The sky is the limit for children who read.

JetBlue Airlines apparently agrees. Last month, in a joint initiative with Random House Children Books, it installed free book vending machines in Southeast Washington, D.C., a neighborhood it found to have limited access to reading resources. The Soar with Reading program installed the machines at a local Safeway store, a Salvation Army Center, and a church, hoping that easy availability would turn youngsters into summertime readers.

The program kicked off with a reading event, featuring Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin, III. According to the Washington Post, less than five percent of all children (and less than 18 percent of high schoolers) in Washington’s Ward 8, home to the JetBlue program this summer, are reading at their grade level. The JetBlue project enables children to select their books by age appropriateness and topic. It also enables parents to receive text alerts when machines are restocked with new titles.

Although JetBlue has committed to distributing $1.25 million worth of children’s books since 2011 (and online voting will determine whether Los Angeles, Detroit, New York, Houston, or Fort Lauderdale will receive $125,000 in kids’ books next year) not every community can receive this degree of corporate support.

Still, there are virtually unlimited ways to put reading materials in the hands of young students or parents looking for books they can read aloud. Libraries, with some 2.5 billion reading materials distributed each year, are easily the most popular source of free books for kids, although online repositories make finding free reads a snap from home computers.

For example, the Reach Out and Read program, founded by medical providers in 1989 and now serving more than four million children and their families each year, promotes reading skills for children from birth through five years old. For older readers, Project Gutenberg offers more than 49,00 free titles online, including Kindle and epub books.

Kiwanis has long operated its Read Around the World program to put books in the hands of underprivileged children and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is working in a similar vein, not only in the U.S., but Canada, Great Britain, and Australia. Although it sells books, First Book is one of many organizations that provide schools and programs with free or low-cost books for low-income children.

Free books for kids are not just for summer reading. Some sources of online books, specifically for children, that can be accessed from your home include:

Story Jumper

Free Kids Books

We Give Books

International Children’s Digital Library

Children’s Books Forever

Featured Image – Bernal Saborio / CC by 2.0

 

 

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