Many libraries have started providing eBooks for cardholders- read more about digital library resources here. While many eBook titles available are targeted at adults, there are still services that provide eBooks for children at no cost to cardholders. One of the most popular eBook services for children is TumbleBooks, which features narrated books with animation. Here is my review of TumbleBooks, with a special focus on accessibility for users with vision impairments.
What is TumbleBooks?
TumbleBooks Library is an app and website that features a curated selection of narrated children's books that are brought to life with animation. There is a mix of familiar titles and authors that are commonplace on library shelves, as well as books from up and coming authors. Users have unlimited access to all of the books in the database, and can replay books as often as they want as well. Get the app for Android on Google Play here and for iOS on the App Store here.
How to register
Many libraries and elementary schools provide students with access to TumbleBooks at no cost. Each organization has their own special link to get to the website, as well as instructions on how to set up an account. However, an account is not needed to access the website- users can just click their organization's special link and then start exploring the library. An account is required to access the app though.
In order to use this service, users need to have the following technology skills:
- Knowledge of basic gestures, such as pinch to zoom
- Ability to select an item on the screen
- Adjust volume of device
- Ability to play, pause, and stop a video
This app is very easy to use and can be used independently by young children or people with a low amount of technology skills.
The website interface for TumbleBooks is simple. Users are presented with different categories of books, including new releases, author collections, librarian picks, and others. These categories feature horizontal lines of clickable book covers. When clicked, a summary of the book is displayed, along with details such as the publisher, word count, video length and Accelerated Reader levels. From there, users can click the play button and begin to read the title of their choice. Read more about factors that make a website accessible here.
TumbleBooks also has an app available for iOS and Android devices. The app features the same interface as the website, though it's safer for kids to use the app, so that way they can't access the web browser. Read more about factors that make an app accessible here.
Types of books available
The exact titles vary depending on the library or school that subscribes to the service, but over 1,100 books are in the TumbleBooks library. Several popular picture books are available, as well as read-along chapter books, non-fiction titles, National Geographic videos, and books that are translated into Spanish and French. There are also curated playlists of several books and videos available. Titles are aimed at elementary school aged kids. If you're looking for magazines aimed at kids and adults as well, read my post about the RBDigital library app here.
TumbleBooks is great for kids both with and without vision impairments. The website and app can be used with a screen reader, and many of the stories feature large print. The story is also read out loud in a natural sounding voice. Some of the books feature image descriptions, though I found this wasn't the case for many titles. Instead, sound effects and animation are incorporated to help bring the story to life. Speaking of reading books out loud, read more about how Amazon Alexa can help you read here.
A note on photosensitivity
Many children with vision impairment are sensitive to bright or flashing lights. Out of the several titles I tested, none of them incorporated flashing light animations that flicker fast enough to cause a problem- the frequency is similar to a car blinker. However, I still recommend checking individual titles before a student reads them, if this is a concern. The same goes for videos-just because I didn't see any flashing lights doesn't mean they aren't hiding somewhere. Read more about photosensitivity in the classroom here.
Watching in a group
I read that many teachers will play TumbleBooks videos on the classroom projector for students. Students with vision impairments may benefit from sitting closely to the screen or having another device like an iPad playing the story at the same time. Read more about how to make things on the board easier to see here.
TumbleBooks is a very fun service that I wish was around when I was younger, as it makes the world of reading accessible for many students. Teachers and families with young children will enjoy TumbleBooks immensely.