Think the free reads on the Internet are only for adults? That’s not true at all. Any book that has ever been published eventually goes into the public domain if the author is deceased and the author’s estate does not renew the copyright. While classic children’s literature does tend to stay in copyright longer than works for adults, there are still some great things out there for young children.
When book is in the public domain, usually there are digital copies that are free or almost free. Every book shown in this article is available for $1.99US or less at time of publication, and many are free.
Keep in mind that more of these are NOT “easy readers” They are not intended for very young children to be able to read. Surprisingly, however, the traditional American reading series, McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers, that was used to teach most children to read throughout the 19th century, is in the public domain.
When ordering Kindle editions of these books, be careful because some editions have very faulty formatting and missing pictures. Below are copies of the Primer, which is the “Pre reading” book and the complete set of readers, which is $5.99 in the U.S. Copies of individual volumes of the series as pictured are available for about $1.99US.
If you have multiple children, the complete set is nice just for the traditional (if Euro-centric) readings.
Be sure you select the editions as pictured. They are the best value: they include correct formatting and the original illustrations, which the free edition do not. There are beautiful printed editions available, but at much greater cost.
There is also some direction for adults in the front matter. Remember that this is the series teachers such as Laura Ingalls used as depicted in the Little House books: the assumption would be that some teachers had just a few more years of education than their students. Laura Ingalls taught school while still in high school herself.
These Happy Golden Years tells the story of Laura Ingalls’ teaching experience. She is the type of teacher for whom the McGuffey Eclectic Readers were intended, so they are parent friendly too!
As for the rest of these books, if the children are not able to read them independently, they will be able to enjoy hearing them read, which is just as important for very young children. And they will be exposed to some wonderful children’s literature, which is the most important thing.
Note: the item shown from Amazon is not necessarily the cheapest version available. Do a search by the author and double check the comments to make sure that the digital copy you are buying is a good one. Sometimes there is a free copy that does not include illustrations when the version with the illustrations just costs a dollar or two (and are obviously important for children).
The Tale of Peter Rabbit and other tales by Beatrix Potter
Beatrix Potter is for the little-littles, ages 3 and up! She’s also good for those still learning to read.
Yes, that’s right, Beatrix Potter’s series of children’s stories WITH PICTURES are all in the public domain, so a complete set of the stories are available for a very low cost. These stories are best read on a tablet rather than a regular Kindle because the pictures are in color.
Also, this documentary about the life of Beatrix Potter and the background of the stories is free to watch for subscribers of Amazon Prime Video.
Click HERE for quick access to most of Beatrix Potter’s stories with color illustrations.
The Adventures of Maya the Bee by Waldemar Bonsels
If your kids know the movie Maya the Bee, or even if they don’t, they are in for a treat with this 1912 classic that was originally published in German. Aside from the wonderful characterization of Maya and the animals she encounters, Bonsels took care to describe the natural world in detail, so this book is good for children (and enjoyable) on more than one level.
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
I can’t believe that The Velveteen Rabbit is in the public domain! You might find it a bit much if you are an adult, but let’s be honest: a lot of us have that stuffed animal that really was real when we were little. We might secretly still think it is.
A sense of magic and imagination is good for kids, and that sense is why they love this story.
And if that weren’t enough, here is a link to the full text of the story, with illustrations AND a recorded text, so your little one can enjoy it over and over.
The Story of Live Dolls by Josephine Scribner Gates
If you played with dolls, did you ever wonder what would happen if they came alive? If your children play with dolls, I bet they do too.
Note: this edition appears to have the illustrations intact.
The Jungle Books and Just-So Stories by Rudyard Kipling
Rudyard Kipling spent little, if any time in the actual jungle, but he did live in India. His stories are wonderful and beautifully written. Just So Stories are sort of literary creation myths…they are about how different animals got different aspects of their creation…but be warned, some of them are a bit racist when read with modern eyes. The Jungle Book are beautifully characterized animal stories. Personally, I think Kipling should be read more than he is. His poem “If” is one of my favorites.
Yes, The Jungle Book is the basis of all of the movies, including the current Netflix version and the Disney classic. Yes, the original book is free.
Click HERE for quick access to all of Kipling’s work with an age-level reading guide.
The Dutch Twins and Twins Series by Lucy Fitch Perkins
The Dutch Twins is the first of a long running series about adorable sets of five-year-old twins. Each book is set in a different country and is written for the express purpose of giving children an authentic picture of life in each one…and in some different time periods as well.
There are also teaching tips at the end of the book.
Click HERE for easy access to many of the books in the series with a grade-level reading guide.
Note: My apologies for one of the titles (“The Pickaninny Twins”). Some of these books are too outdated to be useful, and anyway this one is not available. I’m sure it was considered an appropriate term when the book was written, nearly 100 years ago or Perkins wouldn’t have used it.
Read The Lois Level’s Lois Lenski’s exquisite portraits of 20th century America’s hidden children for information about a series of books for ages 8-11 focusing on different regions of the United States that are available on Kindle Unlimited.
The series includes a book called Mama Hattie’s Girl about an African American family that is appropriate for 2020.
Ameliar-anne and the Green Umbrella by Constance Heward and illustrated by Susan Pearce
This is a sweet story about a big sister who goes out of her way to provide for her little brothers and sisters. It’s the first in a series, but only this one is available on Kindle.
The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay
This is a wonderful, fanciful book that has been described as “the funniest children’s book ever written.” It’s hard to believe that it was first published in 1918! It’s also from Australia, and it’s not that easy to find children’s books set in Australia outside of Australia (I’ve tried), so this is a treasure! And for only $1.99US!
Because the animals are also Australian…and as you know, they have many animals that aren’t found anywhere else, this book is also educational. The kids, and you, may need some Internet coaching on Australian slang too, but it’s all for a very good cause. Start with the word “pudding”, which has a completely different meaning in British/Australian than it does in proper American English (lol).
Fifty Famous Stories Retold by James Baldwin
James Baldwin was an educator who wrote and edited reading books and other books for children at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. He focused on mythology, biography, and history. In his introductions, meant for adults, he explains the sources of his material. His writing for adults is a bit over the top, but his writing for children is enjoyable.
It is really tough to find versions of folktales and mythology that are appropriate for young children but also just not…awful…so this is a real find.
James Baldwin’s most widely read book is Fifty Famous Stories Retold (below), but the full text many more of his books, including retellings of Greek mythology, is available HERE.
Follow The Lois Level for upcoming posts on quality children’s poetry, fairy tales and folk literature all available in the public domain!
Cover Art Credit