Adele has been a youth services librarian in public libraries for 20 years.
No-Cost Books That Are Easy to Access
I recently saw a social media post from a mom who was trying to find her son, a voracious reader, something new to read. The libraries were all closed, and she didn’t have the money to buy a lot of books for him.
I’m a children’s librarian, and I made it my mission to find some places where she could find books that didn’t cost anything. They had to be good quality, the kind of books I would recommend in my library. I also wanted them to be easy to get to—just click and you’re there. Some involve a little more effort, like the free books from Amazon, but they have such a good selection that I thought they were worth the extra steps.
The following sites are the best ones I’ve found so far. Keep checking back, because I am adding new sites all the time
For All Ages
These sites have a wide variety of books. You'll find picture story books for the little ones and chapter books for your older kids.
1. Centsless: Top Free Books From Amazon
Centsless monitors the top 100 free children’s books on Amazon on an hourly basis. Selections will change, of course, but I’ve seen quite a few good books that are still in demand with kids in the library where I work. The nice thing about this site is that it selects the most popular books, meaning that you get the cream of the crop and don’t have to wade through a bunch of second-rate stuff.
Among the types of books I've seen are Elmo, joke books, Judy Moody, Mercy Watson, Tail of Emily Windsnap, Disney Treasure Island, Biscuit, and The Secret Garden.
2. Story Time From Space
In Story Time from Space a floating astronaut reads you a story from space. How cool is that? Astronauts read a selection of science and space-themed books. I especially like the one called Ada Twist, Scientist.
3. KidLit TV
On KidLit TV, authors read the books they have written. Most of them are picture books and include fiction and nonfiction. One of my favorites is The Crayon Man about the inventor of Crayola® Crayons.
4. Brightly Read-alouds
I’ve long loved the site Brightly for its booklists, and I was happy to see that they have a read-aloud section. These are quite professionally produced, with excellent sound and clear artwork from the book.
5. Audible: Free Books for Kids
When schools are closed, Audible sometimes makes selected titles free and easy to access. Just choose the title you want and hit “play,” and the title should play right from your device. They have titles for toddlers up to teenagers, as well as a few music albums for the younger set.
A notable title is the first Harry Potter Book, which goes by its British title Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. They have a good mix of classics and newer titles. If you have a child who was a fan of Ella Enchanted, they have several other books by the author Gail Carson Levine. There are also Winnie the Pooh, Peter Rabbit, and Stone Soup stories. Here are some others I recognized and thought would be good titles, though there are many others:
- Dr. Seuss’s The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins
- The Owl and the Pussycat and Other Nonsense Rhymes
- Just So Stories
- Anne of Green Gables
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
- The Terrible Two
- The Quest for the Diamond Sword (A Minecraft Gamer’s Adventure)
- Mission Unstoppable
- The Fairy’s Mistake
- The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood
- The Swiss Family Robinson
- The Secret Garden
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
- Black Beauty
- The Fairy’s Return
- The Wind in the Willows
- Five Children and It
- The Reluctant Dragon
- The Jungle Book
6. Authors Everywhere
Authors Everywhere is a YouTube channel in which authors read from their books and sometimes lead activities. Books include chapter books and picture books.
For Toddlers Through Kindergarten
Here you will find sites that feature picture books and activities for the youngest children.
1. Laurie Berkner
Laurie Berkner is a favorite of children’s librarians everywhere with her lively music that inspires lots of movement. I especially like” The Goldfish,” “ We Are the Dinosaurs,” “Rocketship Run,”and “Drive My Car.”
Jbrary has long been a go-to source for all types of rhymes and songs for librarians who do storytime, but anyone can take a look at it. You’ll see two women who do every song and rhyme imaginable. Look for the tab called “YouTube Playlists” to see rhymes and songs grouped by theme.
3. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library
Parton has long been involved in literacy, and in her video site she reads stories that have been featured in her Imagination Library.
4. Brooklyn Public Library Virtual Story Time
Lots of libraries do virtual storytimes, especially during school closures, so check your library’s home page and see what they have set up. Here is the link for Brooklyn Public Library, which has storytimes in English and Spanish as well as “Virtual Bedtime Stories.”
5. Children's Books Forever
Children’s Books Forever has nine books by the author Hans Wilhelm. As he explains on his site, the books are out of print in paper form, but he has the rights to post them on the internet. They can be used for non-commercial purposes. They are cute picture books that are about things like bullying and boredom.
For Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade
You will still find a variety of picture books here, especially those about non-fiction topics.
Remember that many of the sites mentioned at the beginning of this article also have books easy reader books and beginning chapter books that are appropriate for these ages.
1. Unite for Literacy
Unite for Literacy features simple and short nonfiction books on topics like shapes, colors, numbers, health, science, cars, animals, etc. They have colorful illustrations or photographs.
To access them, just enter location info for yourself, then you can see the categories and choice. Then you can click on them to get them started. You can also choose to have them read aloud to you.
2. Doodle With Mo Willems
Doodle with Mo Willems features the creator of the beloved book Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus who shows how to draw some doodles often based on writing numbers and then making a picture based on them.
3. Dave Pilkey at Home
I can’t think of a book series that’s more popular right now than Dog Man. Creator Dav Pilkey has outdone himself with this website that celebrates the half-policeman, half-dog that is Dog Man. Kids can read excerpts from the books, watch Pilkey read excerpts, follow along with a video tutorial on how to draw the characters, print out coloring pages, do writing exercises to make their own stories, and do puzzles like word searches and mazes.There’s enough here to keep his many fans busy for a long time.
4. Storyline Online
I was blown away by Storyline Online. What a lot of great stories! There are so many here that I love doing for storytime when our library is open. And, professionally produced, too. Just browsing through, I see The Kissing Hand, Library Lion, Stellaluna, A Bad Case of Stripes, The Empty Pot, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Arnie the Doughnut, Harry the Dirty Dog, and quite a few other fun titles.
5. Madlibs® in the Classroom From Penguin
On this website you can download sample worksheets and Madlibs® templates for grades 1 and 2.
For Grades 4 Through 6
Here you will find sites with free chapter books, including the ever-popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid. You'll also find fun activities to go with the Harry Potter books and an excellent site for kid-friendly videos that are educational and fun.
Don't forget that many of the sites at the beginning of this article have chapter books suitable for older children.
1. Diary of a Wimpy Kid From Funbrain
Before the uber-popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid book was a book, it was a web cartoon on the site called Funbrain, and it is still there in its entirety. If you have a child who hasn’t read the first book in the series yet, this is a good opportunity for them to take a look.
2. Harry Potter at Home
Harry Potter at Home describes itself as “…a free online collection of child-friendly activities, videos, puzzles, illustrations, quizzes, creative ideas, articles and much more, that will help you bring the magic of the wizarding world into your home at this difficult time – as well as keep you all occupied for hours on end!”
Some of the things I’ve had a chance to explore are a name generator, quizzes, word searches, and drawing tutorials.
3. Universal School Library
Sign up for a free account from Universal School Library: then you can 'check out' any of its books. There are no wait-lists and no limit on how many copies of a book can be checked out at any given time. This would be a good option if you want to get a children’s book group going. It looks like you can check out ten books at a time.
This site seems like the best for well-regarded and popular books of all levels. I see quite a few award-winners in their catalog. It looks like they obtained and scanned old library books for their collection, so sometimes you can find some ripped pages, but the books are still readable.
Just browsing through, I see notable titles like The Hunger Games, The Lost Hero (and many other Rick Riordan books), many of the Harry Potter books, Divergent, American Born Chinese, Number the Stars, Holes, Because of Winn-Dixie, Little House on the Prairie, Bud, Not Buddy, Al Capone Does My Shirts, and quite a few more that I consider essential to have in the public library where I work.
Once you get in to the catalog, make sure to narrow your search by clicking on the search terms in the box to the left. You can narrow things down by reading level or by topic, so you won’t have some many titles to comb through.
Once you check out a book, you can read it right in the browser, or you can get an epub that you can read with a compatible app like Overdrive or Adobe Digital Editions.
Available During the 2020 Pandemic
This resource was scheduled to be open to the public through June 30, 2020, or until the end of the US national emergency, whichever date comes latest. Its future availability beyond that is unknown.
4. Kids Should See This
These are curated, kid-friendly videos. I think offerings change, but when I was looking at it, I saw titles such as the Oscar-nominated short One Small Step, an exploding rainbow milk spiral and instructions on how to make a zine from one sheet of paper.
Classicly offers classic books in formats that will work on computers, tablets, phones and Kindle. The books are past copyright protection and are in the public domain. In the young readers section you will find titles like Alice in Wonderland, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Secret Garden, Aesop’s Fables, Anne of Green Gables, Heidi, The Jungle Book, and many others.
© 2020 Adele Jeunette
Which other children's book sites do you like?
Liz Westwood from UK on April 18, 2020:
This is an excellent resource for families during the lockdown.