16 free or cheap kids' book tricks

16 free or cheap kids' book tricks

Including free e-books with your library, free must-read Kindle titles, 10 books for £10 & more

To mark this year's World Book Day on Thursday 3 March, we've rounded up 16 free and cheap ways to turn your little ones into bookworms. 

Whether your child reads more than Matilda, or needs a little nudge, they don't need to be a Billionaire Boy to get access to hundreds of books, including free must-read Kindle titles, thousands of free e-books with your library membership, 10 picture books for £10, and the summer reading challenge

If you or your Little Women (or men) have any more tricks to get books at Gruffa-low prices, I'd love to see them. Please Poppins them in the MSE Forum (last pun, I promise).

Enjoy thousands of FREE e-books and digital audiobooks via your local library membership

Most libraries allow access to a vast catalogue of kids' (as well as adults') e-books and digital audiobooks for free via an online service using your library membership info.

As an example, our local library in Essex uses a brilliant app called Borrow BoxI especially love the audiobook service, as you can often borrow the same book with the same narrator as you'd find on Amazon's Audible.

My little ones have listened to tons of these, especially on car journeys. Top kids' titles on ours include The Naughtiest Unicorn, Captain Underpants, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

It's worth seeing if your library offers this – every one we checked did, so it's widespread. Your library subscribes to a service which hosts an online or app-based version of a library where you can borrow/check out titles digitally.

All you need is a login, then you can borrow several audiobooks and e-books at a time from a selection of hundreds – exact borrowing limits differ per library. You may need to wait a month or so to 'borrow' popular books if there's a queue, but often there's not.

How it generally works

  1. You'll need to first be a member of your local library. If you haven't already registered, you can usually do it just by giving them a call.
  2. Check to see if your library is signed up to an online service – see Gov.uk to find your library's website and it should tell you on there. Each library's online service differs by local authority – with some of the popular services being Borrow Box and Overdrive/Libby.
  3. The next step is to download the free app for the service your library uses. Once you've opened the app, search for your library and register – you'll need your library membership info for this.
  4. You can then search for titles or browse, and start borrowing.

It's worth noting you can't usually read library e-books on a Kindle (except for the Kindle Fire tablet, as you can download apps on to it). You'll need a compatible device such as an iPhone, iPad or Android phone/tablet.

The number of e-books and audiobooks you can check out at one time, and for how long, is determined by your library. For example, mine lets you borrow up to seven titles at a time. It's best to check your local service's site to see what's on offer.

Discover FREE must-read kids' Kindle books you'd normally pay for, such as Luna Lucy and Beast Quest

If you know where to look, there's a treasure trove of amazing free Kindle kids' books to be found. It's worth noting you don't actually need a Kindle to read these – you can get them to read on your phone, tablet etc with the free Kindle Reading app*.

You probably already know Amazon is heaving with classic Kindle books that are permanently free, from Black Beauty to The Jungle Book. Most are out of copyright – see Amazon's list of free classics.

Yet if those don't quite match your child's virtual to-read pile, normally paid-for Kindle books are often free for short periods.

Top current freebies include Luna Lucy and Honey in Shimmer Island. There's also Katie Watson and the Painter's Plot and Beast Quest and Sea Quest: An Unexpected Adventure.

The easiest way to locate the freebies is to go to Amazon's kids' Kindle books section, filter by age or genre, then sort by 'Price: low to high'. For example, see free books in Animals, Comics or for Ages six to eight.

Grab one of 12 FREE kids' books with a token, including Grimwood

Each year, the World Book Day charity dishes out free book tokens, which your child can swap for one of 12 selected books, including Grimwood, Think Like a Boss and The Worst Class in the World (see this year's full list). Or, if there's nothing on the list they fancy, you can use the token to get £1 off any full-price book instead. You can only use one token per book though.

All you need to do is take the token to a participating bookseller, which includes Asda, Blackwells, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waterstones, WHSmith and hundreds of independent booksellers. You need to spend the coupon by closing time on Sunday 27 March. World Book Day itself is on Thursday 3 March.

The majority of schools are registered to get the tokens for a free book or £1 off, so have a rummage in your little one's school bag if you haven't seen one.

If you're buying one anyway, McDonald's Happy Meals will also have the same World Book Day tokens included with the box from Wednesday 2 March.

  • FREE books with McDonald's Happy Meal 

    FREE books with McDonald's Happy Meal 

    Claim two books and receive a £1 book token

    Expired

    If you happen to be taking the family to McDonald's, you can get two free kids' books in restaurants, plus a free World Book Day token on Happy Meal boxes until Tue 15 Mar. 

    While it's a labelled a '£1 token' it actually gets you one book completely free from a selection of 12 children’s titles by various authors (see list below). These are all normally £4-£8 each, but until Sun 27 Mar they can be picked up for free in exchange for the token at participating bookshops and supermarkets (find your nearest): 

    • Rocket Rules: Ten Little Way to Think Big! by Nathan Bryon
    • Dinosaur Roar and Friends! by Peter Curtis and Jeanne Willis
    • Hey Duggee: The World Book Day Badge by Studio AKA
    • Grimwood: Five Freakishly Funny Fables by Nadia Shireen
    • Jemima the Pig and the 127 Acorns by Michael Morpurgo 
    • My Very Very Very Very Very Very Very Silly Book of True or False by Matt Lucas
    • The Worst Class in the World in Danger by Joanna Nadin
    • PEAK PERIL: A High-rise Mystery by Sharna Jackson
    • The Wizard and Me: More Misadventures of Bubbles the Guinea Pig by Simon Farnaby 
    • Think Like a Boss: Discover the skills that turn great ideas into CASH by Rashmi Sirdeshpande 
    • The Last Word by Ben Bailey Smith
    • Boy, Missing by Sophie McKenzie 

    You can also collect two totally free books when you get your food – one in restaurants and one which will be packed up with the Happy Meal, while stocks last. If you're heading into a restaurant, you can choose between Mr Silly: My Book About Me (Mr Men. Little Miss) or There's A Wolf In Your Book by Tom Fletcher. The book included in the Happy Meal is available through delivery, drive-thru and restaurants while stocks last. No voucher is needed for these.


    This is the token to look out for on your Happy Meal

    There are other ways you may be able to get your hands on these tokens (eg, nurseries and schools sometimes dish them out), but this is an easy way to get one (or more) if you'd be buying a McDonald's Happy Meal anyway.

    Want to brush up on your own literary or other skills? Check out our 14 ways to learn something new for FREE.

    • It's one token per book, so you won't be able to get more than £1 off a single book.

    See all deals: McDonald's (2 deals)

Sift through charity shops for second-hand bargains

Charity shops are an Aladdin's cave of cheap children's books. We've bought armfuls of books from our local Save the Children at 50p each.

Your money goes to a good cause, plus it's green and teaches kids to recycle and reuse. Some charities even have specialist book shops in some areas, including the British Red Cross and National Trust.

To take home the best tomes, establish a rapport with your local charity shop volunteers. If you're looking for a specific author, it's worth asking if they've any new donations out back. See our Charity shop bargain-hunting tips for more ideas.

Other top sources of used books include eBayFacebook Marketplace and Freecycle.

Read and listen to hidden free kids' books on your iPhone/iPad, such as Kids vs Planets and Let's Taco Bout It

Know where to look and it's possible to nab selected kids' e-books and audiobooks for free by downloading the Apple Books app to your iPhone, iPad or Mac. To see what's up for grabs, go to the Book Store and scroll down to 'Free Books' or search for 'free kids books'.

At the time of writing, free books for young readers included Kids vs Planets and Let's Taco Bout It. Free listens included Alice's Adventures in WonderlandTreasure Island and Anne of Green Gables.

It's worth checking back regularly because freebies change, and once downloaded they're yours to keep.

Virtually flick through 150 free Oxford Owl e-books, including Winnie the Witch

Recommended for kids aged three to 11, the Oxford Owl online library has a collection of 150 free e-books which are designed to help develop reading skills at home. Books include kid-favourite characters such as Biff, Chip and Kipper as well as Winnie the Witch.

To get stuck in, you'll need to register at Oxford Owl. It says its e-books are best viewed on a computer, laptop or tablet, as they're not optimised for phones.

Children with vision impairment can access 1,600 titles online thanks to RNIB's online library

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has an online library featuring 1,600 children's audiobooks. Kids can choose from authors such as Roald Dahl, Chris Riddell and Angie Thomas.

Its library also includes Braille and giant print books, as well as audiobooks on CD and USB stick. These items are delivered free by post.

To join, call its helpline on 0303 123 9999 or you can print and post a registration form.

Snuggle up with a storytelling session from the likes of David Tennant or Meghan Markle

For a bit of calm, why not let David Tennant, Reese Witherspoon or Lupita Nyong'o read your kids a bedtime story?

A-list storytellers made good use of their spare time during lockdowns over the last two years by filming clips of themselves narrating favourite storybooks. It's all part of Save the Children's Save with Stories campaign. Watch on Save the Children's US Instagram account.

We also like Storyline Online YouTube channel, where you can listen to a host of famous faces reading storybooks, from Rami Malek to Oprah Winfrey, but most importantly, "ANNA FROM FROZEN!!!"

Pick up cut-price collections, such as 10 books for £10

Online booksellers The Works and Scholastic do cheap bundles where the price is much less than if you bought copies individually. These can make a fab alternative to plastic-filled party bags, or even sweets at Halloween.

For example, The Works is currently letting you mix and match 10 kids' picture books for £10. Here's the full info:

  • Get more bang for your book, when you head online to The Works or into a store (find your nearest), as you can get 10 kids' picture books for £10.

    The offer's valid on all books in the 'Mix & Match' multibuy section and when we checked online on Mon 28 Feb there were over 250 books to choose from. If you're shopping in store, this selection of books will be clearly marked. No discount code is needed, this deal is automatically applied at the checkout.

    If you order online, you'll qualify for free Click & Collect when you spend £10, too. Alternatively, standard delivery is £2.99, or free when you spend £30 or more. Both options will take around three working days to be delivered in-store or to your delivery address.

    The Works has told us that the 10 kids' books for £10 is an ongoing offer with no specific end date.

    RRPs for these books are usually between £3.99-£4.99, while The Works usually sells them for £2 each. See 16 free or cheap kids' book tricks for more like this.

    See all deals: The Works (1 deal)

Some lucky under-fives can get a free book every month... from Dolly Parton

If you're lucky enough to live in an area where this generous scheme runs, it's well worth signing up to the Imagination Library.

Dolly Parton's Dollywood Foundation charity sends all children who live in those regions a free book by post every month until they turn five, including The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

The scheme runs in 200 districts across the UK, including Aberdeen, North Lincolnshire and Southwark. Enter your postcode online and if eligible, you'll be asked to give your details to sign up. If your child's already a member, we'd love to hear what you think.

Buy bundles of second-hand comics, such as 50 Beanos for £7.50 (15p each)

Magazine subscriptions are brilliant, but the cost can add up if your kid whizzes through them. So head over to eBay, where you can often pick up huge bundles of pre-loved comics for a few quid.

I bought 50 copies of the previous year's Beano for £7.50 (15p each, see photo). The papergirl 'delivers' an old comic to our house at the same time as the weekend paper, which makes it all the more exciting.

We've also recently seen 28 issues of Horrible Science magazine sell for 1p (yes, 1p) and 39 issues of Jacqueline Wilson Magazine for 99p (3p an issue).

Make use of free 'bookish activities', including free personalised storybooks

If you've got a printer, the internet is a treasure trove of free literary activity pages to print off online. For tons of fun options, check out Usborne BooksNational Literacy Trust and Lonely Planet Kids. Many authors have their own pages with activities, including Sarah McIntyre and Nick Sharratt.

For little artists, illustrator Rob Biddulph posts draw-along videos on YouTubeBookTrust has more tutorials from illustrators, including Lydia Monks and Ed Vere.

Got an Alexa device? Listen to free audiobooks and short stories

If you've got an Alexa-enabled device, such as an Echo smart speaker or Fire TV stick, you can listen to selected audiobooks each month completely free – just say 'Alexa, what's free from Audible?' to hear what's available. You don't need to have an Audible subscription or give it any payment details.

Past free titles have included Aladdin, Harry Potter, Oliver Twist, PinocchioTreasure Island, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Free short stories – though you can only pick the genre, such as mystery, sci-fi, kids

It's very easy to listen to short stories narrated by the likes of Stephen Fry, David Jason, Juliet Stevenson and more on your Alexa-enabled device.

To get it to work, say 'Alexa, open Audible Stories'. You'll then be asked to choose a genre, eg, mystery, sci-fi, kids – Alexa will then randomly select a short story for you to listen to, such as The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

Access hundreds of kids' e-books for free with Epic, including CatNinja and A Girl Like Me

Epic is an app that's essentially Netflix for kids' e-books. Sign up for a free 'basic account', and you can access hundreds of titles for free from a wide selection of fiction and non-fiction titles aimed at under-12s.

The catch is, with the free basic account kids are limited to one book a day. Free titles include A Girl Like Me, Baby Sloths and CatNinja. There's also a host of non-fiction books, covering everything from coding to police dogs.

To sign up, download the app for free from Google Play or the Apple App Store. Alternatively, use Epic's desktop site.

To read as much as possible, you need to sign up for an 'unlimited' account, which costs $9.99 a month (£7.46 at today's exchange rate) and gives you access to a full range of 40,000 titles. If you do decide to pay for Epic, consider a specialist travel card to avoid fees when making your payments, as it's a US site. Some schools provide pupils with a login to access the site for free, so check with yours before paying.

Borrow from a 'Little Free Library'

The Little Free Library project is run by volunteers across the globe. It's a community book exchange where anyone can leave a book or borrow a book – and children's titles often pop up.

There are now 50 of the tiny hutch-sized libraries in front gardens, playgrounds, phone boxes and bus shelters across the UK. For more details, see MSE Rhiannon's Little Free Library blog from 2020.

My friend Krystyna runs a tiny cheery yellow library from her front garden:

We love our Little Free Library. As well as doing our bit to promote literacy, it's a great conversation starter with neighbours! My kids love to excitedly tell me when they spot someone having a rummage or donating a book. It's such a lovely community initiative.

Take the library Summer Reading Challenge

The charity The Reading Agency's Summer Reading Challenge hopes to inspire children aged four to 11 to read six books over the summer holidays – its site should be updated for 2022 closer to the summer.

Take part by signing up for free at your local library. Each time they finish a book, they'll get a sticker to pop on their special collector map. The challenge usually runs until mid-September, but it does depend on your library, so check when you sign up.

You can also take part online. Each time kids finish a book, they add it to their profile, give it a rating and leave a review. At the end, there's usually a certificate to download.