When I was a kid, reading was one of the single greatest pleasures of my life. It would become a problem for my parents and teachers as I occasionally walked into walls while absorbed in a book, or would be reading during lunch or recess or under the desk during math… ok, I can kind of understand that last one.
Reading opened up new worlds for me that I would never want to leave. As I began reading at a higher level, it became easier, and I started to enjoy an ever-growing selection of reading materials. From kids’ books to sci-fi/fantasy, to Y/A. Even non-fiction like journal articles and science textbooks would soon join my growing collections.
None of which would have ever been possible if it hadn’t been for the vast quantities of books available to me as a child. We always had at least a few books at home, my elementary school had a reasonable selection, and, as I got older, I saved up my allowance money to buy brand new copies of my favorites. ‘The Boxcar Children’, the ‘Redwall’ series, absolutely anything by Haddix, and the obligatory ‘Harry Potter’ of course. I have spent years amassing a vast library that might one day topple over and crush me, but I have always done so at bottom dollar.
It’s something I am very aware of – how expensive books can be. Especially for kids, who can devour multiple books in an afternoon if they are so inclined. But there are more options out there than you might realize for cheap and outright FREE books for kids. So I’ve included some of my favorite options for free and inexpensive books for kids below!
FREE Books for Kids
Yeah, I was surprised when I first heard about this one too. But whatever you think of the singer/songwriter, Dolly Parton is an avid reader and grew up with a love of books. She loves books so much that she wanted to make sure all kids had an opportunity to grow up loving them too.
So she created the Imagination Library. Parents can go to their website, register their child age 0-5, and can get one book EVERY SINGLE MONTH until your child turns five COMPLETELY FREE. No shipping, no fees, no nothing. Though accessibility is limited in some areas, the program is continuously growing. There is almost no reason why every single person in this country should not register their child for this program immediately.
Available in California, Texas, and my home state of Florida, Read Conmigo offers a free book every month from pre-K through 5th grade. The books are a combination of English and Spanish, promoting bilingual reading and come with a variety of online activities and resources which are available nationwide. Language exposure early on has been shown to have unexpected advantages in thinking, creativity and problem-solving ability. But, more than that, speaking another language, much like reading, opens up entirely new worlds to us.
Little Libraries & Local Literacy Programs
I have put these two together because both programs depend very much on where you live. Little Free Libraries, those adorable boxes that pop up on street corners or peoples front lawns, operate on the simple ‘one in, one out’ property. If you borrow a book, leave another behind for someone else to read. Because of their size, the selection is limited, and each one varies. But it is definitely worth checking out to see if you can find one near you as new ones pop up all the time and their inventory, by its very nature, is constantly changing.
Likewise, Literacy programs vary greatly depending on the area and local support. The Palm Beach Literacy Coalition, for example, has a number of programs on for early readers. Including a STEM Story Time program which will be reading ‘The Girl and Her Stars’ in the Spring of 2019. Other programs exist all across the US including Room to Read, Books for Kids, Reading Rockets, Page Ahead, Reading is Fundamental, and more.
If you are lucky enough to have access to either a Kindle, iPad, some other eReader, or even the Kindle App on a smartphone, then the options for free books, of any sort, are almost boundless. While I will always prefer the touch, feel and smell of real paper and ink, I cannot deny the instant satisfaction factor of wanting something new to read and then having it in front of you less than two seconds later.
A simple search through the online store for “Free” or “Kids Books” or “Free Kids Books” will yield dozens upon dozens of results. Not all of them will be spectacular, but there are always a few good finds. There are also hundreds of classics, such as ‘Alice in Wonderland’, which are now available under the public domain – aka, FREE.
Beyond using an actual eReader, anyone with access to a computer can download free books in PDF format to your computer from Freekidsbooks.org. These books range from picture books for ages 2-5, to high school math prep books for ages 13+.
As if the vast wealth of free books available to own out there wasn’t enough, there is still that age-old institution, where books can be borrowed, enjoyed, and borrowed again. First begun in this country by founding father Benjamin Franklin – The Library. Libraries are an incredible resource to people of all ages and backgrounds, from children’s books to adult education, from computer literacy to English language classes. Libraries are, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest resources available to the American public. Especially in regards to kids’ books.
Kids can read through multiple books in an afternoon and, while some of them will become favorites which they would like to be read over and over and over again, many are a one-trick pony. This is why being able to check a book out and return it free of charge before borrowing more is such a valuable resource for parents.
Buying Low-Cost Kids Books
I know, I know. Didn’t I just say libraries? But see, as libraries are constantly getting in new books, that means they are also pulling out old editions and duplicate copies to make space for new ones. Some libraries even receive donations from the community which, while wonderful, aren’t always able to be put on the shelves. These days, lots of libraries will have either a discard bin or rolling trolley with old copies available for purchase at anywhere from 25 cents to $1 a copy up by the front.
Some even have entire sections, usually under the charter of ‘Friends of the Library Bookstores’ up in front where a constantly rotating stash of books is available for sale at ridiculously low prices. To find a library near you, support a library near you, or learn more about ‘Friends of the Library’ programs, you can check out more info at iLoveLibraries.
Small, independently run bookstores are a rare thing. Most have had to adapt to fill either niche markets or create a notable experience for customers to keep them coming back. My local bookstore, The Book Cellar, has a small cafe with snacks, small plates, coffee, and even wine available to local book worms, in addition to hosting a variety of bookish and all-around awesome events.
Often times local bookstores will have events or give away opportunities that corporate-run bookstores don’t. They also tend to know what’s on the up and up in the lit world – who’s publishing what, what events are going on where, what kind of books you might want to try next. They’re an awesome resource which, contrary to common thought, aren’t actually more expensive than their corporate counterparts, and are often even a little bit cheaper. Second-hand bookstores are also an awesome resource but are again sometimes hard to find. It’s always worth a look around the web, however, as second-hand bookstores often don’t have funds for expensive advertising or even websites, but can be found on google maps, yelp, or even on Facebook.
I just mentioned second-hand bookstores, so why thrift stores? Because the vast majority of the population living in urban areas pass within one mile of a thrift store of some kind at least once a week, even if you don’t notice it. A lot of us actually LIVE within one mile of a thrift or consignment store. That Goodwill or Habitat ReStore or Super Thrift or consignment shop you see on the corner on your way into work every morning? Yeah, you should pop in there.
People tend to treat consignment stores as ‘the closet cleanout place’. They gather up all the stuff lying scattered around their homes and drop it off, often leading to small mountains of thoughtfully gifted books, never read, being dropped off at every available location, and sold for pennies on the dollar. The Super Thrift by my house has been my latest goldmine, paperbacks for $1, and hardcover for $2. But I once found a Habitat ReStore that sold books TEN FOR A DOLLAR. That’s a pretty sweet deal for any budget.
It is the Age of the Internet. If it weren’t you would not be reading this. And while there are plenty of eBooks out there on the world wide web available for free, there are even more if you are willing to shell out the exorbitant rate of… $1. If you bring that number up to $2-3, then your options REALLY explode.
While NYT best selling authors will often charge the same for eBooks as you would see in a bookstore, despite the lack of a physical copy, lesser-known and indie authors can provide the same great bedtime and early reader options for a fraction of the cost. And even the big names are able to markdown eBook copies far further than they would physical copies when it comes time for sales and promotional events. Books in a series will often severely discount or even give away the first book in a line in an effort to get readers hooked. It’s a method that is particularly effective on me as a consumer but holds true with children’s books series too.
Whether it’s at your local library, through a free reader program, or from books thoughtfully salvaged at your local thrift store, cultivating a love of reading early on in life is one of the greatest gifts you can ever give a child. It helps with cognition, creativity, empathy, higher learning, and opens up whole new worlds that only they can see.
Bringing reading and books into their lives, and into their routines, can be a powerful thing that brings its own rewards. So please, sign up for the Imagination Library. Go to your local library. Check out the discard bin at a thrift store. Or even just flip open a tab on whatever device you are currently reading this on and check out just some of the options available to you. If not for you, then for the little readers in your life with a lifetime of stories ahead of them…
You can also check out Eve Daniels, author of The Nerdy Nanny books, on YouTube where she gives writing and academic advice as well as updating you on all of her latest and upcoming projects.