Did you know that only 30% of children who come from homes without books are likely to complete the 9th grade(1)?
For some of us (myself included), growing up without books at home seems unimaginable. But this is reality for some of the students at my school and hundreds of thousands of other schools around the world.
As teachers, we can send home printable paper books, encourage families to buy books, and even give books as gifts to our students. This makes a dent, but it’s usually not enough.
A Reading Teacher article that I read recently, “Unite for Literacy,” cites a study showing that adding 10 books to a home with no books doubles the likelihood that a child will be successful in school. Moreover, “[i]t is not until the book total in the home reaches around 100 that the impact of subsequent books, although still valuable, begins to taper off” (Mallete and Barone, 2016).
So how can we help our preschool, Kindergarten, and primary students get 100 books in their homes? It sounds like a huge task, but technology can help.
The majority of homes in the United States have an Internet connection, and many families now own smartphones. In addition to “hard copies” of books we send home, we can teach parents how to access free books online.
In today’s post, I’ll share 3 websites with free digital children’s books suitable for primary readers. I’ll also share some paid options at the bottom of the post.
Photo credit: Samuel Borges Photography, Shutterstock
I had no idea that this website existed until I read about it in this month’s Reading Teacher. But I was so excited to learn about it that I sat down to write this post as soon as I finished the article!
The Unite for Literacy organization is run by educators and writers who want to bring the joy of reading to every home. They have published almost 200 digital books in the free library and have narrations available in multiple languages.
Unite for Literacy is working to expand the collection to include more books, more languages (including sign language), and more diverse texts. The website has SO many wonderful books already there, and it’s growing all the time!
When you first navigate to the site, you’ll be asked to put in your location – and that’s all! There’s no sign-up, no teacher login, nothing like that. This makes it SO easy for parents to use.
You can scroll through the books (they are most relevant for preschool through first grade readers) and select the one that you want.
You can also use the icons at the top to select books about animals, plants and food, Earth and sky, technology, health, family, friends, communities, art and play, and foundational skills (math, colors, shapes, opposites, etc.). The organization focuses on STEAM topics (science, technology, engineering, art, and math), which is great for helping expand students’ content area knowledge.
You can also choose the language of narration by selecting the top left icon next to “Narration.” Families can read aloud the books to their children, listen together, and invite their children to read the simple text if they are able.
The books have engaging photos and are very easy to navigate! And there’s a mobile-friendly version of the site that families can access on their phones or tablets:
It’s probably the easiest-to-use online book website I’ve seen!
This is another website that’s fairly new to me. Oxford Owl actually has a ton of different resources available on the site (some paid), but it also has a lot of free e-books for students to access at home or school.
When you use it for the first time, set up your teacher account. You can then create a class account so students can login at home or at school (they will need the class name and password).
When a child logs in, they will see this:
The can then click on “My Bookshelf” to see the available e-books. Not all of the books in the selection are free e-books – just teach students look for the “e” in the orange circle on books that are available for reading online.
The books are narrated, but you can turn the narration off if necessary. There are also tips and activities that parents can do with the books, which is wonderful!
If you teach in the U.S., be aware that the narration is done with a British accent, but I think it can be a great thing to expose students to different accents and dialects.
Epic is another fantastic website that teachers can get free access to for their students.
Scroll all the way down to where it says “Sign up for free!” if you are a librarian or teacher. Then, it will guide you through the sign-up process (which is fairly simple). You even get to select some favorite topics for books for your students:
After I signed up, it had logged me in as a student. So I had to click on the circle above “Guest” (in the top right corner) and choose that it was me, the teacher, in order to set things up for my students.
Then, once logged in as myself, I had to go to “Profile Management” to set up my class.
There, you can enter students’ names, create PINs for them (not required), and then provide home access by inputting a parent email address.
From what I understand, you can only give your students 30 days for using Epic free at home. Parents can then opt to pay to sign up, or not sign up at all.
Although Epic doesn’t provide the same level of free home books as the other two sites, the books are very high-quality (and there are many in Spanish!) And it’s always free for kids to use at school (where you login to give them access).
Other Places to Find E-Books
Local public libraries are another great resource for free e-books. If you take your students to the library and have families sign up for library cards, this often gives them access to the library’s e-books.
There are also many paid websites that can give students access to e-books. Here are a few:
Whenever I ask parents to use a website at home, I’ve found that it’s helpful to walk them through the process in person, as well as provide written directions with screenshots.
During back-to-school night, I use an interactive whiteboard or projector to show students exactly how to access the site, and then I send them home with directions. I usually send the same directions home again, a couple of times throughout the year, because I know that they sometimes get lost.
Do you have any other websites to add to this list? Please do so in the comments below!
Mallete, M., & Barone, D. (2016). Unite for Literacy: An Interview with Mark W.F. Condon. Reading Teacher, 69(5), 471-481.
(1) Evans, M.D.R., Kelley, J., Sikora, J., & Treiman, D.J. (2010). Family scholarly culture and educational success: Books and schooling in 27 nations. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 28(2), 171-197 (As cited in Mallete & Barone, 2016).