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For These Strange & Difficult Times: Finding Diverse Electronic Picture Books #2

Our first post gave instructions for finding e-books through your local library. But what if you don’t have access to a public library, or your library doesn’t subscribe to the CloudLibrary? Below, we offer our thoughts on two programs offering electronic picture books, free for the first 30 days with a trial subscription -- Epic! and Skybrary. Both of these digital libraries offer dozens of e-books featuring Black and Indigenous people and People of Color (BIPOC) free for a month. Enjoy exploring them with your children!


Epic!

Advertising themselves as the “Leading Digital Library for Kids 12 & Under,” Epic! offers “books, educational videos, quizzes and more.” It’s possible that your child/ren’s school may already have an Epic! subscription, as my grandson’s does, which gives every teacher the option of offering it free to their students. If not, Epic! is currently offering free access to teachers and librarians who can then extend it to their students. Or you can sign up as a parent for a free trial; if you decide to extend, it’s $5.95/month. You can cancel at any time.

Epic! is accessible online or through their app, where you can search their thousands of titles for picture books featuring BIPOC. Unfortunately, there’s no simple way to find these titles at once. Using multiple search terms and approaches (categories, key words, Award Winners, Collections, book formats, etc.), I unearthed more than 50 titles featuring BIPOC within a couple hours so that you don’t have to do the same — just search for any of the titles listed below! In addition to the standard search terms offered by Epic!, you can try key words and phrases such as “Immigration in the U.S.,” an author, or a racial/cultural group or region of the world.

Some of Epic!’s search terms
A search of “Asian”; many titles I found with Asian characters do not show up here.

(Note: Proceed with caution. The program appears to recommend all the books on their site, and I found two seriously problematic titles, Tikki Tikki Tembo and the original version of The Five Chinese Brothers, both of which have been critiqued extensively for inclusion of racist stereotypes.)

Epic! also offers different formats for the books in their collection. To get you started, I’ve listed some of the trade picture books featuring BIPOC that you can find in each format (a few of these are available in more than one):

  1. Books -- full picture book pages: All Around Us; My Tata’s Remedies; Sumo Joe; Full, Full, Full of Love; Don’t Say a Word, Mama; Families; When Aidan Became a Brother; Luis Paints the World; Tiger in My Soup; Dreamers; Going Down Home with Daddy; A Boy Like You; I Am Brown; Chef Roy Choi & the Street Food Remix; Uncle’s Magic Thrownet; Dear Primo; Trombone Shorty; Separate is Never Equal; A Map Into the World; Counting on Katherine.
  2. Audiobooks -- sound only, no pages visible: Each Kindness; Seven Candles for Kwanzaa; The Vast Wonder of the World; You Hold Me Up; Grace for President; All the Colors of the Earth; Same Same But Different; This is the Rope; Elizabeth’s Doll; Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters; All the World; Letter to Amy; Peter’s Chair; Pet Show.
  3. Read-To-Me -- full book pages with voice and highlighted words: We Are Grateful; Baseball Saved Us; Suki’s Kimono; Layla’s Head Scarf; Esquivel! Spce-Age Sound Artist; Papa Gave Me a Stick; My Kicks, A Sneaker Story; Maggie’s Chopsticks; Carry Me; Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story.
  4. Videos -- voiced and animated read-alouds: Alma and How She Got Her Name; The Snowy Day; Yo! Yes?; Too Many Tamales; Henry’s Freedom Box; Whistle for Willie; and my own I’m New Here.

The more you search, the more individual titles you’ll stumble upon, and you can bookmark your Favorites to locate later. There are also numerous biographies, folktales, and books featuring multiracial casts which I haven’t listed, as well as Spanish- and Chinese-language titles.

The Skybrary

A program of Reading Is Fundamental, the Skybrary is a curated collection of thousands of children’s books, offering a free trial for 30 days (5.99/month thereafter).

Selecting "Book Resource" and "Kindergarten" (to access picture books), I got 2409 recommended titles, 24 per page. (You can do this search without signing up for the trial subscription.)

I scrolled through ten pages — 240 books — and identified (based on book jackets only) 56 titles featuring BIPOC, so I’d estimate that a little over 20% of their collection features racially- and culturally-diverse characters. (Given that this includes books with animal characters as well as human, that’s a fairly impressive result, certainly better than publishing as a whole at this point in time.) If that rate holds, it means there may be more than 500 BIPOC picture books available in the collection!

Skybrary also lacks a comprehensive search tool for identifying diverse titles. I entered “diversity” in a search and got 64 results from picture books to young adult novels. Adding "K" to the search narrowed it down to 25 picture books, less than half of what I found from scrolling through just the first 10 pages of the entire kindergarten collection.

search for “Diversity” + Kindergarten

A search for “Multiculturalism” returned 69 titles.

Search for “multiculturalism

Skybrary has a great list of themes to search, but unfortunately I only found them as a subset of “diversity,” not as a search term for the entire collection.

As with Epic!, it appears that you'll get the best results from trying multiple types of searches.

Once you choose an individual title, you’ll find several versions of the book — “Featuring the voices of LeVar Burton and other storytellers, every Skybrary book features narration - or read on your own!” — plus numerous resources.

Skybrary resources for extending learning

We hope these tips will be useful as you explore these services to find diverse titles for your children at home!

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