Books offer children a glimpse into the world they may not see when looking out the window. Reading can spark a child's imagination, strengthen a family bond, or offer information not easily found. Whatever your reason, getting books into the hands of all children is possible with the help of programs and places that provide free books to kids.
Free Books for Any Child
People often think that free items are only available to those who qualify or that the items are somehow of inferior quality. The truth is, children of all ages and backgrounds have access to great free books through these amazing resources:
- Dolly Parton's Imagination Library was born from the performer's desire to give back to the community. Her Imagination Library, which was started in 1995 in Sevier County, Tennessee, provides books to preschool children every month from the time they are born until the child's fifth birthday. The program has been adopted in a number of communities all over the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom and is financed by local businesses, civic organizations, government agencies, school districts, and individuals. Check out the website to see if your community is already involved in this great program.
- The Little Free Library is a non-profit based in Wisconsin. People around the world can buy or build a small enclosed bookshelf on a post to keep in a public area of their community. Any community member can then leave books in the little free library as well as take books from it. This program instills a sense of community while promoting literacy for all.
National Reading Programs
Many large corporations and businesses offer reading rewards programs throughout the year or just during summer months for children.
- Barnes and Noble hosts a summer reading program where first through sixth graders can earn a free book after reading eight books.
- Pizza Hut's Book It! Program rewards children who meet reading goals with pizza. Children who participate during the entire program can be entered to win books such as the 2015-2016 giveaway which includes a 100-book library and a Kindle e-reader.
Many authors, publishing companies, and bookstores hold regular giveaways to promote new books or authors. For example, New York Times Best-selling author, Chris Grabenstein posts giveaways regularly in his subscriber newsletter as well as on social media. If your child has a favorite author, look for their website or follow them on social media to see when there are giveaways of free books and promotional items.
Large book publishers like Penguin promote giveaways on social media as well as via email to subscribers of their newsletters. Every children's book should have a publisher listed somewhere inside or on the covers. Take a look at which publishers represent most of your child's favorite books and look for their websites to subscribe. While there is no guarantee your child will win, these giveaways can be a fun way to learn more about your child's favorite authors, books, and publishers.
A book swap is very similar to a book exchange, but swaps are largely done online and do have a small cost associated with postage. In a book exchange, the people donating books don't necessarily receive books in return. In a book swap, both parties receive books. Websites such as PaperBack Swap allow members to trade used books with others around the world. Essentially, you post books you would like to give away and pay the postage to send them to the person who requests them. Then you can request books from others and they pay the postage to send them to you.
One of the best sources for free books is your local library. Children can check out several books at a time and keep them for a week or two before bringing them back to exchange for more. Many libraries hold annual used book sales as well where the public can buy used books at extremely low prices. Once the sale is over, the library may offer the leftover books for free to the public. Occasionally libraries host free book giveaways in which older books are culled from the library shelves and given to anyone who wants them. If you are unsure of the programs available at your nearest library, stop in or give them a call.
Book exchanges are an awesome way to garner a new selection of free kid's books, and you are recycling. Families, schools, organizations and even communities can organize a book exchange on a small or large scale. How does it work?
- Get together with your group and select a specific day for the exchange.
- For smaller groups, set up a meeting place where each person can bring books they no longer want.
- For larger groups, place several large boxes or bins at the entrances to a central location asking for donations of gently used books.
- Get the community involved by placing boxes at local stores and offices as well.
- Divide the books up by reading level, and place them in boxes designated accordingly.
- Decide how many books each child can take home based on the amount of donations and the number of children involved.
- Let each age group, or reading level, take turns visiting the book exchange bins and selecting the appropriate number of books to take home and keep.
- Once all the children have selected their books, put the extra books away to add to next year's book exchange or donate to your local library or an organization in need.
This is a great way to recycle gently used books and foster a love of reading and sense of community among children.
Downloads and Online Books
Free book downloads and ebooks are becoming more popular and easier to access on the Internet. Numerous sites offer a variety of books for download or to read online. These websites typically focus on new and independent authors so you aren't likely to find famous titles here, but there are still many great stories.
Free Books for Specific Populations
Many families struggle to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads, so books are a luxury these kids might not own. Children living in low-income families, children with chronic illnesses, and children in need of a family often don't get enough quality reading time with adults or have the resources to explore new books regularly. For children that qualify, there are many great programs available to help share the massive world books hold.
Literacy Programs for At-Risk Kids
Federal and local programs are available to boost literacy across the country by ensuring all kids the chance to see how much fun reading can be.
Reading is Fundamental's literacy program, Books for Ownership, delivers free books and other resources to children in need. Through federal funding combined with some community contributions, these programs host events multiple times a year where families can have fun and children who qualify can go home with new books. These books are distributed to children who qualify as "at risk" under the National Literacy Act of 1991 and who participate in the Federal Free and Reduced Meal program. You will have to check with local organizations to see if they participate in this program.
Just as there are organizations that provide shelter, food, and clothing to people in need, there are also organizations focused on providing books for kids.
- A national nonprofit organization, First Book's goal is to identify and create community-based literacy programs that focus on providing new free books for children in need. Book publishers provide generous donations of children's books to a subsidiary of First Books, the First Book National Book Bank, who distributes these books to programs that serve low-income families.
- Pages for Children is a wonderful program that provides books, as well as a variety of greeting cards, to hospitalized children. It's easy to donate to this worthy program as well.
- Pj Library provides free Jewish children's books and music to families raising children in a Jewish home. The program is available to families with children ages six months to eight years old.
Free Books For Schools and Communities
Book Fairs and Drives
Schools and libraries often host book fairs, which can provide a number of free books to the library based on book fair sales. Scholastic is one of the well-known book fair providers. They offer fairs geared at three different age groups and allow schools to use their profits to buy books as well as supplies.
- Lisa Libraries' mission is working with small organizations to provide books for children in under-served areas, particularly those children who have never owned their own books. Organizations that have tax exempt 501(c)(3) status can apply for donations by providing the requested information.
- The Library of Congress Surplus Books Program donates books they no longer need to non-profit tax-exempt organizations as well as schools, colleges, and universities.
- Reach Out and Read is a non-profit organization that has teamed up with doctors and nurses to provide books to children from six months of age to five years old. During each well-care visit, parents are encouraged to read to their children, and a free book is provided for kids to take home. Medical providers interested in participating in this program can apply through the online application process. Parents can use the website to find a program near you.
Value of Reading
Reading to children, particularly very young children, has been shown to promote stronger child-parent bonds and help children develop important language skills. These findings have prompted the American Academy of Pediatrics to recommend that parents should read to children as young as newborns and continue at least until around age 5.
While the value of books has been clearly stated, not everyone has the resources needed to make books a regular part of their children's lives. For many children, a bookshelf filled with books is something they take for granted. For others however, books are a luxury. Thanks to the internet and some really great organizations, there are many ways to ensure every child can reap the benefits of books in their daily lives.