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Tar Heel Reader Joins Building Wings
as Monarch Reader

A New Chapter in Accessible Books for Beginning Readers

Beginning in the summer of 2024, the Tar Heel online library of accessible books for beginning readers will be part of the Building Wings family of literacy instruction solutions.

A blue background with images of accessible books for beginning readers and for shared reading titled Monarch Reader by Building Wings.

Building Wings is proud to begin 2024 with the exciting news that it’s acquiring ownership of the Tar Heel Reader, marking a significant step in our continued commitment to creating accessible and inclusive reading experiences for all. Coming summer 2024, the digital library, which will be rebranded as Monarch Reader, will continue to bring accessible digital literature to users from more than 200 countries and territories.

History of Tar Heel Reader

Tar Heel Reader earned its impressive reputation as a free online platform providing a large collection of accessible, easy-to-read books for individuals with various learning needs. The digital library was founded in 2008 by Dr. Gary Bishop and Dr. Karen Erickson at UNC-Chapel Hill. By transferring ownership to Building Wings, the site, which will be rebranded as “Monarch Reader,” continues its valuable work of helping emergent readers engage more actively in reading and gain deeper meaning from texts.

The original Tar Heel Reader site was built by UNC-Chapel Hill’s Professor Emeritus Gary Bishop in the Department of Computer Science, whose academic interests focused on the use of technology to enable learners with disabilities, and Professor Karen Erickson, Director of the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies and a professor in the Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences. Named “Tar Heel Reader” in a nod to the university’s nickname, the site will become Monarch Reader under the ownership of Building Wings.

What does this change mean for users of the Tar Heel Reader?

The current digital library hosting tens of thousands of books in dozens of languages to support beginning and emergent readers will continue to have the components educators know and love such as alternative access methods and input device compatibility. Users can also change text and background color, which is particularly helpful for students with CVI (Cortical Vision Impairment.)
A screenshot from the new Monarch Reader website showing accessible books titled Discover or create your own book.

The library’s content is both age-appropriate and age-respectful for young and older readers. Accessibility for all is central to the Building Wings mission of breaking down learning barriers and providing tools that enable everyone to access the knowledge they seek and Monarch Reader will be an additional puzzle piece to enable that.

Four colored puzzle pieces representing Readtopia, ReadtopiaGO, Newstopia and Monarch Reader - literacy instruction resources from Building Wings
Tar Heel Reader has been a leader in inclusivity in the digital learning space. The merger with Building Wings represents a natural evolution to create a more comprehensive, robust platform to support readers of all abilities and ages.

Key Benefits of the Acquisition

One Site, More Knowledge

One of the immediate benefits is the compatibility of the Tar Heel Reader’s extensive library with literacy instruction solutions Readtopia, ReadtopiaGO, and Newstopia. For any topic about which students want to learn more from our own curriculum–be that rugby, super volcanoes on Pluto, or Cleopatra–they can enter the relevant search term into Monarch Reader to access pertinent content. Shared Reading and Self-directed reading are a part of comprehensive literacy, and Monarch helps support comprehension by building background knowledge and topical connections. This keeps students interested in and a participant of their own learning.

Screenshot of Monarch Reader Website with Topics of Books to explore

Supporting Research-Based Instructional Routines

High-quality instructional routines are essential to helping teachers accommodate a wide array of learning styles and student needs when teaching literacy. Readtopia and ReadtopiaGO are evidence-based lessons that promote literacy development. In support of that development and by partnering with Monarch Reader, teachers will be better able to:

  • Provide modeling and thinking aloud
  • Use a multisensory approach
  • Provide scaffolds for differentiated instruction
  • Build background knowledge
  • Spark student curiosity
  • Engage students with shared reading
  • Encourage self-directed and independent reading

Building Shared Reading Experiences

Monarch Reader supports shared reading experiences because the digital library is accessible from anywhere that has an internet connection, meaning that emergent readers, special education teachers, occupational therapists, families, and other caregivers can all engage in the reading experience with their students.

What’s next?

Our team is hard at work planning a smooth integration of Monarch Reader into the Building Wings family of literacy instruction solutions.. Our roadmap includes prioritizing accessibility and responding to users’ experiences and feedback.
Building Wings is looking forward to reaching new heights in the world of accessible digital reading. Get ready for this next chapter in our story–where Monarch Reader provides even more tailored resources and reading materials for readers of diverse abilities and their instructors. Stay informed with information about its release through email updates.


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Karen A. Erickson, Ph.D.​

Karen A. Erickson, Ph.D. is Director of the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies at University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill. Her focus is on understanding the best ways to assess and teach reading and writing to children with the most severe disabilities. As a special education teacher, Dr. Erickson has worked to support students with a range of disabilities in a variety of classroom settings, particularly students who do not use speech as their primary means of communication.


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