Free online books for kids
Free online books for kids are vital to me as a children’s writer to help me study my craft. Indeed, they are as necessary as running water–well okay, maybe that’s going too far.
The best sites that I’ve found in my never-ending quest are the ones with has a large selection that includes both contemporary and older books. The books have to be of high quality, of course, recognized and used in school and public libraries, and at this point in history, most of quality books are or were issued in print, though high-quality ebooks only are a fast-growing industry. Though I will concentrate on free picture books, some sites also have easy readers, chapter books, audio books, and graphic novels. They don’t seem to have regular kids’ novels, though libraries and online stores would have ones in ebook format.
Some of these free sites allow downloading; others do streaming.
The public library has lots of free online kids’ books available at the drop of a library card. You may have to download epub or other software to read them. Tumblebooks is a large site with many picture books, easy readers, chapter books, graphic novels, audio books, and educational videos that is accessible for free from many school and library sites. The books are of very high quality, often award winners. Most were print books originally; perhaps some were always ebooks, I’m not sure, but they’ve got authors such as Robert Munsch. They get a bit of added animation and music. Subscribing on your own is very expensive (though cheaper than buying the enormous amount of material). You can “play” books automatically or manually. Rating: Excellent
Gpbkids.org is the Georgia Public Broadcasting Web site. It’s chockfull of excellent, free online books for kids from classics to contemporary, plus lots of other digital children’s content from PBS. Their picture book page has books that are favorites of both kids and librarians, such as Miss Twiggley’s Tree by Dorothea Warren Fox, and Dog Breath by Dav Pilkey. These are actually readalouds, with videotaped readings of prestigious people reading to kids in a library, but unlike on YouTube, they zoom in on the books so you can read along. The production values are very high. The one minor complaint that I have is that the books are on this carousel widget (pictured) and it’s a bit hard to grab the one you want. Keeps your reflexes sharp. This excellent source of free online kids’ books is well worth the trouble, though. Rating: Excellent
Storylineonline has wonderful picture books that were/are also print books read by actors and others. Who wouldn’t want to hear Al Gore read Goodnight, Irene, by William Steig? It also has Michelle Knudsen’s Library Lion. Bookmark this site! Rating: Excellent
INDIANAPOLIS PUBLIC LIBRARY
The Indy Library (not to be confused with indie bookstores) has excellent books well-produced on video. It’s simple to use, and doesn’t require a library card or a login. Me like! The site is a gem for those looking for free online books for kids and well worth exploring beyond that one page. Rating: Excellent
ONE MORE STORY
One More Story has been around for a long time. It’s got excellent picture books and professional production. You just get one free book, but hey, you’ve probably got more than one device and more than one email addy. Also, you can send one free one, so you can send that to yourself, bringing it up to two awesome picture books. One More Story has subscriptions for schools and libraries and a free one for hospitals, as well as an affordable paid “home” subscription. Rating: Good (excellent books, but not a lot of “free”)
NOTE: I do encourage buying books whenever possible and subscribing to paid versions of sites that offer freebies. Authors, illustrators, bookstores, and these sites all need money to survive to keep posting more free online kids’ books, thus making an important contribution to literacy. The most important thing is raising a reader!
YOUTUBE YouTube is easily the place with the most free online kids’ books. It’s got pretty much every picture book, from the moment they come out. I’d recommend sticking to professional channels such as Reading Rainbow. StoryTimeOnline is good too, though I don’t know who is behind it.
If you want to find a specific book, search the title. If the title is a common phrase, like “I Love Cats” or something, you may get many results that are not books. In that case, type the title plus “readaloud,” and the search box may also suggest trying “read aloud,” so try that too. Searching the author sometimes works, but usually does not.
Most of the readalouds are amateur and some downright unintelligible. There are also possible copyright issues, though I don’t think the watcher would get in trouble. Amateur YouTube readalouds are probably of more value to a writer than to a child, because they usually don’t zoom in on the pages or have professional recording equipment. So I do recommend sticking to the professional, legit channels… however, as a writer in an era of few bookstores, I just closed, I’m grateful for YouTube. I do go to kids’ libraries to study the books, but I sometimes get kicked out for not being with a kid! Rating: Very Good–excellent for studying books, and for readers, a huge treasure trove/junkpile you have to hunt through.
MeeGenius is an ebook publisher owned by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt that has a handful of free ebooks here. These are books that have always been ebooks, not enhanced versions of print books like the other site. The books are of good quality, though you are less likely to have heard of them, since they’re not out on shelves in stores and libraries. Rating: Very Good
I have just found MagicBlox, a site that give one free ebook per month if you sign up. It does have books that were in print. A lot of the books are self-published. But they do approve the books for the age group, unlike Amazon Kindle, so you can feel safe having your child go through the books. There are some books by well-known and smaller publishers there. Since they offered a $10 per year unlimited subscription, I signed up for that.
It’s easy to become a book snob with all the famous books out there, but giving books that didn’t have the benefit of wide distribution a chance doesn’t hurt–it doesn’t take that long to read a picture book, after all. This isn’t one of my top choices, it’s new territory, and I see a lot of (gasp) Comic Sans on the covers, but I’m looking forward to something new in free online stories. You can actually upload your own books to it, giving it a wider functionality. Rating: Good
Why free online kids’ books? Besides the obvious savings, Web sites are accessible on mobile devices, so children can read or be read to anywhere. These sites have been vetted to have safe content for kids. And, on a digital device, you can carry thousands of books with no extra weight. And when they’re free, you can just go wild! Stuffing yourself with books is a lot healthier than stuffing yourself with candy!
Parents or caretakers and children’s book writers are natural fans. Teachers looking for good books for their students would be another audience for these sites. Some of them offer subscriptions to schools, which teachers would be able to access.
In the beginning of the dot-com era, it was pretty costly to read children’s books online. You had to sign up for a site and usually pay a monthly fee. But there are more and more free online kids’ books sites.
There are also book apps and interactive books for kids, some free books on Kindle or paid Kindle Unlimited. Maybe that will be another post. But I think with these sites, you’ll keep busy for a while!
See my post on funny books for kids.