E-Book Enlightenment

The Read Activity


The Read Activity is one of the core Activities of Sugar, and will already be installed in whatever version of Sugar you are using.  Although it is available at http://activities.sugarlabs.org  you generally will not upgrade to a newer version of Read than the one you were given because Read is not fully self contained, so the version of Read that works with the latest Sugar will not work with Sugar .82, for instance.

The newest versions of Read use a different kind of toolbar than the older versions.  Since most XO laptops currently have the older version of Read,  most of the screenshots will show that version.  I'll switch to showing the latest Read to demonstrate features only supported on there.

You will usually start Read by resuming a book that you have downloaded to the Journal.   The PDF format is supported by all versions of Read.  If you are using the very latest version of Sugar then Read will also support these formats:

  • DjVu
  • Comic Book Zip (CBZ)
  • EPUB
  • Plain Text
This is what Read looks like when you resume a PDF.  The Read toolbar is selected by default.

Read Read Tab

The arrow buttons let you page pack and forth through the document.  Normally this is not the way you would navigate.  The normal way is to use the Page Up and Page Down keys or the arrow keys.  When the XO laptop is in tablet orientation you can use the game controls to navigate through the document.

The text field with the current page number in it can also be used to navigate.  Enter the page number you wish to go to and press the Enter key to skip to that page.

The dropdown control is for PDFs that have a table of contents that lets you skip to a chapter.  Very few PDFs have this, and PDFs from Feedbooks for example do not have them.

The Read Activity remembers what page you left off on when you close it and will return to that page automatically when you resume the book later.  Unfortunately this does not work if you turn off or reboot your computer between ending the Activity and resuming it if you are using Sugar .82.  The problem is with that version of Sugar (and older ones), not with the Read Activity.  Sugar .84 and later fix this.

The next screen shot shows the Activity toolbar.  This is where you can close the Activity, rename the Journal entry, and share the book with others on the network. 

Read Activity Tab

In the screenshot above we have changed the Share with option from Private to My Neighborhood.  This makes your book available for copying by anyone on the network.  In the Neighborhood view this is what everyone will see:


If the person seeing this clicks on Join he will get the book copied to his own Journal.

Next we'll look at the Edit toolbar:

Read Edit Tab

The Edit toolbar lets you search for text strings in your book, plus copy text selections to the clipboard.  What may surprise you is that it can do this even for the books from the Internet Archive, which are made from scanned page images.  This is because behind the page image is a text representation of the text on the page.  In the screen shot above someone is searching for the word "Bingley" in Pride and Prejudice.  Note that the search only works as well as the quality of the text representation allows it to.  The text is created by OCR and is not proofread afterwards.

Copying a passage to the clipboard from this kind of book works too, as this screen shot shows:

Read Edit Tab

As you can see, the words "Is that his design in settling here?" have been successfully copied to the clipboard.  Regrettably the words do not get highlighted on the page when you select them in this kind of book.  They do get highlighted in a conventional PDF.

Next, the View toolbar:


The first four controls on this toolbar adjust the size of the page.  They can only zoom in and out on the page for PDFs, CBZs, and DjVus.  They cannot simply make the font larger and reflow the text on the page for these formats, although that is possible for EPUBs.

Now we come to a function of Read that is only supported on the latest versions of that Activity: multiple annotated bookmarks.  The star button shown in the toolbar below creates a bookmark and opens up a dialog where you may give the bookmark a Title and a Description.

Read Bookmark

When you close the dialog you'll see that the book has had a star placed to the left of the page.  You can use the arrow buttons on the toolbar not only to move between pages but also between bookmarks, as shown here:

Read Bookmark

This is the latest Read viewing an EPUB.  EPUBs have a built in table of contents which you can access from the toolbar:


Text to Speech is only supported for EPUBs and Plain Text files so far.

Here is the latest Read viewing a Plain Text file.  These can have highlighted passages, and when you use the Text to Speech function the word being spoken gets highlighted:

Ultimately, the Read Activity will be what you use for every supported e-book format.  Not every Sugar user will be able to use the latest Read, however.  It is a lot of work to update Sugar on hundreds of machines in the field, so some children will have to make do with a less powerful Read Activity.

Fortunately there are alternatives to Read that work on older versions of Sugar and can let you read e-books that your version of Read may not support.  The next two chapters describe these alternatives.