Free E-books for Youth

Stuck inside? Fortunately, there are still lots of ways to access books for kids. Many public libraries have a large number of e-books available for checkout. Some are even making it possible to get a library card online. Many academic libraries have children’s books available to those with a library account. To see what is available from the University of Illinois library, use the advanced search tool and the key terms “juvenile fiction” for fiction or “juvenile literature” for nonfiction, add a search term for what you are interested in, and limit the search to electronic.

Don’t have access to a library? No worries! Find below three resources that provide free access to numerous children’s books. All that is needed is an internet connection.

International Children’s Digital Library (ICDL)
As the name suggests, the ICDL provides access to books in a wide variety of languages from all over the world. The search function is kid-friendly and provides a great opportunity for kids to start learning how to use library tools. Searches can be limited by suggested age, length, and even cover color. The ICDL also has virtual “exhibitions” containing books with specific themes, such as “celebrating differences” and “forever friendship.” This library is a lot of fun to explore, but here are a few choice reads to get you started:

Brumbeau, Jeff
The Quiltmaker’s Gift. 2001 (Picture Book).
In this fantastically bright and colorful story, a master quiltmaker tells a greedy king that if he wants one of her quilts, he must give away his worldly possessions to those in need. Frustrated, he chains her inside of a bear cave. Will she escape? Will this selfish king ever see the error of his ways? Vivid and intricate illustrations are sure to keep little ones engaged.

Dixit, Kanak Mani
Adventures of a Nepali Frog. 2003 (Chapter Book).
Travel vicariously through beautiful Nepal with Bhaktaprasad Bhyaguto, a daring young frog. Follow along as he floats down the Bishnumati river in a tin can. Join him as he meets the fascinating animals of Chitwan National Park. There is no telling where Bhatktaprasad will end up next!

The Cries of London. 1821 (Picture Book).
Looking for something completely different? Take a walk through the bustling streets of early 19th century London in this introduction to community people. You might even pick up some old-timey English slang along the way.

Project Gutenberg
Some readers may be familiar with Project Gutenberg, a massive compilation of free digitized works, most of which are out of copyright. But did you know that the project has an entire children’s bookshelf? While many of the books on this site predate 1924, it’s a great way to catch up on classics such as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and Little Women. Here are a few other hidden gems you may enjoy:

Cowper, William
The Diverting History of John Gilpin. 1878 (Picture Book).
This hilarious rhyming story follows John Gilpin, a luckless man who finds himself trapped on a speeding horse as he tries to meet his wife for dinner. Notably, this book is illustrated by Randolph Caldecott, whose name is honored in the award given each year to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book. The image engraved on the Caldecott medal is in fact the unfortunate John Gilpin.

Nesbit, E.
The Book of Dragons. 1899 (Chapter Book).
An early pioneer of the Fantasy genre, E. Nesbit has crafted a wonderful compilation of stories in this book that has withstood the test of time. These eight different tales, which tell the stories of creatures both evil and good, are sure to delight dragon fans of all ages.

The “Punky Dunk” Series. 1912 (Picture Books).
In a style similar to the Little Golden Books (although published 30 years earlier), these wholesome picture books follow Punky Dunk, a mischievous little kitten who always ends up getting into trouble. Readers will enjoy seeing their own pet’s antics reflected in Punky Dunk.

Audiobooks more your thing? Librivox provides access to many of the same titles as Project Gutenberg, that is, titles no longer under copyright, however these are all read aloud by volunteers. In addition to listening, readers can also volunteer to record a book themselves. To find children’s books, simply go to the catalog and click on “Genre/Subject.” The first several entries are subsets of children’s fiction. Listed here are a few fun picks to check out:

Burgess, Thornton W.
The Adventures of Reddy Fox. 1913 (Chapter Book).
From conservationist and prolific children’s author Thornton W. Burgess, nicknamed the “Bedtime Story-Man,” comes this story of a rambunctious young fox living with his grandmother. Granny Fox knows all the tricks of the trade, from stealing Farmer Brown’s chickens to evading hound dogs, and she is eager to share them with Reddy. Laugh along as Reddy learns from the best!

Jenks, Tudor
Galopoff, the Talking Pony. 1901 (Chapter Book).
For one day a year, animals are able to talk to humans, and on this day Galopoff the pony regales his owner with tales of his marvelous adventures in Russia. Paced surprisingly well for modern audiences, Galopoff’s action-packed account of his life is sure to please.

Ozaki, Yei Theodora
Japanese Fairy Tales. 1908 (Fairy Tales).
In compiling and editing these stories, Ozaki’s goal was to reframe traditional Japanese fairy tales to be more accessible to Western children while maintaining accuracy. Each of these 21 tales tells a colorful story of a lesson learned.