Now that school is out, let the summer reading begin! Literacy is the gift that keeps on giving, but what if you’re having a hard time affording that gift? We want to encourage our kids to read voraciously, but keeping those shelves stocked with new adventures can definitely put a dent in the budget. Some families have a hard enough time keeping food on the table, let alone books on the shelves. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to feed your child’s appetite for literacy and without sacrificing your ability to feed your family.
First, let me say that your local library is and always will be the best place to find free books for kids. Granted, you don’t get to keep them forever; but most libraries allow you to keep books for three weeks and renew once, for a total of six weeks. That’s usually enough time to get through even the thickest of children’s books. Plus, the more you use your library, the more funding they get to keep their doors open and expand.
Sometimes, though, the library isn’t enough. Maybe your library is tiny, with a minuscule section for children. Maybe it’s too far away from your home. Maybe there’s another reason you can’t use your local library. Even if you do use your library regular, I think every child deserves books of their own to hold onto, love, reread and cherish. That’s why I went on a search for other places to find free books for kids. Let’s check out what I found.
Where to find free print books for kids
I was going to do both print and ebooks, but honestly, finding free ebooks for kids is as simple as typing “free ebooks for kids” into Bing or whatever search engine you use. There are literally thousands of places out there for those. While I’m totally on board with the ebook movement, a lot of kids still prefer to hold a book in their hands, which is why this post focuses on finding free print books for kids.
Freecycle, Craigslist & Facebook groups
I don’t know if Freecycle is as popular as it used to be, but our area still has a group for it. People post stuff they don’t want and if you’re interested, you let them know. Same concept for Craigslist and regional Facebook “yard sale” groups. On Facebook, just search for your area, then “yard sale” or “free stuff” to find a group. Example, “Monroe County Free Stuff.” One word of caution: always meet in a public place. Don’t go to anyone’s home and don’t let them come to yours. I mean, I suppose if you’re also getting furniture or something, you kind of have to go to their house. If you’re just picking up books, though, there’s no reason to take the extra risk.
Book Crossing is a site that lets people tag their books and release them into the wild for others to find. How does that help you? They have a “go on a hunt” page where you can find books released in your area. Granted, you have no idea if it’s a children’s book or not, but the adventure alone is a fun experience.
Yes, the whole point of a yard sale is to SELL things, but if you go at the end of the last day, sometimes people just want to get rid of what’s left over. Offer to take the children’s books off their hands for them so they don’t have to haul them back inside (or across town to the thrift store dropoff). They may say no, but just as many may say yes. I would if it meant I didn’t have to take them back into my house!
Summer reading programs
Many summer reading programs reward your child with reading by giving them more free books to keep the momentum going. Half Price Books, for example, gives kids a $5 gift card every month for completing 300 minutes of reading in both June and July. Barnes & Noble has their own summer reading program too. Many local banks and credit unions have a summer reading program where they give kids a small cash reward when they reach their reading goal. While I think the idea is to get you to put that cash into their savings account, you can also use it to buy more books.
Paperback Book Swap
I used to be a member of Paperback Book Swap a while ago and they had a good selection of all genres. They’ve grown even more over the years. The idea is simple: you list books you don’t want anymore, then use your “swap” credits to get books you do want. You just need to pay shipping on the book you send out. It’s super cheap with media mail.
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library
In 1995, Dolly Parton started an organization to get books into the hands of all kids. It was a regional thing at the time, but became so successful that she made it possible to replicate the program all over the world. You can register your child and they’ll receive a free book each month. It’s not available everywhere, but it’s worth checking into! Visit the Imagination Library to find out if it’s available in your area. So Easy Being Green wrote a really detailed post about the Dolly Parton Imagination Library as well, I suggest you check that out.
Local & Regional Literacy Resources
Many communities have organizations designed to help get books into the hands of young readers. I’m listing the ones that I could find below. If these don’t cover your area, call your local library for more ideas. Another idea: contact your local WIC office. Even if you’re not receiving WIC for your children, the office can often point you in the direction of other great resources for low-income families. Here are a few programs that I found that let you register your child. I’ve noted the areas they cover.
- Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy: Georgia preschool children
- PJ Library: offers books for children of Jewish faith
- Books for Kids has a list of libraries that they’ve helped create throughout the US for people who may not have access to public libraries.
- The Lisa Libraries in New York
- Reach Out and Read: Scroll to the bottom and use the dropdown menu to find programs near you.
Like the literacy resources above, book banks are community-based organizations that allow you to donate your used books or pick up used books for your kids (and sometimes yourself). Check out a few that I found, or call your local library to see if they can point you in the direction of one in your area.
- Children’s Book Bank of Philadelphia
- Children’s Book Bank in Portland, Oregon
- Children’s Museum of Richmond Book Bank
- Toronto Book Bank
- Maryland Book Bank
- Bernie’s Book Bank in Chicago
Organize your own book drive
If you can’t find resources in your community, create one yourself. This can be as simple as having a book swap party or as complicated as setting up a full-fledged book drive for your neighborhood. If you’re going all out, you might want to see about getting your drive on this list to enlist help from publishers. If you’re not comfortable throwing a swap party in your house, contact your local park and ask about hosting it there. Our park lets us rent tables for a party for just $5 each. Then you can get the word out through scout groups, church groups, etc.
Other ideas for finding free print books for kids that don’t fit into the above categories include:
- Asking friends and family to pass on books that their kids are done with
- Doctors offices (sometimes they get tons of donations for their waiting room that they don’t always use)
- Your child’s teacher (one year, Jake’s teacher cleaned out her house and gave all the kids her now-grown children’s books, stuffed animals, games, etc)
- Your library’s Book Fair sale: my library has a huge book sale every year. During the last few days, you can fill a bag for $2, then $1. On the last day, they give books away for free.
Did I miss any resources that you know of for free print books for kids? Tell me in the comments so I can check it out! If you have any other unconventional ideas on how to get books into the hands of kids, let me know that too.