Book-Related Subscription Services for Kids


I know what you’re thinking when you read the title:  “It’s called a library.”  True.

However, Reading Rainbow recently resurrected itself, emerging from several years of “hiatus,” as an iPad app subscription service.  This blog is about subscription services which offer various features and why I think they might be worth it.

Reading Rainbow free to try for iPad, subscription is $29.99 USD for six months

With all the educational research and backing of PBS, Reading Rainbow was a hit television series for many years.  Its branding had several recognizable parts, including a distinct theme song, a consistent format, and a trusted host: LeVar Burton.  Having acquired the rights to Reading Rainbow, LeVar Burton is the powerhouse behind the iPad app subscription service.

The new Reading Rainbow (the iPad app) is free to download and users can try out one book before being told to subscribe.  Users input his/her name, age range, sex, and three top choices for categories of books.  There’s quite a nice tour with a video from Burton, much like the television series used to do.  When you get around to choosing a book, it’s narrated in the same way that it was on the show, with the addition of rainbow buttons to see animated portions of the illustrations.  I chose Oliver Otter’s Own Office as my starter book, and although it was a bit buggy in terms of the timing of highlighted paragraphs to the narration, it was a lovely book with great narration, and I think that’s what’s selling me on the service.

When finished reading, users can play around with stickers (though it’s not as fun as I thought it would be), take video field trips (only one is free during the trial), play games, and browse through the library of other books.  Users’ (digital back)packs within the app can only hold five books at a time, but my guess is that this actually helps save space on the iPad.  Parents can log into for progress reports and a list of books read, so there’s a reference to return to if a child really likes a certain book.

I would highly recommend it and am strongly considering subscribing myself.

A Story Before Bed free to try for iPad, iPhone, Mac and PC, in-app purchase of $99.99/year subscription

The main function of this service is to provide books while simultaneously allowing users to record videos reading them.  Once recordings are complete, they can be shared through email and viewed repeatedly from what I presume are the A Story Before Bed servers.

While I would think it’s easier to just to do this over something like Vimeo with books from the library, it does help that the main focus is on the book with a little Skype-like video of the person who recorded the reading.  Book titles are listed with age and number of pages so it’s easy to pick out a book from the “library.”  As one comment in the testimonials suggests, perhaps the biggest sell of this service is being able to document memories, particularly of grandparents who “live far away or are no longer with us.”

I guess it also helps to create that read-together feeling without needing two copies of each book (one for the reader and one for the recorder).  I would also think that it might assuage some guilt in parents who work really long hours or often travel to be able to record the book ahead of time; but in those cases, I might recommend FaceTime or Skype.

Speakaboos available online, coming soon to devices as an app, subscription is $4.99 USD/month or $49.99 USD/year

You could call this a video site, but I’m calling this book-related since the videos seem a lot like jazzy versions of Reading Rainbow-style reads.  These videos feature celebrity narration, music, animation, nice camera work and clear closed captioning so users can follow the words as they’re being read.  Text isn’t highlighted word-by-word while read (as I usually prefer if kids are not reading physical books), though sentences are relatively short as they appear on screen.

The Speakaboos boasts stories, songs, games and printables (like worksheets, quizzes, lesson plans, colouring pages, etc.), so it’s filled with activities for online and offline use.  There are also special categories of books like Spanish, Bollywood, Bed Thyme (with stories read by celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain or author/actress Ariane Smith), and Arthur.  The site is really easy to navigate and search functions are streamlined to filter options for theme, author and celebrity.

The site looks like it’s in the midst of a grand revamp, so big changes could be on the way.  I would love to see a “read by myself” functionality and a kids dictionary so that readers can look up how to pronounce certain words on their own, but perhaps those functions are already in progress or live by the time you read this.

Overall, these services are a great way to find new stories, give kids ideas about how to look at the world in a different light, and open them to new experiences in a very safe way.

Image from Reading Rainbow app