All opinions in this article are my own, and I got zip/zilch compensation for it. This is based on our personal experience and opinions.
The first time I heard about Epic! Digital Library the person mentioning it called it the “Netflix for kids.” That’s an accurate description, right down to the pros and cons. I went and checked it out, and the more I looked the more I was curious. We did a trial month. That month stretched into a few, then more. We’re hooked!
What is Epic!?
Epic is a digital library of children’s books, used through an app for mobile devices and tablets, and through the computer interface. There are eBooks, audio books, read-to-me books, and educational videos. Unlike Overdrive or Hoopla, Epic! is only for kids’ books. From picture books to chapter books, Epic! has a huge assortment of books. If you want to check it out, look at this collection of 90+ books I put together for elementary age homeschooling.
What does it cost?
If you’re a brick-and-mortar teacher or librarian with qualifying proof, it’s free. For the rest of us, it’s $7.99 a month. There are 3 different types of subscriptions: Educators (free) Homeschoolers, and Parents. Both Homeschoolers and Parents subscriptions are the same price, but they have slightly different features. There used to be a yearly subscription available but it isn’t listed now.
I do suggest that everyone sign up for the Homeschooler option because it has some additional features like assigning books, creating collections, and tracking your kids’ reading that are more robust than the parent version. If your child’s teacher has a profile and assigns books, this may not be an option for you.
How does it work?
Epic! curates high-qualify, award-winning books from children’s publishers in a digital format. Children log into their profile, browse, and read a selection of books selected for the age/level that you chose in the parent panel. You can also add Collections to their favorites list for them to check out. Collections are one of my favorite features because everyone can create and share collections through the community. It makes my job much easier!
So now that we’ve established what Epic! is, what it cost, and how it works, I wanted to share the pros and cons of this particular subscription. There are a few bugs and quirks that annoy me, but not enough to make me cancel it.
- Epic! is FULL of amazing children’s books. Caldecott book award winners, Newberry Award Winners, and more. It’s not just the old classics, it also includes books like Rosie Revere, Engineer, the Sir Cumference math series, and National Geographic books. When we decided to use the new Torchlight curriculum (a secular, modern literary-based curriculum) for the Princess this next year, I was able to find a large chunk of the book list on Epic! Which helps with the costs, of course.
- It’s safe. Unlike Hoopla or Overdrive, I can hand my kid the app on their tablet and not worry that they will delete my account or find weird porno books. Even though the app includes some educational videos from YouTube, it does not open up the YouTube app and give kids unfettered access to the internet. It is child friendly enough that my 3-year-old can use it unsupervised. And you can turn off the videos in the Parent panel (I did!)
- There are no library fines. Call me unorganized or whatever you like, I have trouble getting the library books renewed on time or managing the various different time frames (magazines and tablets are 1 week, books are 2, movies are completely different) and invariably end up with some amount of fines. Which, when we’re talking about 15-20 picture books at $.20 a day, can add up REALLY fast!
- It’s a streaming service, but it does allow some downloaded content depending on your device’s storage capability. So at home, the kids can browse and read what they want, while out and about we can do school picks. It’s also instant streaming – the kid picks a book, it opens and reads. No loading time, no frustrating frozen tablet while the kids punch buttons and get annoyed.
- Epic! allows up to 4 profiles – not including the parent profile. So one subscription works for our entire family. I like saving money, and splitting the $8 a month between all three kids is a nice perk. Especially because we’re using the books for school read-alouds. I can assign specific books to each kid.
- Epic! only carries children’s materials. That means that their entire focus is on kids, and it shows. The quantity of materials, the accessibility, the read-to-me option for younger children, and the vocabulary definitions for every book are all part of that commitment to children. It’s not frustrating or annoying for the kids to use, and they enjoy exploring the suggestions.
- I like that we don’t have to purchase each book individually. We tried out the Kindle app, and I was appalled at how quickly the costs could add up for us. Epic! is a much better fit.
- The search engine sucks. No, I mean it REALLY sucks! Unless you type in the exact name with the exact capitalization you will not find the book you’re looking for even if it’s in the bowels of the Epic! library. If you search by topic, a decent selection comes up at first. Even if I know in the depths of my heart that they have more than 20 books on animals, that’s all the search function might show. Do very specific searches, and double up by searching for the author name too.
- The audio-book version is often available but not the picture book version. My kids want to see the pictures, and while the audio book is cool if you’re listening to a chapter book, it’s not so cool for picture books. I’m hoping that Epic! will be able to obtain the license for both audio and visual versions of books that we’re interested in.
- I cannot find anyone’s collection unless they give me a direct link. This is killing me, because there’s a vast amount of resources put together by the community that I cannot seem to get to. I’m pretty sure this is a bug and it will be worked out, but for now I’m annoyed.
- Like Netflix, there’s some drek in there. Not every children’s book is a good one or is well written. I once found a lovely watercolor-illustrated book with gorgeous graphics illustrating the story of a boy who thought he was a bird. It was nice, right up until the last 2 pages when the child was captured by a hunter and put in a cage. I kind of went “what?” and skipped it. Likewise, some of the info books tend to be boring and dry. A minor annoyance, but the black-and-white illustrations in a book also seem rather pointless. If I’m reading a book on science experiments, I want color and excitement!
- There is no phone number to call. As much as I hate calling people, sometimes only a phone call will fix an issue. Instead, we’re stuck having to email support or try to catch their online help desk at whatever weird and random times they happen to be available. I haven’t managed that yet, by the way.
- This one is a bit picky: I have to pay money. It’s a valid one, considering that our library offers both Hoopla and Overdrive for free. The problem is that Hoopla and Overdrive are both geared towards adult users. Their interface isn’t little kid friendly, and their search functions are even more annoying. There is no casual browsing or instant reading going on there, and my kids couldn’t use it unsupervised.
All that said, Epic! is a good resource, especially for those who don’t have a great public library nearby. It’s cheap, it offers books for all ages and abilities, and it even offers a good teacher interface specifically designed for homeschoolers. How difficult is that to find these days? I think it’s a keeper!