Having lots of books at home can encourage your child to read more. Choosing new books can be a fun adventure. Swapping out old ones can freshen up the supply and help keep your child interested in reading.
But if stocking up on books sounds expensive or maybe even exhausting, the good news is you can do it for free. And in some cases, you don’t even have to leave home.
Free hard copies of kids’ books
Lots of people still love the look and feel of old-fashioned paper-and-ink books. Young kids may like turning the sturdy pages in board books. Older kids may like dog-earing a page corner or jotting their thoughts down on sticky notes to mark key passages.
There are a bunch of programs like Book Trust and Reading Is Fundamental that partner with schools to help kids choose free or low-cost books for their home libraries. Here are five more places where you can find free hard copies for your child.
1. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library
The country singer started Imagination Library, a program that mails free books each month to kids ages 0–5. It launched in 1995 and now mails kids more than 1 million free books each month. Enter your zip code to see if the program is in your community. If it’s not, you can apply to start a local chapter.
2. Little Free Libraries
Little Free Libraries are free book-sharing boxes where anyone can take or share a book. So far, volunteers have installed more than 90,000 book-sharing boxes near sidewalks and other places people tend to walk by. The goal is to provide 24/7 access to free books.
Enter your zip code to look for a Little Free Library near you. If you live in an area where there aren’t any libraries nearby, you can apply for a free book-sharing box and a starter set of books. More than 1,000 of these “impact libraries” have been donated so far.
3. Freecycle, Facebook, and Craigslist
Everything offered on Freecycle is free — all you have to do is pick it up. With more than 9 million members, chances are good there’s a Freecycle group near you. Search the offers for kids’ books or you can post a wanted ad.
Facebook is another place to look for people giving away free kids’ books. Search local parent groups and also on its Marketplace section. You can also search the “Free Stuff” section on Craigslist to find people who are giving away books and learning games.
4. Book exchanges and book banks
Search online to see if your community has a book exchange or a book bank. Book exchanges encourage visitors to trade in books. Book banks simply give books away.
Some book banks partner with schools and community groups to distribute free books to kids. But some are open to the public. For example, the Maryland Book Bank in Baltimore lets kids ages 13 and under take as many books as they can carry. Teens and adults can take up to 25 books per visit — one visit per month.
5. Libraries and bookmobiles
Don’t forget about your local library as a great place to borrow countless books for free. Libraries offer lots of other free learning resources, too. If it’s hard for you to get there in person, ask your library if it has a bookmobile. There are hundreds of these in the U.S. If your library has one but it doesn’t stop near you, ask about adding another stop.
You can also ask your local library if it offers mail order. Some libraries will deliver straight to your door — at no cost to you.
Another topic to bring up with your local library: book giveaways! Many libraries give away piles of books from time to time. Ask your library if it has free kids’ books available or when it expects to give some away.
Free online books for kids
There are hundreds of websites that offer free online books for kids. Some you read by “flipping” the pages onsite. Some you download to your device. Many sites let you search by kids’ ages or interests. Here are some examples.
1. Read Conmigo
This award-winning program offers free bilingual books for kids in preschool through fifth grade. The free online library has more than 45 Spanish-English e-books that can be read on most Apple iOS, Amazon Kindle, and Android devices.
The eReaderIQ site tells you which books on Amazon are free right now. You can sort by categories like “Teen & Young Adult,” “Children’s eBooks,” and “Comics & Graphic Novels.” The books listed on this site are free for a limited time. Make sure the price says “$0.00” or filter through “Freebies” before you download.
3. Free Kids Books
The Free Kids Books site lets you search for free books by age and subject, and even books with “dyslexia-friendly” fonts. There’s also a search feature for English language learners — it sorts books by Beginner English, Intermediate English, and Fluent English. Offerings range from math workbooks to books about bullying to your favorite classics.
Launched in 2004, ManyBooks has thousands of free digital books, including many classics and young adult novels. Genres include mystery, romance, and science fiction. The Return of Sherlock Holmes? A classic set of detective stories. Werewolves of New York? A new four-book romance series. Use this site to find free books for teens.
5. Unite for Literacy
Unite for Literacy offers more than 400 free picture books, and one-fourth of them are written in Spanish. Unite for Literacy was recognized in 2019 by the American Association of School Librarians as a top website for teaching and learning. Its digital books include audio narrations in more than 40 languages, like Arabic, Chinese, Somali, and Tagalog.
The International Children’s Digital Library is another place to look for free books in many languages.
Explore more places to find free audiobooks.
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About the author
About the author
Julie Rawe is the special projects editor at Understood.
Shivohn N. García, PhD is an experienced educator and the executive director of the Impact team at Understood.