How to get free books, as research shows nearly one in five kids don’t have own book at home

Children enjoying reading at home. (Getty Images)
A new survey finds out about children's reading habits in 2022. (Getty Images)

As the children’s author Roald Dahl once said: "If you are going to get anywhere in life you have to read a lot of books."

Yet almost one in five children (18.6%) between the ages of five and eight don't have a book of their own at home, according to a new survey by the National Literacy Trust (NLT).

This is the highest figure since 2019, following a study of 8,210 children between January and March this year.

Commenting on the findings, Jonathan Douglas, Chief Executive of the National Literacy Trust, said: “Owning your own books is a crucial step in children reading more for pleasure. It leads to increased literacy levels and improving a child’s life chances later on in life. Low literacy levels can hold you back at school, lock you out of the job market, affect your physical and mental health, and even your life expectancy."

Books or budget? Parents may find the cost of living crisis impacts their spend on books. (Getty Images)
Books or budget? Parents may find the cost of living crisis impacts their spend on books. (Getty Images)

It is thought that books are another casualty of the rising cost of living. The charity has a long time partnership with McDonald’s – who is now the largest distributor of free children’s books – and it conducted additional research of 2,000 parents of young children.

This found that having access to books at home has become a victim of the squeeze on family finances.

In the survey 64% of parents reported the amount of money they have to spend on books for their child has decreased. And just over half (51%) say books are simply too expensive now. A third have even started to sell books to raise money.

How to get free children's books

The National Literacy Trust

The NLT runs literacy hubs in communities across England with activities including free book gifting and book swaps. In September, the NLT got more than 31,000 books into the hands of children in Suffolk, and this summer it launched the Eco Literacy Champions project and installed several free eco book swap libraries in various communities.


The supermarket chain runs a book donation and exchange station for children – the Morrisons Little Library – in its stores across the UK.

The Morrisons Little Library was inspired by children’s author, Rebecca Smith, who said: "To think that there are children who have never enjoyed a bedtime story is heart-breaking. Stories change lives. Every child and every parent should have access to that experience. The Morrisons Little Library provides that potentially life-changing access."

The country music legend Dolly Parton runs her Imagination Library to give free books to children. (Getty Images)
The country music legend Dolly Parton runs her Imagination Library to give free books to children. (Getty Images)

Dolly Parton

Yes, you read that right. The country music icon launched the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in 1995 and gives a book a month to participating children until they turn five. In 2021, more than 618,000 books were given to children across the UK and Ireland through the charity’s partnership with Penguin Random House.

In May, the Imagination Library offered a book each month to 200 refugee children in London until they turn five. "Children’s books are magical portals that can comfort, console and delight," Parton said, showing just how much the scheme means to her.

Read more: True cost of a child: How expensive are your kids?


You can download free e-books as part of the McDonald’s Happy Readers scheme. In September, McDonald's is donating 500,000 free books to areas across the UK that need them most.

TV presenter Vernon Kay is also doing special book readings on the McDonalds family hub.


The largest reading charity in the UK, BookTrust provides a Bookstart pack to every child in England and Wales before their first birthday.

Another great initiative for inspiring children to read is the recent Summer Reading Challenge, where each child aims to complete the task of reading six books over the summer and is presented with a medal and certificate afterwards.

The NLT survey found that children still want books as presents. (Getty Images)
The NLT survey found that children still want books as presents. (Getty Images)

The National Literacy Trust's 2022 Survey also put the spotlight on how much young children enjoy reading. It is still a much-loved activity with almost half (46%) of children saying that reading makes them feel better when they are sad.

Read more: Top 20 Most Stressful Things About Parenthood

Meanwhile, almost nine in 10 children said that they would be happy to get a book as a present (87.9%) and eight in 10 people believe reading is essential to their child’s emotional development and happiness. So don’t scrub them off the shopping list just yet.

There are many simple steps to encourage your child to read. (Getty Images)
There are many simple steps to encourage your child to read. (Getty Images)

How to get your child reading more

The report found that just 31% of parents say reading plays a central role in their child's daily routine. Here's how to ignite their interest, according to Kirsty Cunnington, Early Years Senior Programme Manager at the National Literacy Trust.

  • Talk about the book’s cover and point out the title. If reading aloud to your child, let them hold the book and turn the pages.

  • Your child will enjoy choosing books for themselves from a bookshelf they can reach or a book box at home, or even e-books on a phone or tablet. This will help you both to discover the kind of stories they enjoy the most.

  • Encourage them to talk about the pictures. If your child knows the book well, or even if they don’t, let them have a go at becoming the storyteller just from looking at the pictures on the page. It will help them to improve their speaking skills and grow more confident.

Read more: Say goodbye to the ‘tiger mum’. Welcome to the school of jellyfish parenting

  • Use different voices for different characters when reading aloud to your child. Add in sound effects like splashing in puddles, beeping car horns or animal sounds.

  • When the story is finished, you could ask them if they liked it and if they had a favourite character.

  • Reading the same book again and again will help your child to get to know the story. Once they know it well, ask them about what’s happening in book and praise them when they respond.

  • Make a reading den together, like a cloth over a table, with space for both of you to share. You can make your den part of the story – it could be a monster’s cave, a rocket ship, or a princess’ tower.

  • Talk to your child about what you read as a child. Involve the whole family – grandparents may have stories to share from when they were growing up too.

  • Visit your local library with your child to find a wealth of new stories and activities together.

  • Your child might prefer to listen to audiobooks. Why not listen together for a completely immersive, bonding experience?

Watch: Queen Consort Camilla on the parent's role to get children reading from a young age