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Free online books for kids: Web site reviews

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.

TUMBLEBOOKS

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Ace Lacewing has been seen on Tumblebooks, sleuthing for free reads!

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

freeonlinekidsbooksGpbkids.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

STORYLINE ONLINE
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”)

 

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Grownups love free online books for kids!

 

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

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

MAGIC BLOX

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.

 

 

 

 

Mystery Books for Teens and Tweens

Mystery Books for Teens

Mysteries for teens, which is the YA market starting at age 12, so includes tweens, is an interesting genre. It combine suspense and sleuthing with all the teenage angst and social commentary you’d find in a regular young-adult novel. Mystery books for teens can have elements of different genres, such as dystopia, psychological thriller, and romance. They don’t need to be strictly about a crime.

As in other juvenile-market mysteries, the character solving the problems isn’t a professional detective, but a teen able to uncover clues that others can’t or don’t care enough to. With young adult books, the sky’s the limit with topics–unlike with books for younger kids, there’s no need to protect kids from the realities of the world. Violence, sex, death, bad parents –it’s all there.

But good mystery books for teens are far from lurid dime-store paperbacks; they’re explorations of the teen psyche, and help young adults process harsh reality. Their own reality is usually a lot less harsh, but fiction is rife with exaggeration for a purpose. It serves as a metapor, helping readers make sense of their own conflicts and desires.

mystery books for teens

One such example is NEED, aimed at kids age 12 and over, which takes a look at the dark side of social media. Clearly, the dark side isn’t fictional; online bullying has resulted in more than one death. The book shows how teens can become evil and almost zombie-like, obeying the demands of a social network.

 

 

 

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One very popular, and good, mystery book for teens is John Green’s Paper Towns, winner of the Edgar Award for Best Mystery for Young Adults. It hooks you from the beginning with a sarcastic teen narrator’s keen observations of his high school peers. The writing really stands out with cleverness and keenly observed adolescent life.

YA is known for now being read by adults. Gone Girl is an example of crossover. The characters in it are older than teens, but they obey their less-than-mature impulses.  The directness and emotional zap of YA pulls in those much older.

As well, YA attracts very talented writers. Characters in it can live in the most romantic, risky, and fantastical worlds. Like Katniss in The Hunger Games, main characters can occupy a vortex of hormones, humanity, and history or the future. So it’s no wonder that both authors and readers find teen books particularly appealing, and it’s not hard to find good mysteries for teens.

Books for teens and tweens are often read by those younger than the characters. The Rag and Bone Shop is renowned author Roger Cormier’s last book. It even has a page on Wikipedia. The protagonist here is a boy of only 12 who’s caught up in a murder mystery as both suspect and sleuth. Being a Yeats fan, I love the title. So even though many teens can read like adults, remember that you’re writing for a pretty large age range. There are also YA books read largely by aduls, such as Gone Girl. That book could be considered to be part of the “new adult” genre targets 18 to 30-year-olds.

A Madness So Discreet is a juicy Gothic thriller, something like Girl, Interrupted if it took place in a Victorian asylum in Boston. It’s got historical fiction and social commentary on the treatment of the mentally ill and of women. Protagonist Grace’s sharp memory and powers of observation make her a potent teen sleuth despite her label of madness.

Tips for Writing Good Mysteries for Teens

Like other children’s mysteries, mystery stories for teens will sprinkle clues throughout. They will offer a natural-sounding summary (not a laundry list) of clues at the end.

Also, as with other juvenile fiction, YA tends to have at least a hopeful ending, no matter how filled with despair the story is. Even The Hunger Games ends with SOME hope, despite all the killing. Adult novels can end on a total downer note.

Voice is of paramount importance. You have to capture how teens really talk. Don’t use archaic slang. Learn texting symbols.

The reading age for YA is 12 and up. Kids will read about a character who is older, but are less likely to read about a character who’s younger.

Girls will read novels starring boys, but boys are less likely to read novels with girls as the main characters. Be sure to vary your cast with interesting and diverse secondary characters.

Remember to build suspense. Raise the stakes. The main character should have progress and reversals. Don’t let them get too beaten down. The reader needs to identify with them. And remember that familiar writing techniques such as Chekhov’s gun, red herrings, and Macguffins also apply to teen and tween suspense.

Don’t get preachy or moralistic. Just tell an involving story. Mysteries for teenagers can be plot-driven. They should touch on deeper aspects of a teenager’s life, but they don’t have to deliver a moral or message.

end of Mystery Books for Teens

Also see my posts about picture book mysteries and chapter book and middle-grade mysteries.

Mystery books for kids, part 2: Picture book mysteries

Mystery books for kids, part 2: Picture books

missnelsonismissingDa-dah-DUNNH! The concept of mystery books for kids written at picture-book level may seem counterintuitive at first. Mysteries are by nature complex, right, so how could they work as picture books? This is especially perplexing for authors trying to create the short texts publishers demand these days.

One way to create a mystery for this age is with illustrations playing a major role, often to have the illustrations telling the story beyond the text–possibly leaving clues the intrepid investigator misses at first.

If you’re an author submitting picture book manuscripts, you’re told to leave out as many art notes as possible. But you can have them when they are essential to understanding the story.

mysterybooksforkidspart2Others construct the mystery combining text and pictures, and others tell the whole story in text, with the pictures adding to the fun.

Mystery picture books often use humor and spoof. The ABC Mystery, by Doug Cushman, is a funny, rhyming, alphabet mystery.

Miss Nelson is Missing is a classic from the 1970s and one of my favorites.  Sweet teacher Miss Nelson, who has been facing a misbehaving bunch of students, suddenly disappears and is replaced by the witchy Viola Swamp, who defies the stereotype of a substitute teacher who can be taken advantage of. What has become of Miss Nelson? Detective McSmaug is on the case. With a witty text by Harry Allard and hilarious illustrations by James Marshall, this book still makes me laugh even after multiple readings.

You can enjoy it here in a YouTube readalong.

You’ll notice that there really aren’t any clues, nor does the reader know the answer ’til the end, though some may figure it out (I didn’t). It’s not written in a tongue-in-cheek, hard-boiled detective voice. But it still builds considerable suspense. The tension increases as we watch the rowdy class transform into a frightened, obedient one.

picturebookmysteriesWho Took the Cookies from the Cookie Jar? by Bonnie Lass and Philomena Sturges, and illustrated by Ashley Wolff, uses the schoolyard rhyme to tell a mystery tale. Skunk interviews other animals, all of the American Southwest, to find the culprit. Naturally, each has an alibi. But the reader can pick up some clues. This book is a lot of fun for very young kids and even comes with a song and game instructions. This is one of the mystery books for kids that drops some clues in the illustrations.

 

mystery books for kids

 

Steven Kellogg’s The Missing Mitten Mystery has stood the test of time. It’s a very simple story about a girl and dog searching for a missing mitten. The girl imagines increasingly unrealistic things that could have happened to it, such as the possibility of it someday growing into a mitten tree. Eventually they find it, but there’s no clear answer to how it got where it got. Whether or not you feel the end is satisfying, it shows how a child’s imagination can be sparked. The illustrations don’t tell a different story than the text.

Unlike most chapter book and middle-grade mystery books for kids, picture book mysteries still deal with larger themes, the way non-mystery picture books do. The mystery category isn’t quite as distinct in picture books. Still, they are more plot-driven than a lot of picture books.

One that really cracks me up is The Mystery of Eatum Hall, that’s both a mystery and sendup of a horror story. Horace and Glenda Pork-Fowler, a pig and a goose receive a mysterious invitation, and are fattened up by high-tech inventions at a mysterious place. Despite clues, the couple is clueless. This book is full of puns and delightful.

There’s also Grandpa’s Teeth, one of those old-books that involves a whole town, the media, and a grandpa who talkths like thith because his teeth are missing. It has wonderful illustrations.

Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back is a very short text where the illustrations tell things that are not known to the character. It’s a fun mystery book for kids who may not even be of reading age. In fact, it has appeal for all ages, because readers like to feel like they know more than the character, who in this case is quite oblivious to obvious clues.

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Eileen Christelow’s The Great Pig Search is also a picture book with mystery elements that will give plenty of giggles to kids 4 to 7 and is a good choice if you’re looking for mystery books for kindergarteners.  Here, as in I Want My Hat Back, the reader knows more than the silly main characters, in this case adults. The reader gets to feel smarter than they are. In most mystery books for kids, the child mystery-solver is smarter than the adults around her or him.

More traditional types of illustrated kids’ mystery stories that have longer texts and are spoofs of Sherlock Holmes or film noir include the Ace Lacewing books, by David Biedrzycki, and Mark Teague’s Detective LaRue: Letters from the Investigation. Those would be good mysery books for kids who can read on their own some, such as kindergarteners to third grade.

There are so many great picture book mysteries that it was really hard to pick from them–though I think there’s plenty of room for more. There’s one about a missing library book–I can’t remember the name of it– but it’s a clever idea and is well done.

I’d love to hear about other favorite mystery picture books.

Takeaways:

-Mystery books for kids under age 7 can rely a lot on artwork to tell the story.

-Picture book mysteries are more plot-driven than most picture books. Character development is not the main thing, nor is a deeper theme, though they can touch on deeper themes.

-A picture book mystery can take traditional picture book formats, such as using songs, alphabet books, rhymes, and detective types of stories.

These books, with their elements of suspense, are, like the best picture books, enjoyable for adults as well.

Also see Mystery Picture Books for Kids, part 1: Chapter Book and Middle-grade mysteries