Have you heard about the Tar Heel Reader? It’s a website that provides free access to books on a wide variety of topics for individuals of all ages who have a low reading level. Tar Heel Reader was created through the collaboration between the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies and the Department of Computer Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The collection currently contains over 24,500 titles, including some in 19 languages other than English. Each book is easy to read with pictures or visuals on each page. The amount of text on each page is limited and the language is generally simple and easy to understand. The vocabulary may be specialized based on the topic. For example, there is a version of Lord of the Rings on the site that contains names of people and places that you don’t run into in the natural world!
Topics range literally from soup to nuts. There are books on foods, animals and nature, health, history, fairy and folk tales, poetry, people and places, sports, fiction, art and music, and so on. Some of the material is appropriate for younger children, but a lot of it is targeted toward adolescents and adults who have a low reading level. It’s a way to enjoy printed material on age-appropriate topics in spite of struggles with reading. Students can even use Tar Heel Reader to do research on a subject or person as part of a school assignment.
Here’s the best part: each book can be speech enabled so that someone can listen to the text as it is read to them in a choice of voices! The books can be read directly from the website or downloaded as slide shows in various formats. There are interfaces available to make the books accessible through the use of touchscreens, IntelliKeys, switches, etc.
Tar Heel Reader even offers a way for people to create their own books, which can then be “published” on the site. Parent supervision is recommended, especially for younger children and those for whom content control is advisable. A “Favorites” page is available that can be used as a way to steer someone to a selection of approved options.
I’ve added Tar Heel Reader to the short list of things that I find myself describing as “the best thing since sliced bread.” Check it out! http://tarheelreader.org