Getting kids to read can be a tough job for parents and teachers alike.
“I have a few students who routinely read for fun,” said Andrew Ramsey, a 6th grade teacher in Indiana. “Most of my other students, it’s like pulling teeth to get them to read.”
On the flip side, you may have a kid who waits in line to get the newest book in the Chronicles of Whatever series and finishes it within hours of purchase. Your problem is not trying to get them to read, but figuring out how to fund the good habit.
Whether you’re encouraging reluctant young readers or feeding a bookworm’s habit, you’re probably trying to avoid spending too much. You want your kids to experience the thrill of exploring endless book possibilities, but you’ve got a budget to think about, too.
We’ve compiled a list of 17 ways to get free or inexpensive children’s books to tempt both your avid and reluctant young readers.
Cheap and Free Physical Books for Kids
Some parents prefer physical books to ebooks. “My kids are more interactive when they read physical books,” said Kylie Clark, a mom of three. “They talk to us more about what they’re reading.”
If you want your kid to get away from a screen, check out these websites offering deals on physical books.
1. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library
Sign up for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and the organization will mail an age-appropriate book to your little one once a month — for free.
The program started in Dolly Parton’s home county in Tennessee in 1995 and has since grown, mailing over 1 million free books for kids each month in the United States, U.K., Ireland, Canada and Australia. It’s open to all families with children from birth to age 5 who live in a participating area (you can check if you qualify here). Several states have recently begun to offer the program statewide.
As the name suggests, Kidsbooks.com is an online book retailer that focuses exclusively on books for kids aged 0-12. They get overstock books for discounted prices and pass the savings on to customers, so the books are cheap while still being in new condition.
The website’s format makes it easy to find cheap kids’ books by organizing them in age groups, reading level and subject. Puzzles, coloring books, toys and other kids activities are available.
Shipping is free on orders over $35.
Here’s a cool perk: If you purchase a book on KidsBooks.com and then see it at a cheaper price on Amazon within a day of your purchase, they’ll give you a gift card for the price of the book. (Just a heads up: The book must be in the same format as the book you purchased and sold by Amazon directly).
Want to get books for yourself, too? Check out the sister site bookoutlet.com, where you can find discounted books for all ages.
While you’re browsing for your next read on Thriftbooks.com, check out the children’s section. It offers new and used books for children of all ages.
Is your teen on Tiktok? Thriftbooks has a section of #BookTok favorites.
Do you want to reward your kids for reading? You can also find children’s movies, music and video games. All purchases on Thriftbooks earn points in their rewards program. Once you hit 500 points, you’ll get a free book. (We won’t tell if you use it on yourself.)
“Incentives are great for parents to use to encourage reading,” Ramsey said. “Maybe they can work to earn something they want at the store or unlock more screen time.”
Standard shipping is $1.29 per item on orders under $15. Orders over $15 ship free. Thriftbooks is also available as an app.
4. Half-Price Books
Half-Price Books’ brick-and-mortar stores might only be available in 19 states, but you can still browse their children’s book selection online. They have books separated into age groups, so you can easily find “Green Eggs and Ham” for your youngest and “Wonder” for your middle schooler.
Half-Price Books also has grab bag options for kids online. Each grab bag is $10 and contains 20 comics, five YA books or five children’s chapter books. The items inside the grab bags are pre-selected by staff and come in various conditions, so your child will get a surprise.
There’s a one-pound grab bag of Legos for your budding builder, too. And you can find deals on kids’ movies, music, games and puzzles.
Standard shipping on books, music and movies is $3.99 per item.
5. Your Neighborhood
If you like surprises, sales at your local library are a great option. You can also browse your local social media yard sale sections or write up your own “ISO” post. Maybe your neighbor’s son has outgrown his copy of “Dragons Love Tacos.”
Cheap and Free Digital Books for Kids
Physical books are a great resource — where else will you get that book smell? — but they’re not always accessible. And some kids respond more to the digital experience.
“Digital resources allow students to have access to materials that might not be available locally to them,” Ramsey said. “We need to meet students where they are daily. It’s not just sitting down with a physical book anymore.”
If you want your child to put that screen time to good use, then check out these websites offering free digital books, both text and audio.
All you need is internet access and your children under 12 can read books for free on Epic.
Books are categorized by age and topic, so it’s easy to find books your child might be interested in. They can choose to read through the book themselves or use the “Read to Me” option, which highlights the text as it goes so they can follow along easily.
If they really like a book, you can create a favorites list or access the reading log in their profile to find it again. The reading log also tells you how many books your child has read and how long it took them to read each book. You can have up to four children’s profiles on one account.
The free version gives access to one book, including the Read-to-Me versions, each day. If your child enjoys Epic, you can upgrade to Epic Unlimited for $9.99 per month to get access to their entire library of 40,000 books, audiobooks and videos.
Epic also has an app that can be accessed on a phone or tablet.
7. Storyline Online
Does your elementary school child prefer listening to books? Try Storyline Online, a free service offered by the SAG-AFTRA Foundation.
The organization recruits actors like Jennifer Garner, James Earl Jones, Chris Pine and many others to narrate books with accompanying illustrations. The videos are shared via Youtube or SchoolTube.
Each book description includes information like run time and grade level to help choose appropriate books for your child. And it’s available as an app.
8. Project Gutenberg
Do you have a kid who is interested in reading the classics? If your child has access to an e-reader or web browser, they can download free ebooks at Project Gutenberg.
All the books in the Project Gutenberg library are in the public domain, so the organization can offer them for free.
Project Gutenberg has something for all age groups. You can find picture books like “The Three Little Pigs” and “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” for younger readers, alongside “The Call of the Wild” and “Pride and Prejudice” for teenagers.
9. International Children’s Digital Library
The International Children’s Digital Library has over 4,400 books across 76 different language options, including bilingual versions, in an effort to provide families with books in their native language no matter where they live.
All ICDL books are available for free. All you need is an internet connection and you can access their books through your web browser.
10. Amazon Free Kids Ebooks
If you have an Amazon Prime account, you can find free Kindle versions of books for your young reader by searching for free kids ebooks on Amazon.
Kindle Unlimited members get access to additional free children’s books.
If you don’t want to trust your Kindle to sticky fingers, just download the free Kindle app on a device, and your kids can access their new ebooks there. Amazon offers children’s ebooks in English, Spanish and Portuguese.
11. Barnes & Noble Free Kids Ebooks
If you’re a Barnes & Noble Nook user, you can access free children’s books through the bookseller’s website, which has options for age groups birth through teens.
Don’t have a Nook? Download the Nook app on your device to access the free ebooks you’ve added to your account.
Preschoolers through 8th graders can use Funbrain, an educational website with free ebooks and e-comic books as well as games and videos. You can browse through the website by grade so younger readers can access titles like “Captain Buckleswash and the Pirate Villain” while older kids can read “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”
13. Oxford Owl
Oxford Owl is another great educational website that offers free ebooks for kids. After you create an account, your children ages 3-11 can access their digital library of nonfiction and fiction books.
Along with ebooks, Oxford Owl offers math and English help and ideas for kids’ activities like cooking and creative writing.
14. Free Kids Books
The Free Kids Books selection offers titles for kindergarten through eighth grade. Each free kids’ book is available to read online or download as a PDF. Some books also link to options for buying physical copies.
Do you have a reluctant reader? Free Kids Books has dozens of categories to tempt your child, from dinosaurs and insects to fantasy and poetry. Books in fonts for dyslexic readers are also available.
If your child doesn’t mind using a web browser to read, you can find a selection of classic children’s literature through the Library of Congress. Physical copies of books in the Library are scanned and put online. You can access titles like “The Secret Garden” or “Treasure Island” for free.
16. Free Children’s Stories
Free Children’s Stories is a website with original stories by Daniel Errico, a best-selling kids’ author, all for free. Books for kids aged 3-10 are narrated via Youtube videos, while middle-grade students can read two novels on the site. Errico’s books are available in several languages.
ManyBooks is a free online library that offers classic books in 46 languages. You can access the selections here for free and download the files to your child’s e-reader or tablet, or read online using ManyBooks’ online reader.
ManyBooks also has adult selections, so feel free to browse for yourself after you’ve downloaded “Heidi” for your young reader.
Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and editor in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Penny Hoarder contributor Jenna Limbach is based in Nevada.