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I'm a wife to my "Mr. Right". A momma of five. A maker of slow food and simple living. A collector of memories, a keeper of books, and a champion for books that make memories. An addict who likes my half-and-half with a splash of coffee. A fractured pot transformed by the One Who makes broken things beautiful. I heart homeschooling, brake for libraries, and am glad you're here with me on the journey! Be sure to subscribe to my monthly newsletter. Or, follow along with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google +, Youtube, or Pinterest.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

What if Kids Could Read Books Like They Binge Watch Netfix?


Written by Jessica.

(This post contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy for full details.)


A few months ago, my kids were really into the Henry Huggins series. I was reading the series aloud to them at bedtime and as soon as one book was finished, they wanted to begin the next. At one point, we completed a book and I realized that I didn’t have the next one ready in the wings. Rather than scramble to get it, my husband suggested that we try a free month of Epic!, a new online children’s library that he’d heard of. He set up an account for us, I was able to get the book that I wanted (along with the rest of the series), and everyone was happy. Once our free month was up, though, we didn’t renew. I had explored the site briefly and wasn’t that impressed.

Fast forward a couple of months. Our family was using My Father’s World Adventures in U.S. History, a living literature-based program, and we had reached a point in the curriculum where we were studying each of the fifty states. The curriculum was moving along at a quick clip in the states section, and I found that we were learning about states and notable persons in history much faster than I could keep up with. I remembered Epic! and wondered if I might be able to get some of the books that I needed in their online catalog quicker than I could get them by reserving them through the public library. We decided to renew our subscription, and I gave Epic! a closer look and a second chance. I’m so glad I did!

If you haven’t checked it out yet, here are some of Epic!’s features:
  • It’s an online digital library for kids under 12. 
  • It contains a library of 25, 000+ professionally curated books and educational videos that grows daily. 
  • Its content includes countless popular and award-winning authors, illustrators, and books. 
  • A subscription comes with extras like audio versions, quizzes, and Spanish books for many titles. 
  • It can be used on any iOS or Android device, laptops, Chromebooks, desktops, and even Smart TVs. 
  • There are no ads or in-app purchases. 
  • Reading can be done on or offline. 
  • Access is unlimited for up to four children. 
  • Epic! is a safe, kid-friendly space - all browsing and reading are done within the Epic! site. 
  • The parent account allows you to add books to your children’s accounts and view all of your children’s reading/viewing activities. 
  • Epic! offers a free 1st-month trial subscription and is $7.99 a month after that. 


My First Impression of Epic!


As I mentioned, I had a negative first impression of Epic! In many ways Epic! has a really mainstream feel to it. An advertising slogan from the site reads, “Epic!’s digital library includes many of the best kids’ books, popular e-books, and videos such as Fancy Nancy, Big Nate, Warriors, and National Geographic Kids.” Well, those titles don’t really hook me, nor do they qualify as ‘best’ in my estimation. When I did some searches for better-quality children’s books, such as the Little House on the Prairie series, the Childhood of Famous Americans series, or even the Henry and Mudge beginner’s series, I discovered that they aren’t even on Epic! What kind of “library” doesn’t have those books?!

Once I pushed past my “book-snobbery,” I realized a couple of things. First, I live in the homeschooling world and, generally speaking, homeschoolers work with book lists par excellence. Epic! is not a collection of high-quality children’s literature, but nor does it purport to be. It’s an online digital library, and like any brick and mortar library, it has good literature and...well, junk. I have to be willing to weed through to find what I want and go elsewhere for the titles that they don’t carry. Second, while there are already 25,000 book and videos, the number is being added to daily, so what’s not there today might be added in the future. Third, my children are all reading beyond grade level, so it might be that some of the titles I’d like to see just don’t fall into Epic!’s “12 and under” criteria.

What I like about Epic!


It's easy to use

My children all have basic Fire tablets from Amazon. They use these for games, but I wasn’t sure what they’d think of using them for reading. Turns out, they love it! Epic! is very intuitive and child-friendly. If your children use tablets already, they’ll have no trouble at all using Epic! (Note: You can use Epic! on a desktop or laptop, too).

It provides good quality viewing

Even with the inexpensive tablets my children are using, the quality of the print and the illustrations are top-notch. I’ve yet to encounter a book that they’ve/we’ve read that has made me think, “Maybe this would look better on my Kindle.” And, like anything else on a tablet, the images can be enlarged or minimized to get the text and pictures to the size the reader wants.

It's fun and interactive

Epic! gives kids extras such as the ability to change the background wallpaper and avatar within each account, and it’s fun to be able to personalize their online reading space. (You just choose from cartoon-y graphics for the avatars – this is definitely not a social media site!). Readers get “badges” for reading certain numbers of books or other criteria. They can also “favorite” and “rate” books with stars after reading, all within their own account.

Browsing is kept simple

You can search by title, author, or keyword. You can view individual titles or curated “collections” (basically like book bundles) on themes like countries around the world, dogs and cats, or the Revolutionary War. As a parent, you also can create your own collections of books for your children to browse from. I’ve found it is most helpful to search for specific titles.

Parents are in charge

My children have no access to the internet whatsoever at their ages, and I feel comfortable with them using Epic! As the parent, you can select books, videos, and collections and put them into their account, allowing them to read/watch only what you choose. Or, you can allow them to search by topic on their own and add their own choices to their account. From there, you can either let them read what they’ve chosen or have a rule that you must approve their choices before they read. Either way, via the parental account, you can see every book/video that your child reads/watches/browses. And with all content being for “children under 12,” I’m comfortable with a lot of what’s on there.

It tracks reading

Epic! tallies books completed, minutes read, and pages turned for each child’s account over the course of a week and e-mails that information to you, along with all titles read and videos watched. My children all read a lot. Since I don’t view reading from a score-keeping type mindset, the tallies aren't that important to me, but they could definitely be a useful tool that some parents would like. I admit that I have been impressed to see in numbers exactly how much my children are reading, and they find it exciting and motivating, too.


Reservations of Epic!


I have some reservations about children reading on screens. Children, especially little ones, need to handle real books and learn reading skills from doing so. I think Epic! should be used 1) with children who are reading proficiently already and 2) used as a compliment to the real-book reading that a family already does, not used as a replacement for all books.

From a Christian perspective, I see a few concerns. I have searched for common Easter and Christmas titles and for popular Christian authors and have come up pretty short. At a minimum, I’d like to see their Christian holiday sections beefed up, especially because there are books aplenty about other cultures, religions, and countries. Many of the science titles that I’ve looked through have strong evolutionary and/or old Earth content, which won’t appeal to all families, but I do think that’s pretty standard with any library and should be an area for discussion, not avoidance.

Photo Credit

Final Thoughts 


Epic! isn’t perfect. With its mainstream library feel, the site has its share of twaddle and lots of titles that don’t appeal to me. Having used it for several months now, however, I can say that the benefits of Epic! outweigh the negatives for our family. I can also see how beneficial it would be for families who face challenging temporary or long-term circumstances who don't always have the ability to go to a children’s library very often. Epic! is a way to visit one right from the convenience of home.

The main things that have surprised and impressed me about Epic! is the motivation it has given my children to read many books and the number of excellent books we’ve discovered on there. Once I scratched beneath that mainstream veneer, I realized that Epic! actually has a lot to offer. My three children, kindergarten up to fourth grade, all have specific interests in categories like animals, weather, time periods in history, and countries around the world, and they have found countless interesting and informative fiction books on these educational and just-for-fun topics. With no cost or space limits, they’ve read exponentially more of these kinds of books than they would have if we purchased them or used a regular library, especially since many of the books aren’t ones that I’d purchase or lug home anyway. In some cases, the titles aren’t as substantial as the ones that we usually read and so I wouldn’t be drawn to them as choices. In other cases, I simply would never purchase or bring home quite so many books (example: fifty a week!) on one topic.

In other words, with Epic! my children have been able to go down all the rabbit trails, without limits. They've read books like most people binge watch Netflix – all for the bargain price of $7.99 a month and from the comfort of home. That monthly fee paid for itself in just one day, and we still haven’t even begun to delve into the educational videos. And in addition to their own picks, all of my children have also been able to read meatier chapter books that I’ve chosen for them, and I’ve found tons of excellent books (including some which were new to me) for read-alouds for everything from history to math.

Bottom line: Epic! is benefitting our family of readers and saving me time and money.

Want to find out more and see if it’s a good fit? Here’s some information on Epic! just for homeschoolers. Happy reading!




2 comments:

  1. Thanks a lot for your very detailed review! I looked up the website and I think it's going to be a very valuable resource for my son, since we have very limited access to good children's books and libraries. Your observations about the website and review are extremely helpful. This is why I love following this blog! I get so many helpful tips and ideas from it.

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    1. I've talked with quite a few moms online today who have said the same thing...limited access to good books and libraries. I hope this can be a great resource for you!

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