Free E-Books for School and Beyond

Illustration of three black children and the caption, "Then Daddy Wes told them a story in his soft voice, the voice that could tap, tap, tap Mat and Martha gently on their hearts.
Illustration of three black children and the caption,

Screenshot from the Storyline Online production of To Be a Drum, by Evelyn Coleman. Illustrated by Aminah Robinson.

Do you have a student who needs access to e-books (perhaps to both hear and see text), but does not qualify for Learning Ally or Bookshare?

The question was raised on a popular listserv for educators and Assistive Technology (AT) Specialists. Below are 8 sources to know about. Enjoy! And thank you to the AT and Reading Specialists who generously share their knowledge and expertise through QIAT.


Get a free picture book every day with the FarFaria App (iOS or Android). FarFaria provides stories read aloud by professionals. Text highlighting is an option. Kindergarten to grade 3.  Also a subscription service.


Ask if your school or public library subscribes to TumbleBook. If they do, you have access to hundreds of animated talking picture books, narrated chapter books and graphic novels, as well as videos from National Geographic. Books are streamed from a web browser or on the Tumblebook app.

Storyline Online

This is not exactly a source for e-books, yet an incredible free resource for high-quality narrated stories. Made possible by the Screen Actors Guild Foundation, Storyline Online provides captioned videos of famous actors reading aloud picture books accompanied by music and animated illustrations (yes, the original illustrations!)  Check out Betty White reading Harry the Dirty Dog or James Earl Jones reading To Be a Drum (and disclosing he didn’t read aloud until age 14 because of stuttering and dyslexia). Lots of inspiration for young readers and pre-readers, here. There’s a Vimeo player option for an ad-free experience too.


Over 3,500 free leveled picture books are available via Google’s new free app for learning to read. Created by engineers interested in applying machine learning to literacy software, Rivet does more than offer text to speech with synchronized text highlighting. It will listen to students practice reading, coach on the pronunciation of words, and provide points and badges for encouragement, tracking progress. Significantly, the app also translates and defines words for more than 24 languages. Available for Android and iOS devices, Chromebooks, and even Kindle Fire.

Digital Book Index

This is a comprehensive source for free, downloadable and web-based e-books with support for iPad, Kindle and Nook. Over 165,000 full-text digital books from commercial and non-commercial publishers, universities and more. 85% of the content is free. Some files may be compatible with apps such as Voice Dream Reader for a text-to-speech experience. This is a source for classic and contemporary fiction and non-fiction for adults as well as children.


Bookshare is a comprehensive ebook subscription service (free to users with qualifying disabilities), but it allows anyone to read public domain books using their Bookshare web reader.

Tar Heel Reader is a place to find and write easy-to-read accessible books on a range of topics. All content is read from the Tar Heel Reader website and may be speech enabled and accessed with a range of assistive devices (including switches). Tar Heel Reader is celebrated as a book source for adult emerging readers who too frequently must learn to read with content made for children.

Open eBooks

Thousands of popular books are available free to qualifying communities through Open eBooks. Students do not have to prove a print disability. Teachers and librarians who work with low-income students, students from military families or students in special education can join Open eBooks and provide access codes. The Open eBooks app may be downloaded for use with iOS and Android devices and texts may be read aloud using their built-in text-to-speech features.

Happy reading!

Published On: January 21, 2020Categories: Education, Toolkits
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