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Ebooks Everywhere! How to Make Sense of the Options

An abundance of free and paid sources of ebooks are available to keep students learning during the COVID-19 crisis

Parents and teachers are searching for high quality content to keep students learning, engaged, and, let’s face it, entertained during the COVID-19 crisis. Good news! Purveyors and suppliers of books have been stepping up during school closures. The volume of libraries, publishers, and education platforms opening their doors to students and educators is heartwarming, but can also feel overwhelming.

Where can educators find publisher books for students? Where can a parent find age-appropriate reading material for a child? Where can teachers and parents of students with learning differences like dyslexia or blindness find books in alternative formats? Here’s a handy list of book sources for students of all grades, levels, interests, and reading preferences. They range from forever free, to free during the COVID-19 crisis, to paid subscriptions.

Forever Free Books

Public library – borrow and read ebooks and audiobooks for free using OverDrive or the Libby reading app. All you need is a library card.

Project Gutenberg – over 60,000 public domain ebooks, mostly older literature published before 1925, with expired copyrights that can be read online or downloaded with no special browsers or apps required.

LibriVox – free, public domain audiobooks read by volunteers around the world. Books come from Project Gutenberg, and the mp3 audio files are stored on the Internet Archive.

Bookshare – nearly 10,000 free public domain books that anyone can read using Bookshare’s unique features. Readers can listen to books, follow along with karaoke-style highlighting, and customize font sizes, colors, and backgrounds. Here are some highlighted collections:

Note: Bookshare also offers over 800,000 ebooks for free to US students with qualifying reading barriers such as dyslexia, blindness, or cerebral palsy (see below).

National Emergency Library – free access to borrow educational books from Internet Archive without restrictions. The collection features books from the 1920s-1990s that don’t have an ebook available except for the scanned copy. The library offers suspended wait lists through June 30, 2020, or the end of the US national emergency, whichever is later. After that, access will still be free, but limited to the number of physical copies in the collection.

Audible Stories – Over 300 audiobooks in six languages are available for free. Stories for littlest listeners, elementary age, tweens, and teens along with literary classics can be listened to on a smartphone, tablet, or computer.

Storyline Online – free streaming videos featuring notable actors reading 57 children’s books for grades K-4 alongside creatively produced illustrations and closed captions. Activity guides for parents and teachers are available.

Tar Heel Reader – free, accessible books that can be speech enabled and accessed using multiple interfaces, including touch screens, the IntelliKeys with custom overlays, and 1 to 3 switches. Readers can also write their own books for the library.

Free During COVID-19 or Limited Free Trial

New York Times – free access to articles, videos, and other content on nytimes.com for every high school in America through July 6. To get access, teachers or administrators must register and then submit student email addresses.

Audible – 30-day free trial for access to entire collection of audiobooks. After 30 days, the subscription fee is $14.95 per month.

Tales2Go – 30-day free trial for access to over 10,000 audiobooks for K-12 schools. After 30 days, the subscription fee is $29.99 for 3 months.

Epic! – 30-day free trial for digital library of over 40,000 picture books, early readers, chapter books, nonfiction, graphic novels, and learning videos for kids 12 and under. After 30 days, the subscription fee is $7.99 per month for up to four children. In addition, Epic! has a special offer through June 30 where teachers can share free remote student access with parents to support distance learning during COVID-19.

Scribd – 30-day free trial for unlimited access to ebooks, audiobooks, magazines, news, and sheet music. After 30 days, subscription fee is $9.99 per month.

Ebooks for People with Reading Barriers (Free and Paid)

Bookshare  – in addition to nearly 10,000 freely available books (see above), Bookshare has over 830,000 titles including textbooks, popular series, bestsellers, accelerated and Lexile readers, and children’s books in easy-to-read formats like audio, audio + highlighted text, braille, and large font. Membership is FREE for U.S. schools and students with qualifying reading barriers like dyslexia, blindness, and cerebral palsy through an award from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), U.S. Department of Education.

Learning Ally – Over 80,000 human-narrated audiobooks for students with reading-based learning differences such as dyslexia and available for a subscription fee of $135/year. Learning Ally is offering a COVID-19 relief program through August 1 that gives schools free access to the library and a discounted subscription price of $99/year for families. 

The Bookshare team hopes that teachers and parents can take advantage of these books to support learning during this difficult and turbulent time.

2 Comments

  1. Jody Garry

    I signed up for bookshare for my 10 year old daughter who has used it in the past (at school); however we opted out of her IEP this past fall because her school services were not “serving her.” Instead, we pay for a private tutor. She is unable to goto her tutor, is their any way she can get access to your site? She enjoys while listening, especially the way the words are highlighted as she reads and more space is between each word. Please consider our request. She is one of four kids, and as a child with learning difficulties this is an especially difficult time for her.
    Thank you for considering.

    • Laura Deck, Bookshare Communications

      Jody: Your daughter should still have an account even if she no longer has an IEP. All that is required for membership is a Proof of Disability signed by a competent authority. I will forward your inquiry to our wonderful Bookshare Customer Support team (and copy you) and they can check on the status of her membership and provide assistance. You can also contact them directly: support@bookshare.org or call 650-352-0198 (M-F, 9-5 PT)

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