This home page for the TumbleBook library may look kind of stark, but don't make the mistake of underestimating this site! TumbleBooks are 'animated, talking picture books' which are 'created by adding animation, sound, music and narration to existing picture books in order to produce an electronic picture book which you can read, or have read to you.' As of now, they have around 300 books in their collection, and like gmail, the number is growing all the time - well, not perhaps by the second, but growing nevertheless. Apparently they started off in 2004 with only 17 books (source this article at Free Library)! The collection, while not exhaustive yet, is varied and has both fiction and non-fiction books, thus making it a great resource for introducing young children to non-fiction. The expected audience for these books is mainly elementary and primary school kids.
When you browse the collection (in alphabetical order according to author or title or newest first), you can either just look at the covers, or see the details (as above). In addition to a summary of the book along with author, illustrator and publisher information, you also get the 'tumbletime', reading level - whether self read or read to, and links to book reviews. Books which have literacy games or puzzles associated will have a puzzle piece icon in the right upper corner. Click on the name or the thumbnail to start reading the book, which opens in a new page or tab according to your browser settings.
No matter how many books we read, I never get tired of this little fellow tumbling on the screen while the book is loading - which takes a surprisingly small amount of time on a broadband connection! Once loaded, the default is the accompanying audio to start automatically. However you can easily shift to the manual mode or just shut the voice off. However, even in the manual mode, the text will continue to be highlighted as if being read. There are no page turns, but the change of scenes is animated, as are some parts of each scene. Note that this means there are some differences from the original book - not in text, but which text accompanies which drawing, and which part of the page is focused on. On the other hand, this method does draw you into the book, into the telling of the story. I recommend reading the book before or after watching a TumbleBook, so as to not dilute the encompassing experience.
The games open in a similar window/tab, load similarly and are fun to play after reading the book - though not if the kid hasn't learnt to read yet.
In addition to the animated story books, they also have read-along chapter books (with audio) and high quality readings of classic books for the older children. I have only glanced at these, not having any need to exhaustively explore these yet, but I am sure they would be fine too. Only nothing quite compares to the pleasure an animated book gives a small child, doesn't it?
The only drawback is that the site is not free - but it has a 30 day free trial! Although at no point it specifically excludes individuals from becoming a member, the site focuses totally on library and school memberships - to whom they give unlimited remote access at $400 per year. An excellent reason to badger your library to provide TumbleBooks if they don't have it already! Teachers will find many useful resources such as allowing kids to use this at home, an online player for non stop story telling, searching not only by books but also by reading level, quizzes, book reports, lesson plans and worksheets, the ability to mail TumbleBooks (or TumbleCards) and also record them in your own voice, and downloadable icons and buttons. (Also a couple of desktop backgrounds - go to the Admin section for downloads). These resources are of course open to anyone on the site, except lesson plans and quizzes I think, which are only for schools.
TumbleBook library, TumbleBook readables and TumbleBook talking books form the digital media division of TumbleWeed Press, Inc, a Toronto based children's books publisher.
PS - Final opinion? Great site to keep the kids busy for a long time! No ads, lots of books and nice animation. Of course, I am always biased towards anything Book-y!