Wednesday, August 18, 2010

free books and stories and fables and poems and rhymes, all online, in so many languages!

While researching my articles on French language activities for Multilingual Living, I realized that I could probably stop buying books for Griffin entirely--both in English and in French--beause so very many books exist online already, and some on websites that can even boast animation and/or professional narrators!

(Oh, let's be honest. I'll never stop buying books.)

Anyway, here are some sites that I've explored lately. I hope you'll enjoy them too!

free online children's books--because you can't always find an older cousin to read to you

I first blogged about this program three years ago; read my original post about how it works, the few aspects I don't like about it, and how you could use it in a language classroom. Briefly, you select a picture book, chapter book, or nonfiction book in English, French, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, or Russian. (Predictably, English predominates; click on the "language learning" button at the top of the page to access the books in one of the other languages.) You watch the story unfurl onscreen, with a narrator reading aloud while the lines of text are highlighted like a karaoke storytime. You can opt to have it advance automatically or manually. Many of the picture books have activities that accompany them--matching games, quiz questions, and so forth. If your public library or school doesn't subscribe to Tumblebooks, you can access it through the Lafayette Public Library's kid's stuff page.

We Give Books:
At this charitable giving site, everytime you read a book, the publisher (Penguin Books) will donate one to the nonprofit organization of your choice. You have to sign up (for free) and the selection is fairly limited (smaller than Tumblebooks), but it's hard to argue with the idea! The books, all in English, are geared to ages ten and under and include both DK nonfiction titles (which my kids in Reading Buddies love) and familiar picture books--definitely a plus. You (or your child) do have to actually read the book yourself from pages identical to those of the printed book.

Lire et RéCréer:
This site in French has short stories, fables, poems, and nursery rhymes, both classic and contemporary. The text is presented on the screen, often with simple animation and background music, but the reader is (usually) invited to pronounce it aloud (note that music will start when the site is opened).The tales are divided by genre and also by age. It doesn't have as many "bells and whistles" as Tumblebooks, but it's all in French and the selection (and variety of genres) is a lot better!

Like Tumblebooks, Librivox reads books to you; unlike Tumblebooks, this program focuses on books for adults, and all of the texts are recorded by volunteers from their homes, which makes the sound quality less professional. On the other hand, this means that new texts are constantly being added. (By "new," I mean "previously unrecorded." The books are limited to those in the public domain, which means nothing from the past few decades.) Librivox offers texts in just about any language you can think of, limited only by the languages that their volunteer readers around the world speak, from Catalan to Korean to Latvian to Old English to Tagalog to Urdu (click here and select a language from the drop-down menu to see what books are available in the languages of your choice). Among their choices in French, I haven't found anything appropriate for Griffin or Carl--even the fables by Jean de la Fontaine would go over their heads, at least without illustrations, and no way would I give a preschooler the original versions of Charles Perrault's fairy tales! In English, though, they have stories by Beatrix Potter, Thornton Burgess, Aesop, and Mother Goose, plus The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (and with 10,000+ texts in English, many more are bound to be appropriate for kids).

Reading A-Z:
I found this one almost four years ago, before I started working as a reading enrichment program coordinator at the library; I'll be exploring it more thoroughly now to steal (er, adapt) some of their ideas for my Reading Buddies. As I stated in my original post, you must purchase a subscription ($85/year for one classroom) to access all of their materials, but they also offer a generous number of free samples. You print out the black-line books and staple them together (then the kids can color them themselves). As the site is designed for teachers of English, the vast majority of their books are in English, but they also have a selection in French and in Spanish (both translations of their original books in English). The subheading on the home page of this site claims "Everything You Need to Teach Reading," and I pretty much believe them--everything from phonics to poetry to readers' theatre to worksheets to lesson plans to assessments is here.

Enchanted Learning:
Like Reading A-Z, this subscription-based site markets itself to teachers with printable books and worksheets. Its offerings are much more limited when it comes to books, but the site provides more printable activities, games, and worksheets. You can also access all of their materials without subscribing ($20/year) if you're willing to look at ads and not have the prettiest versions of the pages when you print them. While Reading A-Z seems very educational, the Enchanted Learning stuff strikes me as more fun. Check out their materials, including short printable books, about Africa and Kwanzaa, in American Sign Language, about Canada, about China and the Chinese New Year, in Spanish and about Cinco de Mayo and Dia de los Muertos, in French, in Swedish, in Dutch, in German, in Hebrew and about Hanukkah, in Italian, about Japan and Japanese crafts, in Portuguese, in Russian, and about geography in general. Enchanted Learning's materials in English are divided into categories on the home page.

So now it's your turn!  What do you think about sites like these?  Do you prefer the interactive ones or the simpler text-based sites?  Which are your favorites (and least favorites) (and why)?  What others do you recommend?

Note: Do check out the comments, where readers have recommended many more worthy sites in the past two three years!


  1. Have you seen the International Children's Digital Library? You don't have to sign up and they have several children's books available on-line in various languages (Arabic, Chinese, Spanish and many more). You have to read them yourself, however; there's no audio.

    At the school where I teach we subscribe to CapStone books. They have books with audio in English and Spanish as well as comprehension quizzes to go with most of them. There's a great selection of non-fiction for kids there, too. I'm not sure if you can get it without paying, but when I click on the link from my school's website I don't have to log in or anything.

    1. Reading Makes Your Child Smarter

      Reading is known to have numerous benefits. It increases your world knowledge, enhances your vocabulary, and works to improve your reading comprehension abilities.

      But did you know that reading can actually make you smarter?

      In fact, reading not only can make a child smarter, the very act of reading can even help to compensate for modest levels of cognitive ability in children by building their vocabulary and general knowledge! This is a finding reported by researchers Cunningham and Stanovich in a report titled "What Reading Does For the Mind".

      The simple fact here is that reading can make your child smarter, and that learning to read early on is directly linked to later success in life.

      1) Did you know that your child's vocabulary at 3 years old predicts his or her grade one reading success? [1]

      2) Did you know that vocabulary and reading ability in first grade strongly predicts grade 11 outcomes? [2]

      3) Did you know that your child's reading skill in grade 3 directly influences high school graduation? Studies have found that children who cannot read proficiently by grade 3 are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma than proficient readers! [3]

      >> Give your child the best possible head start. Teach your child to read today. Click here to learn how.

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      With the right tools, knowledge, and techniques, teaching young children to read can be a simple and effective process. I'd like to introduce you to a fantastic reading program called Children Learning Reading, a super effective method for teaching children to read - even children as young as just 2 or 3 years old.

      The creators of this program have used it to teach their four children to read before age 3, and by reading, I mean real, phonetic reading.

      I can understand if you find that hard to believe... In fact, I had a difficult time believing it myself as well... that is, until I saw the videos they posted documenting the reading progress of the their children - not to mention all the videos other parents have sent in showcasing their children's reading progress after using the Children Learning Program. After learning more about their methods and techniques, it became clear how it's possible to teach young children to read effectively.

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      >> Click here now to watch the videos and start teaching your child to read.

      1. Vocabulary Development and Instruction: A Prerequisite for School Learning
      Andrew Biemiller, University of Toronto

      2. Early reading acquisition and its relation to reading experience and ability 10 years later.
      Cunningham AE, Stanovich KE.

      3. Double Jeopardy How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation
      Donald J. Hernandez, Hunter College and the Graduate Center,

  2. Kara--No, I have never heard of these two before! Thanks so much for sharing (especially your school's link to CapStone). They look very impressive.

  3. The Children's Library at is also good for stories with audio in several languages.

  4. Merci bien, Jennie! I took a peek at the French stories in the children's library--ten pages of stories! Many of them are translations, especially of fairy tales by Andersen and Grimm, but there's also Perrault, la Fontaine, even Le petit prince and an anonymous Australian legend!

  5. I know LibriVox. The thing that bothers me most about it: Sometimes it's not the same reader that reads the story all the way through. Which is really irritating because you get use to a reader's intonation and style and then suddenly it changes and you have to adapt all over again. I tried to record for them as well, and it seems that you are only allowed to do a certain amount of chapters when you start out which is why some books are put together this way and others are probably re-recorded. Since this bothered me so much, I did not record because I could not put anyone through what I had been through when the reader changed.

    As for the rest, I will check it out.

    Also try They email you sections of books daily, weekly or whatever arrangement you choose, and they have books in french, spanish and some other languages.

  6. Thanks, Keda! This info about LibriVox is quite interesting. How unfortunate. (But how nice of you to have volunteered your services as a reader!)

    Dailylit intrigues me. Here's a link to their selection of children's books (currently 31) in English: You'll see the expected fairy tales, but also some other fantastic tomes, like my beloved Anne of Green Gables.

    Here's their offerings in French (currently 42 books): Other than perhaps Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne, the books are definitely better suited for adults than children (Proust and Baudelaire, anyone?), but I also noticed a few plays by Moliere. If those are read by good actors (and/or by several different readers embodying the different characters), this could be an amazing resource! (I love the theatre.)

  7. Stories in French

    Stories in English

    Stories in over 21 languages

  8. Wow! Thanks for the fantastic suggestions, Anonymous. "Racontine" is exactly what I'm looking for in French for Griffin--simple stories, simple animation, native-speaking narrator. (There do not appear to be many choices for stories, however.)

    "Signed Stories" looks very cool, too. I like how they divide the stories up by theme and age level and that the books are contemporary and popular. The animation and sound effects are more sophisticated than that on a lot of the other sites reviewed here. Most impressive is the sign language interpreter who tells each story and acts it out with appropriate body language and facial expressions!

    Finally, "BookBox" does offer materials in 21 languages, but users have to pay to access to most of them. The animation and karaoke features are good, but the sound is a little tinny. You can purchase downloadable books, printable books, videos for your iPod, and DVDs.

    What amazing resources!

  9. Thanks for all the wonderful tips, there is plenty here to keep us going for a very longtime.

    Thanks for linking up to the carnival!

  10. Some French textbooks (for children who speak French, that is) are available for free at La Librarie des Ecoles:

  11. Here's another suggestion from a reader named Kendra, who heard about the site at a Colorado language teachers' conference: Children's Books Forever.

    It offers free downloads of children's picture books in 12 languages.

  12. Another good site for bilingual children's books is This site has lots of bilingual Spanish and English kids stories and many of the stories have a vocabulary list at the end to make it easy to learn either Spanish or English.

  13. Thank you, Lori, for sharing this realatively new site with us! I like how they classify the tales by recommended age group. It looks like many (but not all) of the bilingual stories featured here are drawn from the Bible.

  14. Yet another site: Storyline Online,

    From the Screen Actors Guild Foundation, the website of this nonprofit project features videos of actors (many quite famous, like Betty White, Hector Elizondo, and Elijah Wood) reading picture books in English, including such beloved classics as The Rainbow Fish, Stellaluna, and The Polar Express. Enrichment activities accompany each of the 25 or so books.

  15. Okay, so isn't free--you must pay to subscribe--but it looks to be similar to Tumblebooks, perhaps with a greater selection of familiar picture books.

    You can watch and listen to this one by William Steig for free:

  16. Oh, now this site is super-cool:

    It's a page with links to 29 other sites which read stories to children, some from a specific author (like Robert Munsch and Marc Brown), some from magazines (National Geographic Explorer, Highlights), some familiar (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day), many not.

  17. Aaaaaand here's a blog post with descriptions of sites that offer free children's books in English, including free ones for e-readers:

  18. Plus our first entry featuring comic books--narrated aloud in a lively fashion--in five languages! There aren't a lot of choices (currently, at least), but they're bound to appeal to a wide range of kids.

  19. Found another site! offers scanned copies of some of Hans Wilhelm's picture books, available in 10+ languages. (Wilhelm, originally from Germany, lives in the US and writes in English.) Viewing the books (including their illustrations) is free; you can purchase versions with audio for tablets and smart phones.

    Currently 13 books are available in French.

  20. Want to print your own books in French? Scholastic Canada offers 25+ printable books for emergent readers. The illustrations are black-and-white line drawings--so your kids can color them!--and the pages print four to a sheet (you cut and collate them).

    These simple (and often cute) books use a great deal of repetition and context cues so that beginning readers will be able to understand and feel proud for reading books all by themselves!


    free audio books -- classics in English plus some language learning books -- mostly adult works, plus some especially appropriate for younger readers (listeners?) such as The Swiss Family Robinson, Alice in Wonderland, Tom Sawyer, and American Indian Folklore and Fairy Tales.

  22. This post from a Quebecoise elementary school teacher gathers 20+ links to websites that will read aloud stories in French. Some are already listed above, but most are new to me!

  23. I have bilingual editions of Alice in Wonderland in over a dozen languages and a few other kid friendly books as well at

    1. What a wonderful idea, Bilinguis, to offer the side-by-side translations of these classics! I am thrilled to see "Alice" because I own very few chapter books for children, so I can read this with my son. Thanks for sharing!

      Do you anticipate adding more texts to the site?

  24. Question: I am wondering if you are aware of ANY completely FREE online language courses/tutorials for newborns? Does such a thing exist? Thanks

  25. Let's see....if by "newborns" you mean babies, then no, I 'm not familiar with anything free and online. But if you're looking for help as a beginner in French, I can recommend this site from the University of Texas: Good luck!

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    3. Bonjour DM ! Honestly, Little Pim's DVDs don't impress me, but I haven't looked at their other materials. Thanks for the recommendation.

      Can I ask why you hate Martinique (and where you're from originally)? I would love to visit your island, and Guadeloupe, and basically any French-speaking island!

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  26. As a mom to 4 year kid finding stories, fables and rhymes for kids online is very useful for me.

    1. reading a-z has lots of emergent readers in french!

    2. Yes--I just wish that they were written by native speakers of French and took place in Francophone countries, rather than being direct translations of the English emergent readers!

  27. A few more pages of recommendations worth checking out: (Beatrix Potter) (audio files from storytelling festivals)

  28. Holy cow, there are a lot of resources mentioned here! I am really enjoying checking them out, one at a time. My kids love anything on a computer or tablet screen.

    But as a side note... nothing beats the feel of a real, live book in your hands, does it?

    1. Jana, thank you! Too many resources, really….I have been meaning to triage this list, perhaps turn it into a spreadsheet….

      I totally agree with you about the tactile pleasures of holding a book and turning its pages, except in the middle of the night when I can't sleep and am so grateful for my iPad and the digital books I borrow from the library!

      Oh, and I do appreciate being able to find free kids' books in French for my family--shipping costs from Europe (and even Canada) are huge!

  29. And here's 13 animated picture books in French (thanks to Bonne Maman for the suggestion):

  30. I'm back with more! Here's a particularly valuable resource for parents raising their kids bilingually: a carefully curated list of books available with audio files for free:

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