Yesterday our family legally obtained four of the five books on our school’s official sixth grade summer reading list for 99¢, courtesy of Project Gutenberg, the free Amazon Kindle application for the iPhone and iPod Touch, and the Amazon Kindle store. I am both amazed and thrilled that our access to mobile, digital devices as well as the Internet has provided IMMEDIATE and almost completely free access to these required reading texts. This reinforces my pre-existing perception that there has never been a better day for learners and readers to be alive than RIGHT NOW. Here’s our story from yesterday.

Reading Treasure Island on the iTouch

My 11 year old son, Alexander, is transferring to Oklahoma City Public Schools from Edmond Public Schools next school year to start 6th grade at Classen School of Advanced Studies. (Classen SAS) Classen serves grades 6-12 as a public, magnet school. Students must apply and be accepted, and declare a “major” in either one of the VPA (Visual and Performing Arts) areas or in the “International Baccalaureate” (IB) program. Alexander was accepted in IB. This past Tuesday night at an orientation meeting, we received the summer reading list for incoming 6th graders who will all be taught by English teacher, Mr Neill J. Chaffin. Required summer reading for all incoming sixth graders includes:

  1. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  2. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson)
  3. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  4. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  5. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Of these five books, we already own a copy of “The Hobbit.” Alexander has already read it, incidentally, along with “The Fellowship of the Ring.” He’s in the middle of “The Two Towers,” which he’s been reading for fun on and off along with some other books this spring. We needed to obtain copies of the other four books, and my first thought was to order paperback copies from Amazon. Of the ones for sale new, these paperbacks would have cost $5 each plus shipping.

Amazon.com Shopping Cart

Before I bought these analog / atomic / paperback books, however, I wondered if they were in the public domain and therefore available for FREE download via Project Gutenberg. If you’re not familiar with the project you definitely should be! According to the current English WikiPedia article:

Project Gutenberg, abbreviated as PG, is a volunteer effort to digitize and archive cultural works, in order to “encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks.” Founded in 1971 by Michael S. Hart, it is the oldest digital library. Most of the items in its collection are the full texts of public domain books. The project tries to make these as free as possible, in long-lasting, open formats that can be used on almost any computer. As of March 2009, Project Gutenberg claimed over 28,000 items in its collection. Project Gutenberg is affiliated with many projects that are independent organizations which share the same ideals, and have been given permission to use the Project Gutenberg trademark.

I currently have three different eBook applications installed on my iPhone and our family’s iPod Touch. These are:

  1. Stanza
  2. The eReader iPhone application
  3. The Kindle iPhone application

All of these programs are FREE. I wrote about eBooks and the iPhone in December 2008 in the post, “Dickens and more: Free eBooks on the iPhone.” (A complete list of my iPhone apps is also available.) To start our eBook quest for Classen SAS, I used Stanza to download “Alice in Wonderland” from Project Gutenberg.

Downloading Alice in Wonderland from Project Gutenberg with Stanza

How amazing it was and is to:

  1. Think of a book I’d like to obtain for my son to read.
  2. Perform a quick search in the Project Gutenberg database via the Internet for the book.
  3. Click a small, simple button: DOWNLOAD– And in seconds, the book is available for us to read and enjoy. For FREE!

This is AMAZING! This is incredible. I know eBooks have been around for awhile, but I’m still amazed to personally experience the ease with which public domain texts like this can be legally downloaded and obtained, and how affordably commercially sold books can be purchased and downloaded as well.

Of the four books we needed to obtain, we were able to download three of them (Alice in Wonderland, A Christmas Carol, and Treasure Island) for free. The only one we had to buy was “Animal Farm.” Initially I found this via Stanza and the integrated website FictionWise for $17.

Animal Farm by George Orwell available as a $17 eBook

That seemed very pricey, so I checked the Kindle Store and found it for just 99¢. Yes, that’s right, just a dollar, and in the space of a few minutes we obtained ALL the four reading books Alexander needs for school this summer.

Reading Treasure Island on the iTouch

Alexander wasn’t sure if he would like reading these books on the iTouch instead of in paperback form, but I suggested he give it a try. I think most existing readers, who love reading, are likely predisposed to prefer paper-based books because that is the reading platform we’ve personally experienced repeatedly in the past. It is going to be VERY interesting to see how Alexander likes reading these books this summer on the iTouch, and I’ll probably ask to interview him for an upcoming podcast about his perceptions and experiences. Interestingly, Alexander did not want to have some of his books downloaded to Stanza, some to the eReader application, and some to the Kindle iPhone app. He wanted all of them together. Since the three free eBooks are available via Project Gutenberg, I assume, these were available via the online Kindle Store as free downloads. Now ALL his eBooks are available an his iTouch as well as my iPhone, since both Kindle applications are linked to my Amazon account. There was no need to click “download” on my iPhone since these had been added to my existing and linked Kindle account. As soon as I opened the Kindle application this morning for the first time since Alex downloaded these new books, they quickly downloaded to my iPhone via Whispernet.

6th Grade Summer Reading List - Underwritten by Project Gutenberg

The future of reading will not be ENTIRELY digital, but I predict an ever-increasing amount of reading’s future will be digitized. Alexander’s a “kid of the future” for sure!

Reading Treasure Island on the iTouch

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6 Responses to Thanks Project Gutenberg for underwriting our 6th grade summer reading list

  1. […] quite a bit of excitement and pedagogical anticipation surrounding eBooks nowadays, especially for English teachers.  Wesley Fryer, for instance, writes with glee: How amazing it was and is […]

  2. […] just starting to “get into” reading eBooks this summer, and my experiences so far have been VERY positive. It is amazing to be able to have portable, mobile access to not only full-length books others have […]

  3. Intriguing – do you have any tools to enhance the reading process, such as marking favourite passages or noting & saving reactions as you read? Apart from low-cost access, is there any creative bonus from using technology to read such substantial pieces?

  4. Wesley Fryer says:

    Richard: I have not found tools yet in Stanza, eBookreader or Kindle for making annotations. That is a great question. Does anyone else know if this is possible?

    The big bonus for me, when it comes to eBooks, is accessibility. This past week I traveled to Alabama and forgot the printed book I’d been reading. I had my eBooks with me, however, so except for takeoff and landing times I was able to read!

  5. […] this month, I was delighted to learn that three of the four books he needs to read over the summer for school are available as FREE […]

  6. […] Wesley Fryer, author of one of my favorite blogs, Moving at the Speed of Creativity, talks about his son’s experience using the cell phone media in his post, “Thanks Project Gutenberg for underwriting our 6th grade summer reading list.” […]

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