Screen time=reading time

Computer - September 2005


Jane Huth

I love to hold a book in my hand and turn the pages, and so do my children. Yet, I spend a huge amount of time sitting in front of a computer screen reading. My children spend their computer time playing, but I’d like to change that.

Now that my children are reading, I’ve been pushing them toward Web sites that offer books online. They aren’t easy to find, as most are ads for particular authors’ works, but more and more children’s books are appearing on Web sites.

No, reading pages on a computer screen is not the same as curling up with a good book. But reading is reading, and I’m all for encouraging reading as much as possible. Plus, I want my kids to know the computer is more than a toy.

Many Web sites offer online access to children’s books. Some sites are so-so; others are excellent. Some offer only excerpts and others feature scanned versions of the actual books. A few charge as much as $40 per year, a great idea if they had thousands of books (easier than driving to the library), but a bit pricey for access to fewer than 100 books.

Here are five free Web sites my children and I like. Bookmark your kids’ favorites, and let them read to their heart’s content.


If you don’t have time to make it to the library, or if your child reads one of nine languages—including Chinese, Hebrew and Arabic—visit this site. Sponsored by the University of Maryland, the International Children’s Digital Library is an online library of hundreds of published books for children ages 3 to 13, all in their original languages. Some of the books are old and out of copyright; others are published with permission from the publisher and author. The books are grouped by age: 3 to 5, 7 to 9 and 11 to 13. When I looked at the site it offered 727 books, but new titles are added all the time. Each month the site features books in different age groups. Recently my 8-year-old read Axle the Freeway Cat by Thacher Hurd, a clever book about a cat who lives in a car. It would be nice if the books were read aloud, but that’s a small complaint about this useful, ad-free site.


Kids in middle school and older will enjoy reading classic poetry and fiction on this site. I found it a little strange to read a book such as H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man on a computer screen, but kids used to reading just about everything on the screen won’t miss a thing.

Included is the Harvard Classics collection of essays, plays, biographies and other works, such as Grimms’ Fairy Tales and Aesop’s Fables. The Harvard Shelf of Fiction offers complete books by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, George Elliott, Guy de Maupassant, Tolstoy and many others.

The site also has an excellent collection of classic poetry, nonfiction and reference books, including Fanny Farmer’s famous 1918 cookbook and Emily Post’s 1922 classic, Etiquette.


While not strictly for children, this site includes the text of many classic books for children by authors such as J. M. Barrie, Beatrix Potter, Jules Verne and Lewis Carroll, among others.

A few of the books, including Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, are illustrated; most are not. The site includes a few ads, but nothing I found offensive. For older kids, there are also collections of Shakespeare, poetry, drama and short stories.


Beatrix Potter’s books are all over the Web, since the cute illustrations of Peter Rabbit and the author’s words are now out of copyright and in the public domain. This site from Ohio University offers downloads of Potter’s works in English, French, German and Japanese, and illustrated text in English and Japanese. It also includes audio with modern illustrations of the complete Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, selections of Grimms’ Fairy Tales and of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, and Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.


My son used this well-designed site to read easy books when he was in first grade. For nonreaders, the books are read out loud. Emerging readers can read by themselves, but click on words they don’t know to have them read aloud.

The site, a public service from a greeting card publisher, has four levels from preschool through second grade, although it is aimed primarily at children in first grade. The easiest level teaches letter sounds, and the hardest level, for advanced beginning readers, includes Chinese folktales and Greek myths, as well as plays, comics and fiction.

It’s simple to navigate, and the books are easy to read and full of bright graphics. There are lots of stories, so kids can return again and again to the site without getting bored.

Jane Huth lives in the north suburbs with her husband, a second-grader, a kindergartner and a baby.


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