Have toddler, will travel, but how to minimize protesting?
June 4, 2014 8:38 PM   Subscribe

Can you suggest some good classic (read: legally free) ebooks for little people around the age of 3? We're planning for a road trip, and we have a long list of good distractions, but I want to lighten our load of books by utilizing our Kindle Fire and the wonders of the Internet Archive and other sources for high quality digital books. Do you know of any good sites that compile such lists, or can you suggest some good picture books from such sources? And any suggestions for distracting a little person on a road trip would also be appreciated.

Our son has enough patience for wordier stories, but my focus is on picture-heavy books (for example, Denslow's Humpty Dumpty is borderline, and might be too much story and not enough pictures). My searches so far have turned up listicles of "classics" like The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which doesn't meet my criteria of being freely available online. And because we'll be traveling, visiting websites with embedded books, like the Library of Congress' collection of classic kids books, won't work for us, as our Kindle Fire is only the Wi-Fi model.

As for the general "keep the kiddo happy" activities, the list from Kids Activities Blog looks good, and we'll be mapping out good places to stop and get out to run around, but our schedule doesn't permit full excursions to zoos, major parks, and museums, otherwise this prior question might have been more suitable. What else keeps small people happy on long road trips? We're looking at a few days of 5+ hour drives, and one 8 hour day (the second to last day).

[Our schedule is like this to maximize time with friends and family we don't see too often, who all live in a relatively linear path through the south, and somewhat limited time away from work.]
posted by filthy light thief to Grab Bag (21 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Do you know about Project Gutenberg? They have lots of free (and legal) ebooks. Here are their Children's books.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:17 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, for non-book stuff: check out lots of music CDs from the library. There's plenty that's kid friendly without being kids' music (like the Beatles).
posted by bluedaisy at 9:20 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'll be interested to see what free picture books people can find. In addition, you might want to check out free and inexpensive apps. The Candy Factory is a free Kindle app that's an interactive storybook. I think it's darling, although I see it has mixed reviews.
posted by BibiRose at 9:24 PM on June 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

A roll of blue painters tape is a wonder toy for many kids at this age, cheap and easy to clean up. If you can find it in several colors it can also be used for art on the car window.
posted by markblasco at 9:28 PM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

When I was very young my Mum used to read Edward Lear's nonsense poems to me during boring times (I especially remember them from the waiting room at the doctor's surgery). This is a different approach because the pictures are quite plain, but even from a young age I loved the rhythm of the poems. Particular favourites were: The Owl and the Pussycat, Calico Pie, The Pobble who Has No Toes, The Quangle Wangle's hat, Mr and Mrs Discobbolos, etc. etc. Project Gutenberg has a bunch of Edward Lear's works with illustrations for Kindle - based on a quick look I'd recommend The Jumblies and other nonsense verses, Laughable Lyrics, Nonsense Drolleries and Nonsense Songs
posted by Cheese Monster at 9:38 PM on June 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Our grandkids love Tumblebooks.com, but I think you need to have a password. Check with your local school district for that - our school district has a subscription. On preview, apparently many libraries have subscriptions as well. I like the fact that the books are sorted by grade level - pre-k and up.
posted by summerstorm at 10:02 PM on June 4, 2014

The Overdrive Media app has hooks for most local libraries which allow you to download local library ebooks to your Fire legally. I checked the Oakland library branch and there was plenty of kid's books available. YMMV but whatever the app, a reasonable size county library system should have what you need.

We also use a Youtube downloader to get shows and store them locally on phones to be deployed in extremis on long flights.
posted by benzenedream at 12:14 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not a classic story, but my nephew was mesmerised during a long train journey by an e-book of which he was the star. It's not free, but it's pretty cheap.
posted by melisande at 2:08 AM on June 5, 2014

No pictures, but Robert Munsch has quite a few of his books available to download legally and for free as audiobooks.

Make sure to sign up for apps gone free, if you haven't already. They very frequently offer children's books.

If you are willing to pay for a book my children had hours and hours of use with "Don't Let the Pigeon Run This App". Children can listen to the story but also make up their own versions. It was a big hit around that age and they still play from time to time three years later. It is pricey though, as these things go, at $5.99.
posted by Cuke at 4:45 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

(I squealed aloud just now when I discovered the Beatrix Potter books among the Project Gutenberg bounty! The Peter Rabbit books are probably the most famous, but my favourites were Miss Moppet and The Tale of Two Bad Mice. They're VERY English, and quite old fashioned, with some odd class stuff that may seem weird - but I still completely love them - it's kind of like Cranford with animals.)
posted by Cheese Monster at 4:50 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

As benzenedream says our local county library has many, many picture and young children books available right now to borrow for 21 days for free.

If possible, drive during the child's sleep time.

Around that age, we listened to (free download or borrow CDs from library) Charlotte's Web read by the author. You could listen to a chapter or two at a time to keep attention periods short. This is a great listen for everyone in the family. Then at the end of every chapter play Angry Birds (pigs!) or sing Old MacDonald has a Farm (with Wilbur and Charlotte etc on it).

When you stop to eat, run around as much as possible, then eat in the car as the eating will take up time.

If it is at all appealing to you and you have some kind of GPS device, geocaching is easy to do on long drives as there are many roadside caches that you all may enjoy finding. The descriptions tell you how easy they are to find and many, many rest stops and exits have easy options. Look for those that have little junkie things to trade so you can end up with a marble or some other little toy to enjoy for the next 10 minutes. Take your own little bag of tiny toys in case there isn't anything appealing in the cache.

When times are desperate: one-by-one M&Ms or other small treat, lollypops that last.
posted by RoadScholar at 4:58 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure if you can get them on Kindle, but at the Google Android store there are e-versions of Sandra Boyton books, which are programmed with extra interactive features--our kiddo can make cows dance, drag critters up stairs, that sort of thing. The programming captures the whimsy of here books well.

There's also a lot of Suess there, usually including a "read to me" option.

These are all paid apps, but not too expensive.
posted by stevis23 at 4:59 AM on June 5, 2014

We've made several major road trips with small kids. My main tip is to spend a lot of time outside -- we always plan to stop every ninety minutes and let the kids run around for fifteen before we get back in the car. (Rest areas with playgrounds are the best place for this.) The other thing we do is bring a bag of newly purchased crappy dollar store toys, and throw one back there when things get desperate.
posted by gerstle at 5:28 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I did a similar search and unfortunately there are very few picture books available free; the genre didn't really kick into high gear until Beatrix Potter and not all of hers are out of copyright yet. Most of what I could find were disturbing Edwardian alphabets with rhymes where terrible things happened to badly behaving children who didn't learn their letters. There are some good ones at Gutenberg, but a lot of them are either kinda racist or kinda disturbing, you'll have to look through. They're more likely to be read-alouds, not true children's books.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:38 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Not sure I was clear above, our library has downloadable pictures books by the scads although real physical books as well. You don't always have to be a resident either; ours just requires state residency to get a card not county so check the largest counties in your state.
posted by RoadScholar at 6:02 AM on June 5, 2014

Do you have a public library card? Your library may have a TumbleBookCloud and TumbleBookCloudJunior (chapter books) subscription. These are borrow-able ebooks picture books for kids. And if your library subscribes, then they're free to you.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:08 AM on June 5, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions!

We are members of our local library, and I hadn't thought of their OverDrive service for kid's books.

gerstle: we always plan to stop every ninety minutes and let the kids run around for fifteen before we get back in the car

Thanks for the suggestion of timing out stops like this. I was wondering how often to stop, and this seems like a manageable ratio of time in the car to time outside.

RoadScholar: If possible, drive during the child's sleep time.

Oh, if only. Little light thief is of the opinion that naps are for weaklings, so he doesn't nap as easily as other kids. Instead, he stays up and gets grumpy, so our goal is to get somewhere before nap time, so he can (hopefully) rest for a bit. Otherwise, it'll be a lot of early bed times.

Eyebrows McGee: I did a similar search and unfortunately there are very few picture books available free; the genre didn't really kick into high gear until Beatrix Potter and not all of hers are out of copyright yet.

Ah, good point, thanks!
posted by filthy light thief at 7:04 AM on June 5, 2014

The International Children's Digital Library might be great for this. I just tried it on my phone and the mobile site works just fine. I love this resource!
posted by Pardon Our Dust at 8:26 AM on June 5, 2014

I love the Boynton and Dr. Seuss interactive books too, enough to pay. Make sure you get the interactive version; it may be an app.
posted by BibiRose at 8:50 AM on June 5, 2014

Our solution on a 13-hour drive (each way) was the following:
Hand the toddler an iPad.

That was really about it. Our kid only gets iPad "on long trips" and it disturbs me to say, the thing kept him occupied the whole. damn. way.

I mean, I also took stickers and paper, and one of the Alex Paper Bag Puppets kits, and a My First Sticky Mosaics kit (we were doing this with toddler+newborn and I sat in the back squished between car seats to keep an eye on them), but it took up a lot of space, and nothing had the holding power of that iPad.

If you take $10 and get a combination of paid and free kids' apps, you can muster quite an assortment. I also recommend watching something like AppsGoneFree (it's an app that, each day, tells you seven or eight normally paid apps that are free for the day) because there are almost always a couple of kids' apps. There are also some free iBooks that fit the bill.

FYI, we've gotten a TON of mileage out of the Monkey Preschool Lunchbox series of games. Also one called Alien Buddies.

Finally, bring a crap ton of juice boxes. Even if (especially if) you don't normally do juice boxes. And some good snacks.
posted by telepanda at 10:46 AM on June 5, 2014

Alternate passive things (movie on iPad) with more active things (crafts in the car seat, words games with adults, etc.) -- and definitely break up the day with multiple stops. At a stop everyone goes to the bathroom and pats their face with cool water. Outside you run around, maybe throw a frisbee or kick a ball for even five minutes.

Eat your meals at a rest stop when you can for the extra fresh air.

Good luck! We drove 1300 miles each way summer before last and it was fine.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:01 PM on June 5, 2014

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