Bored and on a budget? Here’s how to read for free while social distancing
In the past week, publishers and audio entertainment companies have offered a deluge of free e-books and audiobooks to keep readers of all ages engaged while they’re hunkered down at home.
Parents, teachers and kids can choose from electronic editions of beloved stories such as Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” Ann McGovern’s “Stone Soup,” Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild” and Charlotte Brontë's “Jane Eyre.”
For audiobook fans, Penguin Random House Audio is among those offering free listens for families, including “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum.
“As a mom myself, I know how challenging it can be to balance working from home and remote learning with kids home from school as well,” said Amanda D’Acierno, president and publisher of Penguin Random House Audio. “So many parents and teachers are looking for enriching indoor activities for kids right now.”
Libraries in Southern California may be closed but they still provide online access to a multitude of e-books, audiobooks and other materials at no charge. Novelists, poets and children’s book authors are using social media to share readings and favorite stories.
Here’s a roundup of where you can find free books and listens from home in the weeks ahead.
Audible: The spoken-word producer has launched Audible Stories, which lets families listen to hundreds of free titles such as “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” narrated by Scarlett Johansson; “Anne of Green Gables,” read by Rachel McAdams; “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” told by Stephen Fry; and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.” The available books come in six languages: English, French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, German.
Find it: The collection is at stories.audible.com.
Penguin Random House Audio: The publisher is offering free audiobook downloads of three classic children’s titles until April 30. Parents and teachers can download “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” narrated by Brooke Shields and Paul Rudd; “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” narrated by a full cast; and Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations” read by John Lee.
Find it: The “Listen at Home” collection is accessible through the Volumes app, available free for iOS and Android users.
Los Angeles Public Library: Use the Libby app to browse countless free audiobooks, 24/7, directly from your digital gadgets. Have your library card and PIN number handy; you’ll need them to sign in.
Find it: Download the Libby app (compatible with iOS and Android devices) to access the catalog. More info is at lapl.org.
Los Angeles County Library: This is another excellent option for free audiobooks. The library is offering temporary digital library cards for county residents who didn’t have cards before the libraries shut down.
Find it: Visit LACountyLibrary.org/library-cards to sign up for 90-day access.
LibriVox: Volunteers from around the world record books in the public domain and then release the audiobooks online for free. Available titles include “The Adventures of Puss in Boots Jr.” by David Cory and “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” by Jules Verne in Spanish. You can browse the catalog by author, title, genre and language, which includes ancient Greek, Arabic and Portuguese. If you’d rather record a book than listen to one, anyone can volunteer to do so. No prior experience required.
Find it: Visit librivox.org.
Spotify: The streaming service boasts a wide selection of recordings and free audiobooks narrated by well-known authors. Listen to Kurt Vonnegut read “Breakfast of Champions” and “Slaughterhouse-Five,” Edna St. Vincent Millay reflect on love or Charles Bukowski recite his poetry. You also can find audio editions of Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” and Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”
Find it: Sign up for an account at spotify.com. Click on “Browser” (in the upper left corner), scroll all the way down to “Word,” and enjoy.
Los Angeles Public Library: The Libby app also can be used to borrow e-books, magazines, graphic novels and other digital materials. Use the app to put e-media on hold (up to 15 titles) and browse themed book collections compiled by library staff. E-books have the same 21-day checkout period as paper books, and you can renew them if there isn’t a waiting list. Residents can get immediate access to digital reading materials. You also can download or stream movies, documentaries, music and podcasts and enroll in online courses.
Find it: Download the Libby app to access the catalog. No library card? No problem. Register for a free card online at lapl.org.
Project Gutenberg: This is a library of more than 60,000 free e-books, assembled by thousands of volunteers who digitize and proofread digital media. No fee, registration or special apps are required. Titles are available in Portuguese, French, Dutch, Finnish, Tagalog, Hungarian, Esperanto, German, Spanish, Latin and more.
Find it: Visit gutenberg.org.
Scribd: Access e-books by bestselling authors such as Stephen King and Ann Patchett and other electronic materials at no cost (and no credit card) for 30 days.
Find it: Visit scribd.com.
FreeBooksy: The website offers a daily selection of free e-books for Kindle, Nook, Apple and Kobo devices.
Find it: Visit freebooksy.com.
Archipelago Books: The nonprofit is offering 30 free e-books, including “A Dream in Polar Fog” by Yuri Rytkheu and “Absolute Solitude” by Dulce María Loynaz, until April 2.
Find it: Go to archipelagobooks.org, click on the title you want to read, select one of two “e-book” options under “Format” and proceed to checkout.
Internet Archive: This nonprofit library offers free academic and historical books such as “An Embroidery Pattern Book” by Mary E. Waring, published in 1917, and “Goody Two-Shoes,” published by the McLoughlin Brothers and copyrighted in 1888. This week, the organization created the National Emergency Library, which suspends the waitlists for the 1.4 million titles in its lending library.
There’s also an online collection from the Smithsonian Libraries.
Find it: Go to archive.org and click “Books” at the top.
Open Library: This is an open online project of Internet Archive. Browse more than a million free e-books such as Roald Dahl’s “Matilda” and Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar.”
Find it: Visit openlibrary.org and sign up for a free account.
PDF Books World: Download PDF versions of poetry, plays, nonfiction and literary classics such as “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald and “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo.
Find it: Visit pdfbooksworld.com.
ManyBooks: Browse thousands of free books, including Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet.”
Find it: Go to manybooks.net and search by title, author or keyword.
Feedbooks: Discover and download thousands of public-domain books such as Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” and J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan.”
Find it: Visit feedbooks.com and click on the “Public Domain” tab at the top.
International Children’s Digital Library: You’ll find award-winning books for various reading levels, including a collection of Mother Goose nursery rhymes. Browse literature in Hindi, Mongolian and other languages.
Find it: Go to en.childrenslibrary.org. Registration is optional, but registered users can select a preferred language and save books to a personal shelf
Join author Steph Cha and Joe Ide for a streaming conversation about new L.A. noir. The March 30 event will be live.
Virtual storytimes & poetry
The Poetry Foundation: Launched by Poetry magazine, the foundation has a vast collection of some of the best poetry ever written. Check out the work of former U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith as a starting place.
Find it: Visit poetryfoundation.org or download the free Poetry app on Amazon, iTunes or Google Play.
Instagram: Social media is a rich place to find the work of aspiring and professional writers. Search for “poems” on Instagram, for example, and you’ll find dozens for free. Check out the work of Yesika Salgado, an L.A.-born Salvadoran poet who writes about love and culture, her family and the city she calls home.
Find it: Go to instagram.com and sign up for an account.
Lunch Doodles: Award-winning children’s author and illustrator Mo Willems partnered with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to provide free, virtual art lessons every weekday. New “Lunch Doodles” episodes are published at 10 a.m. Pacific time and can be streamed online afterward.
Find it: Search kennedy-center.org/education/mo-willems.
#OperationStoryTime: Search this hashtag online and you’ll find authors reading their children’s books in a series organized by Romper, a website for millennial moms. Catch Dan Gutman reading “Miss Blake Is a Fake!” from his “My Weird School” series, or watch Susie Jaramillo sing-read “Little Sunny Sunshine” in English and Spanish.
Find it: Visit Instagram, Facebook or YouTube and search for #operationstorytime.
#SaveWithStories: Celebrities such as Amy Adams and Natalie Portman are helping ease children’s coronavirus anxieties by lending their voices to the #SaveWithStories initiative, which raises funds for kids who don’t have meals while schools are closed. Jennifer Garner recently read Jan Brett’s winter wonderland tale “The Mitten” and Josh Gad, who voices Olaf in the “Frozen” movies, read Shel Silverstein’s classic “The Giving Tree.”
Find it: Search #savewithstories on Instagram or Twitter. Learn more about the initiative and how to help at savethechildren.org.
Sonnet a Day: Patrick Stewart, star of “X-Men” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” has been been reciting Shakespeare on Twitter.
Find it: Visit @SirPatStew on Twitter.
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