If your child has trouble with reading, it can help her to hear books read aloud as she looks at the printed words. She can do this by listening to an audiobook while flipping through a traditional book. Or she 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, your child can read textbooks and children’s classics. She can also read current bestsellers and magazines. If your child is a member of Bookshare, she can access as many books as she wants to read. She 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 need to show that your child has a disability that prevents her from reading traditional print books. Students with learning issues like dyslexia may qualify. You can get 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. (For everyone else, it costs $50 per year, plus a one-time $25 setup fee.) Bookshare is funded by the U.S. Department of Education and is a program of Understood founding partner Benetech.
Did you know that your child may be eligible for free digital text-to-speech books? Sign up.
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. So your child will need to listen to the audiobook while looking at the traditional printed book.
Schools and libraries may also provide free digital text-to-speech books to students. Some schools may even give your child a Bookshare membership if she has a 504 plan or an IEP for reading issues. Talk to the school staff or librarian about which programs are 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 a reading issue, 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 as she listens 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 will 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, your child must first download the free digital book to a computer or mobile device. Then she 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.)
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.