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Where to Access Free Books for Kids During Covid-19

Depending on where you live, you and your family are likely well over a month into quarantine. Even the most prepared parent or caregiver is probably running low on new, fun books to read. Libraries and schools across the country are closed, most bookstores are closed (although many are offering curbside pickup or delivery, so do try to support them if you are financially able), and even Amazon deliveries are delayed understandably in order to focus on essential shipping needs. 

With many families facing very tight and sometimes dire financial circumstances right now, creative ways to get free books into the hands of children have never been more needed. 

Fortunately, the literary world is responding. This includes authors, publishing companies, local libraries, and even neighbors making porch drop-offs. This is by no means a comprehensive list of services to help your family access books, but it’s a great starting point.

Overall Resources

  • Your local public library: If you have a library card, you likely have access to audio and digital book subscription services via your library’s website. Every library is operating during this pandemic a little differently, but do check in with their website or on social media, as it is likely your library is ramping up its online/virtual/digital offerings.
  • Little Free Libraries: Take a walk and see if there are any Little Free Libraries in your neighborhood. Be sure to donate a book from your collection, too!
  • Open Library: This is a great site to bookmark. Tons of online books available here, and they have a dedicated children’s library with books sorted by grade level or reading skill or age. 
  • Librivox: There are lots of children’s audiobooks available for free from this service. They also have recommended reading lists by grade level, which is helpful if you feel a little overwhelmed when your child is looking for help choosing a title.
  • Do some swaps: Start a text thread with friends whose kids are similar age or reading level or interests as your kids. Offer up what you have to trade, and see what they have! Then do some safe porch drop-offs (don’t forget to wipe down the books and wash your hands!)

Early Years

  • Imagination Library: Dolly Parton sends free books to kids age 0-5 periodically throughout the year. All you have to do is register on the website. My kids loved every book we received from this program when they were younger. During this pandemic, Dolly is also reading to kids through a program called Goodnight with Dolly. 
  • Unite for Literacy: With over 500 free picture books for preschool and early elementary readers, a free app, and 40 languages to choose from, this is a great place to start for those with young children. We especially liked the new books about washing hands and Coronavirus. Search for topics your child is especially interested in for an even better experience, then let them explore on their own!
  • Local Library Story Times: Many public libraries are continuing their baby, toddler, and preschool story times virtually via Facebook or YouTube. Be sure to see what your local library is offering. If you lack that type of service in your community, we highly recommend Bartholomew County Public Library’s Facebook page. Their children’s librarians are offering really fun and inviting story times during this pandemic, with new sessions posted almost every day. 

Elementary School

  • Dav Pilkey at Home: Calling all Dog Man lovers! Author Dav Pilkey shares videos, challenges, and most importantly, excerpts from his beloved Dog Man books. Each week he adds new content and challenges, so be sure to check back regularly!
  • American Girl Online Library: Each week American Girl Doll will release books from their popular series, including the high quality books that address emotional needs, such as worry and puberty, for free!

Middle School

  • Aiden Tyler, Quaran-teen: Has your child commented that he/she wishes there was a book about what is happening right now? You’re in luck! Each week, the website Junior Library Guild will update the next chapter, so the book unfolds with the current state of the pandemic in America.

High School or Young Adult

  • Spotify: Your teen may already be using Spotify to listen to music and make playlists. You can also stream audiobooks for free from Spotify (who knew?) What’s particularly cool is that a lot of the poetry is read by the poets themselves (search for the Poetry: In Their Own Voices collection). And some of the classic novels are ready by famous actors, which may be just what your teen needs to hear to pique their interest. 
  • Jason Reynolds Grab the Mic program: From the author that brought us Spider-Man Into the Spider Verse and so many other eye-opening and insightful poems and stories, he is posting videos twice a week with writing prompts and other ideas to spur your teen’s creativity and tap into what they may be feeling right now. 

Are you facing any particular challenge in accessing books or reading material for your kids? Send us an email and we’ll try to brainstorm some ideas or ways to help! 

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Reading During the COVID-19 Quarantine: Now is the Time to Raise a Real Reader

With schools (and everything else) closed and lots (and lots and lots) of extra time at home, a golden opportunity has been presented to us parents and caregivers. We have time to read. So do our children. Research has shown us that students are far more likely to read independently and successfully if given time and choice. That’s pretty much all we have right now, right?

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Books and Series To Read When Children Need An Escape

I had just finished reading Erin Entrada Kelly’s beautifully written book Lalani of the Distant Sea when I got a text from my sister about an assignment her fifth grader had just completed: 

He has to write an argumentative essay that names a word of the year, and then defend it. He chose “altercation.” And then wrote paragraphs about mass shootings, everyone fighting about global warming, the potential war with Iran, and immigration. Imagine at 10 years old, the word you think best describes the world is altercation. 

My dreamy thoughts from Lalani quickly came to a halt as I considered this. My sensitive nephew’s world view is just so different from what I remember mine being at age 10. While I could name the current president (Ronald Reagan), my primary troubles were saving enough money for more stickers for my sticker album or wondering if Friday’s episode of Full House would be a rerun. 

It’s not always feasible to offer our children opportunities to escape the current events of both their immediate world and the larger, global world.

But books can be that temporary vacation from reality and offer us (adults and children alike) a much needed respite from the constant barrage of pain and suffering.

Whole worlds are awaiting us between the covers of books. As a long-time advocate of realistic fiction as a tool to develop empathy and understanding, I’ve recently found myself drawn more to fantasy. It’s like my brain and my heart simply need to disconnect from our reality from time to time. 

Fantasy books or series for beginning chapter book readers: 

Dragon Masters series by Tracey West

Owl Diaries and/or Unicorn Diaries series by Rebecca Elliott

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

The Last Firehawk series by Katrina Charman

Princess in Black series by Shannon Hale 

Secrets of Droon series by Tony Abbott

Princess Pink and the Land of Fake-Believe series by Noah Z. Jones

Creature Campers series by Joe McGee

Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot series by Dav Pilkey

Fantasy books or series for upper elementary or middle school readers: 

Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly

The Tale of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Wings of Fire series by Tui T. Sutherland

Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

The Land of Stories series by Chris Colfer

Any series by Rick Riordan

Fantasy books or series for Young Adult (YA): 

The Children of the Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (Legacy of Orisha series)

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi

Graceling, by Kristin Cashore

Stardust and Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

Popular fantasy authors with high school students:

Neal Shusterman

Rick Riordan

Christopher Paolini

Erin Hunter 

Ally Condie 

Holly Black

Marie Lu 

Garth Nix

Stephanie Garber  

It’s not that fantasy is problem-free. It’s just that they aren’t exactly like our current problems, and so that alone feels like an escape. When the good character wins in the end, it seems easier to believe that it’s possible for that to happen in the real world, too.

These books can fill us with hope at a time when hope seems in short supply.

In Lalani of the Distant Sea, Lalani overcomes a series of physical and mental challenges away from her village, while unknowingly providing the spark for change against oppression back home. Sounds like the type of uplifting story your ten-year-old should be filling his head with, right?

We want our children to grow up to be engaged, informed citizens. It’s important that they not be shielded from current events and what’s happening in the world around them completely. But reality in 2020 is heavy, and we all need that weight removed from our shoulders occasionally, even if it’s just for the time it takes us to cozy up and read a good book.

*This post contains Amazon Affiliate links.

We offer more book recommendations here. Craving even more reliable book recommendations? A roundup of our favorite resources is here.

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Book Review: Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

Over the course of my adult years, I’ve dipped in and out of a few book clubs. One of the reasons I love participating in book clubs is that it inevitably inspires me to read books I might not otherwise select myself. Such is the case with Renee Watson’s Piecing Me Together. I typically enjoy reading young adult books, but I’m not sure I would have stumbled upon this title without the encouragement of my book club.

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Fact vs. Fiction: Learning What’s Real and What’s Not Through Reading

I was a journalism major, graduating in 2002. Thousands of miles away, at the exact moment I was practicing how to craft compelling, accurate newspaper headlines and write engaging magazine articles, Mark Zuckerberg was inventing Facebook in his dorm room at Harvard and changing how we get our news forever. I often wonder how drastically different my journalism education would be if I was a student now and not pre-social media.

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Family Favorite Reads from 2018-2019

The 2018-2019 school year is in officially in the books for our part of the country and nearing the end for most everyone else. As classroom teachers helped kids collect memories for yearbooks and best of lists, we wondered what books members of our families will remember most. And be sure you’re following us on social media this summer: we’ve taken the #bookaday challenge and we’re sharing book recommendations each and every day! (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter)

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Tips for Making Spelling Practice Easier

It’s always around late April and May when our after school homework routine starts getting more than a little unruly. Motivation is lacking and warmer weather outside beckons. Practicing spelling week after week is high on the list of boring, routine tasks for my kids… dare I say most kids?

We can debate the merits of assigning weekly spelling lists, but the reality is it is still prevalent as a common assignment. (We don’t mean to be dismissive of spelling altogether; there are studies that suggest that as students’ spelling improves, so does their reading and writing skills.)

Keep these three words in mind as you help your child work through spelling: manageable, personal, and fun.

Practicing spelling shouldn’t take hours and it certainly need not look like a Pinterest project. I did a quick search and was astonished at the complexity of some spelling activities floating around out there on the internet. Yikes. For my family, half the battle is finding the time, so don’t get bogged down by anything complicated.

Here are some simple ideas to take the drudgery out of spelling practice.  

Make Spelling Manageable

Focus on the words they struggle with. There will likely be words on the weekly list that they are already spelling confidently. Don’t feel obligated to keep drilling your child on those words!

Work on a few words each day instead of all the words the night before. This is especially important if your child struggles with focus and attention span (what kid doesn’t struggle with that after a long day at school?) Try making it a small part of your daily routine. A few examples:

  • Every morning at breakfast, go over 5 words while you slurp cereal or wait for the toast to pop up.
  • Write the tricky words on the bathroom mirror so children see them while brushing their teeth.
  • Keep a copy of the list in your car, and go over words while you wait in the drive thru, sit through siblings’ sports practices, or as you run errands.

Make Spelling Personal

Customize your study habits around their preferences. For example, my first grader hates to write, so we usually practice his spelling words out loud. My fourth grader struggles to spell his longer words out loud, so he always writes them out.

Allow open book practice. To be a great speller, repetition is the most important component. Let your child copy the words straight off the list, especially at first when they’re seeing them for the first time.

If giving your child a bunch of practice tests isn’t working well or you just need to mix up the routine, let your child quiz you. Have them grade you. They won’t even realize they’re “studying” the words by doing so.

Make Spelling Fun

Try plugging the weekly list into a crossword or word search puzzle generator (there are lots of free options online). Older children can probably do this themselves!

Test out some spelling apps. Your child’s teacher may already be using tools like this. Ask if your child can sign in from home for extra practice.

Use manipulatives, like letter blocks, or allow your child to type the words on a keyboard.

If they’re struggling with a particular word or letter pattern, teach them little tricks to master it, like silly songs or rhymes.

How do you practice spelling words with your child? Leave us a comment and let us know what works well in your house!


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Bedtime Reading: Common Struggles and Simple Solutions

We love getting feedback and questions from you, our readers. One of the hottest topics in our inbox and on our social media channels is about bedtime reading routines. Not surprising, as it’s one of those staples from childhood that has stood the test of time, from generation to generation. I imagine (perhaps naively) families gathered around candlelight reading aloud together from treasured books centuries ago, and I know many parents still make reading together at night before bed a daily priority, even in the era of screens.

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