Retail price: Classroom one-year subscription, $99.95 (up to 35 students); classroom recurring subscription, $14.95 a month; school site license, $995

By MaryAnn Karre

BigUniverse is a dynamic online reading, writing, and sharing community that has more than 2,600 excellent fiction and nonfiction books for young readers.

Quality and Effectiveness: BigUniverse is a learning community that provides a wide variety of attractive books from leading publishers, the tools to create new books easily, and many ways for its members to connect with others to share messages and books. The library of publishers’ books is impressive; it contains many excellent nonfiction titles, and they display beautifully, looking very much like the original books. Even the sound and “feel” of turning pages is similar to that experienced with a printed book. Although it is a broad community of readers and writers in more than 150 countries, contributions and messages are monitored and limited to ensure a safe experience for young members.

Ease of Use: BigUniverse’s bright colors and prominent tabs for reading, writing, and sharing make it easy and fun to navigate. Students love to create a personal page with backgrounds and an avatar chosen from the site’s collections. Even young users can find books with the browse and search features on the first page, or they can use the navigation guides to locate books by grade, reading level, interest age, category, and/ or language. The books can be read, saved to a bookshelf, and shared with others. Creating books is simple and fun too, requiring very little computer expertise.

Creative Use of Technology: By allowing members to comment, recommend, and read what others think and to share their original books with the world, BigUniverse has created a safe, fun, and educational social network.

Suitability for Use in a School Environment: BigUniverse is a simple way to add thousands of books, which can be shared by any number of students at the same time, for a fraction of what the print copies would cost, with no wear and tear on the collection, and without filling up valuable classroom and library space. Teachers can assign books to students and assess comprehension with fun quizzes, get scores instantly, and view assessment reports. The books display beautifully on interactive whiteboards, so it’s easy to share with large groups, and the writing aspect is easily adapted to reports, reading responses, and writing workshops; or custom books can be created to support the curriculum. BigUniverse also uses reading levels (Fountas & Pinnell, DRA ), so students can choose books at their reading levels, and educators can use them to differentiate instruction.

Top Features
¦ Readers can locate books by grade, reading level, interest age, category, and language.
¦ BigUniverse is a simple way to integrate and teach technology in the elementary classroom.
¦ The product improves home-school communication, allowing teachers and parents to become involved in students’ reading and writing.

Overall Rating
BigUniverse has an impressively large collection of e-books for the elementary reader, most gratifyingly its nonfiction and foreign-language books. But it is the whole reading-writing-sharing package that sets it above all other e-book products.