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Reading is the key that unlocks learning. But all too often kids’ potential love of reading gets ground to dust during the process of reading and literacy development -- this can be especially true for kids who need extra support. These frustrations can snowball, transforming books from magical escapes into mountains to climb. All of this is to say: digital library apps need to be really, really good. They’ve got to have compelling content, offer a frustration-free reading experience, and support features that make reading more accessible and delightful than a paperback. We think our choices below meet, and may even exceed, this criteria -- they have the potential to get kids hooked on books and build lifelong habits.
Please note: Common Sense Education is a nonprofit with a strong commitment to an unbiased, in-depth editorial process. Our ratings and reviews of learning media aren't influenced by developers or funders, and we never receive payments or other compensation for our reviews.
Epic's user experience outpaces the competition in both its ease of use and its beauty. It’s also got an impressively large library of high-quality books -- these aren't the bargain bin picture books you'll find with some other competitors. As a result, browsing Epic! feels like a real library or store full of stuff that kids will actually want to read.There's recommended books by age as well as interest. Teachers can assign kids specific books, or even just set general themes students will like, then leave the choosing up to them. These recommendations improve as students rate and review the books they've read -- one of Epic!'s cooler features. Teachers will love all the extras Epic! offers for extending and encouraging kids' learning -- from monthly calendars and reading challenges to badges and educational videos. And while Epic! isn’t as accessible to all learners as something like Learning Ally (featured below), it does have a good set of core accessibility supports and expanding language support and quizzes.
If you're looking for a little more learning support layered into the digital reading experience, MyON might be what you need. While it doesn’t have the polish of Epic!, or the expansive library, there are enough books to satisfy students’ interests. Most importantly, each book is paired with an impressive batch of instructional features that allow teachers to extend reading and bridge reading and writing. While reading a book in MyON, students can annotate texts with drawing tools and highlighters, and also add notes. Teachers can review all of this work to get a sense of students’ thinking. After students are done reading, there’s a set of graphic organizers that can help structure their reflections. The final piece of the puzzle is MyON's projects. With this feature, students can complete writing tasks that teachers assign to them.
Raz-Kids has a smaller library than all of our other recommendations, but what it offers instead is a unique assessment tool that, for some teachers, could be the deciding factor. Also, with Raz-Kids students can read their books aloud, record their reading, and then send these recordings back to teachers for feedback and assessment. Students also start off with a benchmark assessment that fuels their recommended books. Once they get reading, every book features multiple-choice comprehension questions and some even have short response questions.
This is a newer tool that could, with enough time and further development, give Epic! a run for its money. In terms of visual design, ReadingIQ is a great looking product -- on par with Epic! -- and also features an impressive and growing library, including titles from Disney’s family of properties. This alone might make it the go-to option for some, since the familiar titles could be just the thing to motivate a reluctant reader. You'll also be pleased to know that, like Epic!, ReadingIQ is free for teachers.
If you’re serving students with reading-based learning differences -- whether due to a physical or cognitive disability -- you’ll want to take a good look at Learning Ally. It has accommodations and tools that makes books more accessible, including fully-voiced audio and excellent (possibly best-in-class) customization of how text is formatted and presented on the screen. Best of all: it’s free for qualifying students and features an incredible library of popular books students will love. While it’s not as big of a library as the expansive Bookshare (which is very similar), the human-voiced texts set it apart -- the thousands of texts Learning Ally does have will still satisfy.
Compare the tools
|Price||Free, Free to try||Paid||Free to try||Free||Free|
|Platforms||Android, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Chrome, Web||Web||Web||Android, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Web||Android, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Chrome, Web|
|Pros||Seemingly boundless library includes popular, well-loved authors and series.||Built-in audio features; tons of nonfiction texts; nice features for offline reading.||It's easy to differentiate, and students can listen to and read texts.||The collection consists of high-quality, recognizable books and covers lots of topics.||The human-narrated books are a breath of fresh air, and offer meaningful independence and support.|
|Cons||Assessment tools are limited; app can't search by age; it'd be great to have multiple book styles for each book (audiobook, read-to-me, and solo reading).||Some quiz questions are too simple, and reading can feel passive, even with the annotation tool.||There's a lack of high-interest literature in the libraries, and the design is aging.||Some of the most commonly found features of digital libraries are missing.||Some additional/better assessment supports would be useful.|
|Bottom Line||This large collection of books and videos on a wide variety of topics is an easy -- and free -- enhancement to any classroom library.||This app gives kids access to a wide range of books, though it's best used with teacher (and parent) guidance.||It's worth considering as a supplement to your reading program thanks to the book variety, assigning and assessing, and progress reports.||This is a reading app that focuses successfully on the reading; don't expect many bells and whistles though.||A great option for students needing support, and, while the library is smaller, the narration is a serious upgrade.|
|Read our review||Read our review||Read our review||Read our review||Read our review|
How We Rate
Our recommendations are based on a research-backed rubric we use to rate apps and websites. Here are just a few sample criteria from this rubric: