Simbi: the free eBook platform for world literature for kids

by Barb Reid, Primary School Teacher-Librarian, United World College of Southeast Asia – East Campus, Singapore

Simbi and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

At the May 2022 Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) in Singapore, there was a panel with publishers from different countries discussing how they supported the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), both in practical terms of how they ran their businesses and in terms of the titles they publish.

One of the panelists was Lisa Lyons Johnstone, president and publisher of Kids Can Press in Canada, who briefly mentioned a free eBook platform they are developing called Simbi.

She brought it up in the context of books to support the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) so I decided to explore it further. Of course, Kids Can Press already has an imprint/collection dedicated to global issues — CitizenKids — complete with teaching guides.

From what I can tell Simbi was launched in 2017 with the purpose of supporting readers who might not otherwise have access to quality texts. The website says that  “Simbi’s content is carefully selected to inspire students to be compassionate and active global citizens” and “Readers are able to hear other readers from around the globe, celebrating that not everyone is alike. In this way, Simbi’s Global Library increases compassion, confidence, and self-efficacy.” On beginning to explore Simbi, that is certainly evident.

There is a wide range of books from around the globe in many Genres, including the “United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.”

You can also sub-select on other aspects, e.g., Narration time, F&P (Fountas & Pinnell reading level), Gear Level (Emergent / Beginning / Developing / Proficient), Grades (Early Emergent Reader – Grade 12), and Type (e.g., books good for teaching particular literacy skills).

Simbi also provides access to some of the English-language books on the UN’s official “SDG Book Club” for children — just filter on “SDG Book Club” under “Type” to read them instantly online. For a full list of the English-language titles announced so far in the official UN “SDG Book Club,” click this link: Simbi tells me that they intend to have all the SDG Book Club books, in all the available languages, on the platform in the future.

You can also filter on languages, including two First Nation languages. Helena, the Educational Success Lead at Simbi, says that they are continually adding new languages and books to the platform.

Books in Simbi have narrations attached to them. Most are professionally narrated and others are also narrated by user volunteers so listeners are exposed to a variety of voices and accents. A useful feature is that users can narrate books themselves and listen back to their own narration. Some  of the content is available in languages other than English.

All of this is free for readers however, there are some inexpensive paid options that appear to have some useful features for educators.

Simbi in the classroom

I decided to trial Simbi in a Grade 2  poetry lesson. I wanted to see if a class could use a single account so that we could go back and listen to each other reading the poems aloud at the conclusion of the lesson.

The first thing to note is that the children loved it. It was so useful for them to hear themselves reading aloud. There is a wide variety of content accessed with easy to use filters. Content covers all ages, K-12. The free product is available 24/7 and students were keen to keep using it at home.

I used a free learner account. I have looked into a subscription and even though the free account suits our needs to a certain extent, I will purchase a subscription (around $90 CAD per 35 students) to try out the classroom management features. The initial lesson wasn’t easy with just me and 22 eight year olds who had never seen it before, but it nonetheless convinced me that once the children had used it successfully in one lesson, it could become their go to eBook platform. If I want a whole class to do narrations (as opposed to just reading and listening) in the future, I would need to find a more suitable space to do this.

In summary, why would you want to trial Simbi?

  • The diversity of content – books from around the world
  • The diversity of narrators – if a student wants to listen to a book there is a choice of narrators
  • Great filters to drill down into the content
  • The ability for students to narrate the book themselves — for them to listen back to or to share
  • I can certainly see EAL & LS in our school using this as well as it being used in classrooms
  • The Simbi Foundation, in partnership with the United Nations, helps children and refugees in remote areas and in Canada, India and Uganda with learning resources. 

Simbi is certainly worth investigating and sharing with colleagues. I look forward to hearing how others enjoy it and use it.

Barbara Reid is a New Zealander who calls Australia home. She is currently the Primary Teacher Librarian at United World College of South East Asia (East). She has worked in school libraries in Australia, Singapore and Malaysia. Find her on Twitter @barb_philip and on Goodreads

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