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In Search of Free Books

By: Rachael Walker
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

First Book

First Book is a national nonprofit that has provided more than 90 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. There are 25 to 30 book distributions hosted by the First Book National Book Bank annually at a variety of sites across the United States. The books are free to programs that are able to pick them up or just $0.45 per book to have them shipped. To access First Book's free and low-cost resources, programs must register at the First Book website.

Heart of America Foundation

The Heart of America Foundation's mission is to teach the values at the heart of America and to help people, particularly children, learn that they help themselves when they help others. Uniquely combining character education, literacy, and service learning, Heart of America's programs include Books From The Heart, a literacy program which engages students, corporations, and other organizations in gathering books that are not being used, solicits publishers for surplus books, and then gets these books into the hands children. Heart of America's priority is to provide books for elementary schools with 50% or more of their students enrolled in the free/reduced meal program. Interested schools can register to become a Books From The Heart Book Recipient School.

Kids Need to Read

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.

Library of Congress Surplus Books Program

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

The Lisa Libraries provides new children's books to help fill bookshelves for small, grass-roots 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

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 ($68 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.

Books for Kids Foundation

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. Tax-exempt organizations can apply for the creation of a library or a donation of books. Books for Kids does not ship books so organizations receiving book donations must pick up books from the Books for Kids Warehouse in Jersey City, NJ.

Roads to Reading

With a special focus on rural and small communities, Roads to Reading serves organizations across the country by providing new books for remedial literacy programming to schools, community centers, and licensed child care providers and to other non-profits serving children. Among their initiatives to bring quality reading materials to children in underserved communities are an Annual Competitive Book Donation Program, Books for All Kids, the Director's Discretionary Book Donation Program, and All Children Need Books. Each program has individual guidelines and application deadlines. Recipients pay shipping, handling, and administrative fees.

Scholastic Book Grants

The Scholastic Book Grants Program is a corporate in-kind giving initiative that provides high-quality reading materials to children and families in need. Non-profit organizations interested in applying for grants of 500–1000 books must complete a Book Grants Application. Other book publishers, including Hachette Book Group, Penguin and Random House also make book donations to support literacy programs, schools and libraries.

Book distribution programs

Dolly Parton's Imagination Library

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

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 (approximately $2.75 per book), support may by available from the Reach Out and Read National Center or ROR Coalition.

Reading Is Fundamental (RIF)

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.

Local sources

Book Drives

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:

Local chapters of these professional membership organizations may also be supportive:

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.

Wish Lists

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

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.

E-Books

Digital Book Index

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.

International Children's Digital Library (ICDL)

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 4,643 books in 61 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.

Internet Archive

Try the Internet Archive's site OpenLibrary for an interface to the published children's books on archive.org and links to other online book collections.

Library of Congress

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

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.

TumbleBookLibrary

TumbleBookLibrary is an online collection of children's favorite story books, such as "The Paper Bag Princess," "Diary of a Worm," "How I Became a Pirate," "Miss Malarkey Doesn't Live in Room 10," "One Duck Stuck," and "Tops and Bottoms," that have added animation, sound, music and narration. The result is an electronic picture book that you can read, or have read to you. The TumbleBookLibrary is a subscription service, but offers a free one-month trial for librarians, media specialists, teachers and school administrators that provides unlimited access for everyone in your school or library to the complete TumbleBookLibrary.

We Give Books

We Give Books is a digital initiative of the Penguin Group and the Pearson Foundation that connects kids to quality online books. The books available for free online reading are a mix of fiction and nonfiction children's picture books appropriate for children through age ten. We Give Books also provides young readers the opportunity to practice philanthropy — for each book read online, We Give Books makes sure that physical books get to children's literacy programs worldwide.

Reprints

You are welcome to print copies or republish materials for non-commercial use as long as credit is given to Reading Rockets and the author(s). For commercial use, please contact info@readingrockets.org.

Comments

I am a coordinator of a reading program at a pediatric office we give books to children when they come in to our office for checkups this is funded through donations, we are having a hard time finding funding.

Lily I have about 10 teens girls who attend our Boys&Girls Club who would love to read your books. We do not have a good selection of book for our middle school kids. Most of the book donated to us are out of date or childrens books. If you could help I would be so thankful!!

HI Maria, thanks for your reply. Please could you tell me where your club is located? Many thanks Lily Bass

Lilly We are looking to giving our students a book for D.E.A.R day. I know the girls in our school would love your book.

Arryn, Could do you four copies if that is any help. Where is your school? Lily

i am looking for a hospital to work with to give a set of babies first cardboard books (numbers, letters, shapes and colors) to every new baby/mother when they leave the hospital. please email me franheyman@msn.com

I am in charge of filling a library of a new k-8 charter school. We are looking for lots of biographies and classics with not much of a budget. Anyone have any thoughts of where I might start? suzqroberts@yahoo.com

Page by Page is an all volunteer, teen driven program where teens read to young children at free lunch sites throughout the summer. We are in need of coloring books, bookmarks, stickers etc, to give as reading incentives.

BIG NEWS. Excellent children's books are available at public libraries' Friends of the Library book sales ... at least in Ohio. I go to these to provide thousands of books for kids in the high poverty school where I voluteer. Books for kids are usually 25 cents each. Please attend these sales, and return to your schools or groups with hundreds of books at a time. Look at booksalefinder.com to find library book sales in your region. You will not regret it!

I have just volunteered as the Library project co-ordinator for my daughter's school. There are so many resources to look into.

We are trying to increase literacy in the children (and adults) in a low income neighborhood with failing schools through a small, free library, and we're trying to find books for all ages, infant on up, that we could get for free to keep it stocked. You can email me at: SharonM.E.Nelson@gmail.com if you might be able to help/have ideas!

Help!! I just started at an all Black high school with the majority of books written and published before the 1950s. There are quite a few of these books that have negro in their titles. I am in the process of removing these books, but need to get other books to replace them. Anyone know where or who I can ask for free or very reduced price books that high school kids would want to read?

These are great programs. I did not realize that there were so many programs that provide books to children and organizations that work with children. The Roads to Reading and Kids Need to Read are available to rural areas and kids with learning challenges. These programs would be great for my school. I am also going to look into the Scholastic Book Grants program. Our school is in a low income area and many of the students do not have books at home to read. These programs, and others like them, would give them a chance to have a book of their own for the first time. I am definitly going to contact a few of these programs and I am going to share the list of programs with our reading program administrator. Hopefully we can receive books for our classrooms and our students.

Thank you for listing and describing all of these organizations. I was not aware that there were so many sources for free or reduced priced books. What a great resource!

This is a great article on getting free books from programs. I was not aware of all of the different programs out there. I have heard of a few of these, but I will definitely print out a copy for my classroom in case there are students who need books at home to read. This is wonderful.

This article is very informative. I like how it give you different idea for a classroom. I didnt know about all of these resorces for books. I will check into the programs to get books for my students. I will give the I read books website to my students so they can chose a book form home to read online. I found this article very helpful.

This article validates the necessity for promoting literacy by offering free books to students Nation wide. These organizations implement reading programs and free books made available to low income students, juveniles, high school drop outs, students in grades K-12 as well as infants. Most of these reading programs share a common interest toward literacy by engaging students to become better readers so they will have a chance to become successful in life. This article also offers grant opportunities and on line interactive book options to those interested. There are also a variety of free books being offered such as: electronic books, digital books, regular story books and an array of children books. In addition, by offering free books, these organizations will help build upon literacy within communities public libraries, schools, after school programs, hospitals and homes.

I was not aware of these websites and organizations that offer free books. This is great. I will definitely keep a copy of this for future references. Reading is a huge part of our student's future and I think it's great for organizations to participate in opportunities like this for children. Thank you for all of this great information.

This is a very intresting article I was not aware that there were so many programs that offers books, I will definitely keep this information and check on getting books for my students.This is a great article to help kids get books for school as well at home.

After reading this article, I learned how many different organizations provide free books to children living in poverty. Two organizations that I thought were very interesting were Heart of America Foundation and First Book. Their primary focus is to provide books to children that would normally not be able to get books without assistance. I also thought this article listed great ways and organizations that have literacy as one of their primary focuses. I really liked being able to learn all the ways to be able to get books for students that really need them. A few suggestions were book drives, local stores donating books, libraries, wish lists, and public television stations. This article shows how important it is for children to be immersed in books and for every child no matter what their background is to have the chance to read.

I was not aware that there were so many organizations and programs that provided free books to children in need. This is a great way to help improve literacy and encourage reading in young children who might not be able to have access to books in any other way. Getting books in the hands of parents to read to their children early in their life, will be a lifelong benefit for them. These are great resources; thanks for sharing them!

I thought this was a very interesting article. I was unaware about how many organizations are out there providing free books to children who need it. These are resources all teachers need to have. Helping children get books into their hands will provide them the opportunity to excel in school. Not every child has the opportunity to indulge in a book.

I use storylineonline.com with my students to help them get involved in reading and understanding the books. I teach children with major disabilities so they have to have the story read to them this website helps them listen and read the words also. This article has gave me more resources online to help my students learn to read.

One of my favorite articles, and it gave so much important and useful information about reading programs. I was aware of some of the programs but there were many more that I didn’t know about. It sparked my interest to go out and see how many this community is involved in, and also maybe becoming a volunteer. Reading is so important and it is a foundation that every child should have the opportunity to have a piece of.

This is a great article. I am Special Education teaching and a lot of my students need their text read aloud to them. This website provides my students the opportunity to listen and follow the words too. Reading is a building block to everyone educational future and this website is an excellent tool to practice.

Dolly Parton's Imagination Library is probably the best thing I have personally invested in for not only my niece, but students. I am glad to have even more resources to give my students more exposure to great books.

I'm initiating a Book Program for unfortunate children in rural PNG. Book Donations from anyone would really make a difference for these poor children.

I am trying to get books for the charter school that I volunteer at. They really do not have a library here. THere are about 50 books in there and it is not a library but more of a small office area and no windows in it. They really need help. Many of the kids are from low income families, free lunch, one parent homes,and most have been in juvenile detention several times. Please help increase the literacy here.

Hello all:We are a publisher of a children's picture book (based on a successful interactive book app in the iTunes App Store) which encourages children to take the love they were born with and to spread it to all across diversities. It is an interfaith and intercultural book with illustrations and quotes from various faiths and cultures, and it is enjoyed by children up to Grade 2. We would like to make mass donations to schools/children in need, but unfortunately cannot provide the books for free - we can, however, provide the books at a price to simply cover costs of printing and shipping so that we break even - roughly $2 per book plus shipping.The book also has a Discussion Guide available online for details on the unity-based themes. Free coloring and activity sheets are also available online.We would welcome interest from any school/program interested in purchasing. Please feel free to email us for more information: contact@andsoyouwereborn.com.

I am searching for any organisation or individuals who can donate books for elementary and primary school children in a village in Papua New Guinea. The children do not have a library in the school and don't have books either.

For anyone looking for book for school or organizations, just google search free books for kid. I am looking for books for my son who loves reading, he is only one year old but loves books and will sit for an hour and flip the pages, though I am a single mother and wish I had the money to buy him new book but I don't. So I reached out to all these reading programs but they only donate to organizations, school and church's. we go to the library but it not the same as owning his own, if anyone can help let me know

Hello, I represent Big Hearts of the Lowcountry (www.bigheartsofthelowcountry.com), a community organization that serves Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties in South Carolina. We are currently searching for donations of gently loved books for 6th, 7th and 8th graders in a poor, underserved community in our area. We want to encourage independent reading and would appreciate any and all donations of books. We want this book drive to be a success for the community and especially for the kids in this middle school. We can be contacted at bigheartsofthelowcountry@ymail.com or through facebook at Big Hearts of the Lowcountry. Thanks!

please i am a missionary working in a very deprived area of the Eastern Region of Ghana. our kids are very poor and cannot afford books in their school bags not to talk of getting any in our school library. please i will be greatful if you coild help us get any children's books that could help us improve on our reading. God eill bless you as you do so.

Hello, I am a mother to a 4 month old girl, im 17 and am finding it hard to get her essentials and also find books to read to her. I am from Ontario, Canada. If anyone knows of free book programs please email me; t.dion15@live.com Thank you so much.

I am happy that I was able to read your article and the list of foundations, etc. providing books for low level income communities and schools. I would like to help in building at least 4 libraries for the rural town of Zaragoza, in Nueva Ecija province in the Philippines. With your article and with the help of those organizations mentioned, I believe this project could materialize. Please help.

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