At a glance
Audiobooks and digital text-to-speech books can be a good way to help kids with reading challenges.
You can get these books for free from libraries, schools, and online sources like Bookshare.
Talk to your school and local library about what’s available for your child.
When kids have trouble with reading, it can help them to hear books read aloud as they look at the printed words. They can do this by listening to an audiobook while flipping through a traditional book. Or they can use text-to-speech to hear the words in a digital book.
You can find free options for both audiobooks and digital text-to-speech books. Here’s where to look.
Bookshare is a leading source for free digital text-to-speech books. It’s the largest online library of accessible reading materials.
Through the service, kids can read textbooks and children’s classics. They can also read current bestsellers and magazines. Kids who are members of Bookshare can access as many books as they want. They can use Bookshare on a computer or Chromebook, or on a smartphone or digital tablet using Voice Dream Reader or Bookshare’s Read2Go (iOS) and Go Read (Android) apps.
To join Bookshare, you or your child’s teacher need to show that your child has a disability that presents a barrier to reading traditional print books. Students with learning differences like may qualify. So may students with low vision or blindness, among other disabilities.
A Bookshare account might be a support included on an IEP. If not, you can sign up for an account for your child by providing documentation of your child’s reading disability through an evaluation.
Bookshare is free for all qualifying U.S. students. That includes students in college and adult education programs. (Non-students with a disability that prevents reading traditional print books can subscribe for a fee.) Bookshare is funded by the U.S. Department of Education and is a program of Understood founding partner Benetech.
Schools and libraries
Your child’s school and your local library can also be great sources for free audiobooks and digital text-to-speech books. Library audiobooks aren’t usually synced up with text. Kids will need to listen to the audiobook while reading along in the traditional printed book.
Schools and libraries may also provide free digital text-to-speech books to students. Some schools may even give kids a Bookshare membership if they have a or an for reading challenges.
Also, many public libraries offer access to Libby, while school districts may offer access to Sora. Both apps allow you to borrow audiobooks (including many new and popular releases) with no fees or subscription costs. Talk with the staff at your public library or school about which apps may be available for your child.
There are dozens of websites that provide free audiobooks and digital books. These sites don’t require that you “prove” your child has trouble with reading. But the selection is usually limited to older classic books. Here are a few helpful sites.
- Storynory offers free audiobooks for young children. Titles include fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood and classics like Alice in Wonderland. Each audiobook includes the digital text of the book.
- Lit2Go provides free audiobook versions of books that are no longer protected by copyright laws. (Other sites, like LibriVox, provide a similar service.) Lit2Go offers downloadable PDFs of books so your child can read along while listening to classics like The Call of the Wild. The site also categorizes books by reading level.
- Project Gutenberg is another option. You won’t find any recent bestsellers there. But you’ll find more than 50,000 free classic books in digital format. The majority are digital books that can be read with text-to-speech. To have them read aloud, kids must first download the free digital book to a computer or mobile device. Then they can use text-to-speech technology to have the book read aloud. (One option is to download books directly from Project Gutenberg to the Voice Dream Reader app.)
- Audible is Amazon’s audiobook website. It has many paid audiobooks. But there are also many “free listens” — you can stream hundreds of free audiobooks. Simply sign in with your Amazon account.
You may want to learn more about the differences between audiobooks and text-to-speech. You can also explore other free or low-cost ways to get help for your child.
Listening to a book being read aloud while looking at the words printed on the page helps kids build reading skills.
A Bookshare membership is free for students with a documented reading disability.
There are many online sites with free audiobooks and digital books.
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About the author
About the author
The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.
Jamie Martin is an assistive technology specialist at the New England Assistive Technology Center (NEAT) in Hartford, Connecticut.