like you're already far from home, even if you're still fighting traffic to get onto the open road.
Driving time and distance 2¼ hrs; about 258 kilometres.
Horton Hears a Who! and Other Sounds of Dr. Seuss
By Dr. Seuss. Read by Dustin Hoffman, Billy Crystal and Mercedes McCambridge. Includes Horton Hears a Who!, Horton Hatches the Egg and Thidwick, the Big-Hearted Moose. Even without the wonderful illustrations, these stories still stand tall.
Driving time and distance 40 minutes; about 87 km.
Love You Forever: The Best of Robert Munsch
Written and read by Robert Munsch. Thirteen stories including The Paperbag Princess, Thomas' Snowsuit, Up, Up, Down, We Share EVERYTHING, Mortimer, Love You Forever and the most appropriate story for winter travel, I Have to Go.
Driving time and distance Almost one hour; about 115 km.
Off the beaten path
Who's Got Game
Written by Toni Morrison and Slade Morrison; read by Toni Morrison. Includes The Ant or the Grasshopper?, The Lion or the Mouse? and Poppy or the Snake? The Morrison tales give Aesop's Fables a lyrical rap rhythm and a jazzy, snappy feel. Adults may pause to consider the question posed by The Ant or the Grasshopper?: Should one creature be deemed lazy because he composes and plays his music, freely entertaining all those who stop to enjoy it, while the other dutifully prepares for winter - in other words, what value do we place on the arts?
Driving time and distance Approximately 30 minutes; about 56 km.
The Storyteller's Bag: Music and Adventure Inspired by Ojibway Legends
Stories by Mark Brownell; storytelling by Cheri Maracle and Lorne Cardinal. With lively music, dramatic pacing, amusing characters and engaging stories, you can see how much children enjoy Muskrat's Dive, How the Loon Got Its Necklace and The Star Lily. Grownups will enjoy the legends too, especially if they're travelling to cottage country, where the sound and sight of a loon is a possibility.
Driving time and distance 50 minutes; about 95 km.
Mozart's Magnificent Voyage
Written by Douglas Cowling; performed by various actors and singers. If your kids are the kind who clamour for tickets to Jonas Brothers concerts, you might think they would be bored by the Classical Kids series exploring famous composers from a child's point of view. But you would be wrong. Though Mozart's Magic Fantasy was a bit difficult to follow, Mozart's Magnificent Voyage will have them hooked. (Along with six other awards, it won a Juno for best children's recording.) Interwoven with passages from Mozart's most famous pieces, it tells the story of two children who travel through time with Mozart's son, Karl, into the composer's childhood - his first symphony at the age of 8, his first opera at 12, meeting Beethoven and much more.
Driving time and distance Almost 45 minutes; about 85 km.
Geronimo Stilton, Books 15 & 16
Series created by Elisabetta Dami; read by Bill Lobley. Includes The Mona Mousa Code (15) and A Cheese-Colored Camper (16). Kids know the characters and are quickly absorbed. Warning for parents: The mice are little, but their voices are big and, in the case of Thea, so grating that you'll be reaching for the volume. A good choice for the personal CD player.
Driving time and distance 2¾ hours; about 310 km.
Julia Gillian (and the Art of Knowing)
Written by Alison McGhee; read by Emily Bauer. My nine-year-old daughter devoured this story about apartment-dwelling, nine-year-old Julia Gillian, her dog, facing fears, helping people and accomplishing things. The message: Even if you don't get what you want, with family and friends you can make almost any experience a good one. Hmm, even in a car?
Driving time and distance Almost three hours; about 345 km.