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November 24, 2010

Old School: Kids' Classics (Free!) for iPad

The holiday season is upon us, and with it every parent's favorite pastime, family travel. Every generation thinks it has the worst of things, but ever-longer airport lines and the latest guessing games in the TSA circus are making the temptation for ours to lay claim to the title pretty strong. So more than ever, it never hurts to be loaded for bear several times over when it comes to keeping the kids occupied through all that waiting. On the other hand, extra books to pack are…not exactly welcome.

But for parents with iPads, there's a solution to this dilemma, assuming they plan to bring the gadget along for the trip. (If you're anything like me, you've refused to be parted from yours since you acquired it, so that shouldn't be a problem.) Best of all, it's free—ignoring the high cost of the iPad itself, of course, but if you do have one already....

I've mentioned before that tons of classic children's literature, like pretty much all classic out-of-copyright books, has long been available free of charge online, courtesy of Project Gutenberg, which has spent many years painstakingly transcribing them for public use. The only problem was that the PDFs you could grab off the website weren't formatted in a terribly friendly-to-read way.

Enter the iPad and its (free) iBooks app. In the app's store, under the "Classics" entry in the Categories tab, you'll find a library's worth of classic titles (scroll down for the "free" section), including lots of stuff for kids of any age: Alice in Wonderland. Treasure Island. The Secret Garden. If it's more than a century old, it's probably here.

When you download a title, it shows up on your iBooks shelf just as any new, purchased book would—formatted in the font of your choice, with adjustable print size, and easy to read in portrait or landscape view. There's an occasional layout hiccup with illustrations (sometimes the captions bump the regular text in slightly odd ways), but all in all, the books look great in this format. And they're all ready to hand over to your ten-year-old during that layover, or to use as bedtime reading at Grandma's house.

And those who haven't encountered these classics with their kids before may be surprised at how well they hold up—there really is a reason they've lasted this long, after all. (And as corny as it sounds, there's something about reading A Christmas Carol to your kids on Christmas Eve. That Dickens fella could write a little.)

Plus, if you're feeling your literary oats yourself (or, horror of horrors, you exhaust your existing airport reading), you can download Pride and Prejudice once the kids are safely asleep—or, if you're really ambitious, War and Peace! All free!

(I know that similar wonders are achievable on the Kindle, Nook, etc., but since I don't have those particular gadgets, I can't answer for the quality of the text on those. Anyone know offhand if they, too, give you the free books with the same formatting quality as the ones you'd purchase for those tablets?)

[Cover image: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

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