In Search of Free Books
Where can your school, library, or community group find free or low-cost books for kids? There are a number of national organizations as well as local programs you can turn to for help filling the shelves of your library, classroom, or literacy program and putting books into the hands and homes of young readers.
Books for your program
Book Trust is a national literacy program that offers Title I elementary school students across the country the opportunity to choose books throughout the school year and keep them for their home libraries. Studies show that children are much more likely to read books that they choose, and having books at home brings proven benefits. Their mission is to help kids build home libraries full of books they want to read, and help teachers use those books in the classroom to build healthy habits of reading and learning. Books are selected and distributed through the Scholastic Book Club. The Book Trust has donated more than 1 million books to about 57,000 students in 21 states. If you’d like to find out whether your school or district is a good fit for Book Trust’s program, visit the Book Trust application page.
First Book is a national nonprofit that has provided more than 135 million new books to children in need. In neighborhoods across the country, First Book unites leaders from all sectors of the community to identify and support community-based literacy programs reaching children living at or below the poverty line and provide them with grants of free books. The First Book National Book Bank, a subsidiary of First Book, provides new books to children from low-income families using generous donations from children's book publishers. The First Book National Book Bank distributes large quantities of publisher-donated brand-new books to programs serving children from low-income families. The books are free to programs that are able to pick them up or for just the cost of shipping and handling. To access First Book's free and low-cost resources, programs must register at the First Book website.
The International Book Project gives books in the U.S., as well as shipping to communities and schools in the developing world. The Local Donation Program of the International Book Project provides books for classrooms, prison libraries, homeless shelters, after school programs, library bookmobiles, school libraries, and other literacy-based non-profits and is always looking to expand and provide literacy to those in need. Visit the website for more information about the Local Donation Program.
To help underfunded communities create a culture of reading, Kids Need to Read accepts requests for books from libraries, schools, and various literacy programs through an online application. Based on the age ranges and demographics of the population served, Kids Need to Read provides select books from their growing book list of more than 350 titles. Submissions from programs serving adolescent juvenile offenders, high school dropouts, youths living in poor urban or rural communities, immigrant children, kids with learning challenges, or children living on Native American reservations are strongly encouraged.
The Library of Congress has surplus books available to educational institutions and non-profit tax-exempt organizations. As most of the books have been turned over to the Library of Congress by other Federal agencies, the collection usually contains only a small percentage of publications at the primary and secondary school levels. There is continuous turnover in the supply of surplus books that can only be received in person by an authorized representative of an eligible organization. The value of the books available at any one time may not justify the expense of sending a representative to Washington solely to select books from this collection, but may be worth the trip in conjunction with a visit to the nation's capital.
Lisa Libraries provides new children's books to help fill bookshelves for small, grassroots organizations that work with low-income children in underserved communities and provide books to children who may never have had books to call their own. Some of the libraries established have been at day-care centers, prison-visiting areas for children of incarcerated parents, and after-school programs. Organizations interested in receiving books for their children should write to the Lisa Libraries.
The Literacy Empowerment Foundation (LEF) is dedicated to assisting educational programs by providing inexpensive children's books. The Reading Resource Project is an ongoing LEF program that distributes free books in sets of 100 books to literacy programs. Recipients pay shipping, handling, and administrative costs ($88 per set of 100 books). Reading levels are for preK through second grade and are available in a limited quantity on a first come, first served basis.
It is often worth contacting publishers as many make book donations to support literacy programs, schools and libraries. Contact the Association of American Publishers about being included in the list of groups for its Book Donation Initiative or reach out directly to publishers.
Chronicle Books often makes donations that are either related to individual titles for organizations whose requests for books or aid are modest and compelling. Chronicle will consider corporate contributions to individuals or direct grants to schools, colleges or universities under special circumstances and on a case-by-case basis.
Hachette Book Group donates more than 100,000 books annually, from a single signed copy for a fundraiser to large quantities for a struggling school district or library system. All requests for financial and book donations are handled by HBG’s Communications department: [email protected].
Book distribution programs
Books for Kids creates libraries, donates books, and partners with literacy programs to help young children develop the critical early foundation and skills they need to be successful in life. With a special emphasis on low-income and at-risk preschool-aged children, Books for Kids creates and furnishes libraries within existing children's centers.
Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, developed in 1995 for her hometown of Sevier County, Tennessee, has been replicated in communities across the United States and abroad to bring books into the homes of preschool children. Through the program, all young children in a participating community are eligible to be enrolled at birth or when they move into the community. Each month, from the day the child is born until their 5th birthday, a selected book arrives at the mailbox. The Dollywood Foundation has developed the delivery system, negotiated price, selected the publisher and the individual titles, and created registration and promotional materials. Local champions in the community — businesses, school districts, civic organizations, individuals, or local government — finance the cost of the books and the mailing, register the children and promote the program.
Reach Out and Read (ROR) programs make early literacy a standard part of pediatric primary care for low-income families. At every well-child check-up for children from six months to five years of age, doctors and nurses encourage parents to read aloud to their young children, offer age-appropriate tips and encouragement, and provide a new, developmentally appropriate children's book to keep. Though clinics need to raise funds to pay for the books, support may by available from the Reach Out and Read National Center or ROR Coalition.
RIF, the nation's oldest and largest children's literacy organization, is most well known for its flagship service, the Books for Ownership program. Through this program, children choose and keep several free paperback books each year and participate in reading motivation activities.
Request a local religious or service group to sponsor a book drive to collect gently used children's books for your organization. These national groups with local chapters include children's literacy among their service priorities:
You may be fortunate in your community to find a local organization dedicated to the redistribution of new and gently used children's books similar to the book banks below:
Local stores and libraries
Contact your local public libraries, bookstores, toy stores, and other businesses. They may be willing to donate or sell at a discount older or overstocked books that they carry. Better yet, create an ongoing partnership so they will regularly set aside books for your group.
Whenever you send out a newsletter or e-mail, include a Wish List of the books you'd like donated. This makes an especially effective appeal during the holidays. Choose the books for your wish list by checking with a children's librarian, teacher, or the recommended books on Reading Rockets. You could also make use of the Wish List feature on Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble or post your need for books on DonorsChoose.org.
Your public television station
Each month, participating public television stations distribute free books to their local partner organizations, who then make them available to children who otherwise would not have books of their own.
Grant opportunities for book funds
There are a number of small foundations dedicated to providing grants for the purchase of children's books for libraries and personal ownership including:
Online options and eBooks
Many sites on the Internet offer free children's books by unknown authors and of uncertain quality. The following sites, however, have some good online choices for kids. Note that the experience of reading a book online is very different from holding and reading a printed book.
The Digital Book Index is a catalogue of major eBook sites, university collections, commercial and non-commercial publishers, and hundreds of smaller specialized sites. A search for Children's Literature in the Subject Guide of the Digital Book Index results in links to some 3,500 contemporary and classic children's books and stories, including the State University Libraries of Florida's Literature for Children, a collection of the treasures of children's literature published largely in the United States and Great Britain from before 1850 to beyond 1950.
Completely free for teachers and librarians, Epic! is a digital reading platform for kids ages 12 and under. Epic! offers more than 35,000 thousand high-quality and award-winning fiction and nonfiction books, audio books, and videos from 250 publishers.
The non-profit ICDL Foundation's library has evolved into the world's largest digital collection of children's books. Currently its digital library collection includes 4,619 books in 59 languages. The compete ICDL collection is also available as a free iPad app. A limited number of titles are included in the free ICDL iPhone app. The ICDL also created the free Story Kit app that helps users create their own electronic storybooks for reading and sharing.
The Library of Congress' selection of digitized books includes illustrated children's classics for readers of all ages. The Library of Congress also makes available millions of primary sources for free online. To assist educators in teaching with primary sources, the Library offers classroom materials and professional development to help teachers engage students with content and develop critical thinking skills.
Project Gutenberg is the largest single collection of free electronic books. With more than 40,000 free books in the Project Gutenberg Online Book Catalog, the Project is on its way to meeting its goal to provide as many eBooks in as many formats as possible for the entire world to read in as many languages as possible. The Project Gutenberg site offers download formats suitable for eBook readers, mobile phones, and other devices.