Why free books?

One of the largest obstacles to literacy is a lack of access to books. While many families bring their children to the library, many do not. Vulnerable families may have difficulty getting to the library regularly, and worry about returning books on time or paying fines (though we are pleased to note that the Ottawa Public Library eliminated late fees in 2021). In some Ottawa neighbourhoods, schools are unable to schedule class visits to the public library due to lack of volunteer or staff resources.

Even if families are able to visit the library, it is still important for children to own books. Studies have shown that parents read more to their children when there are always books at home. Increased exposure to books improves early literacy skills, school readiness, and academic performance . Young children love to read the same books over and over again, and this repetition helps them internalize the patterns of language. All this is made possible when there are books consistently in the home. However, books are expensive. Statistics from the United Way show that 25% of children in Ottawa live in poverty. Twice Upon a Time helps these families give their children a rich literacy environment at home.

Why literacy matters

Many Ottawa children can’t read with fluency
  • One child in four begins kindergarten in Canada without the skills needed to learn how to read.  (Grady) The percentage of Ontario students in grade 3 who report they “like to read” dropped from 76% in 1998/99 to 50% in 2010/11. The number of students in grade 6 who “like to read” fell from 65% to 50% in the same time period. (People for Education).
  • The Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth has found that a high percentage of children in the neighbourhoods near Heartwood House, where Twice Upon a Time/Il etait deux fois will operate, are at risk due to Early Development Indicators (socio-economic and health factors) correlated with school success: Vanier 41%, Overbrook 58%, Cyrville 36%.  The Ottawa average is 25%. (Parent Resource Centre).

Literacy matters

  • 15 percent of Canadians can’t understand the labels on medicine bottles, 27 percent can’t interpret the warnings on hazardous waste material sheets.  Currently, about one in three Canadians are not literate enough to understand the difference between opposing points of view in newspaper editorials. Statistics Canada reports that every 1-percent increase in the nation’s literacy rate translates into a 2.5 percent increase in our gross domestic product. In other words, every time 350,000 Canadians learn to read, our GDP goes up by $32 billion.  (Grady)

 Book ownership is crucial

  • In middle-income neighborhoods the ratio of books per child is 13 to 1. In low-income neighborhoods, the ratio is 1 age-appropriate book for every 300 children. (Neuman, 31)
  • A 20 year study found that having as few as 20 books in the home has a significant impact on propelling a child to a higher level of education, and the more books you add, the greater the benefits. Researchers also found that children of lesser-educated parents benefit the most from having books in the home. (Clark, 6-8)
  • Families under stress may have difficulty getting to the library regularly, returning books on time and paying fines. Owning books facilitates reading the same book over and over which helps develop early literacy skills (Cairney)

Free book programs work

  • In a 2013 evaluation of Booktime, a literacy program in England that distributes free books to 4 and 5 year olds, respondents reported increased children’s enjoyment of reading (66 percent) and increased frequency of shared reading at home (50 per cent). (Weaving, 17).
  • A 2000 evaluation of the US based Reach Out to Read program reported higher rates of book sharing among parents whose children had received books from their pediatricIan when compared with parents whose children had received no books.  Frequent book sharing was defined as reading with their child more than 3 days per week (Sanders, 774).
  • A 2007 study conducted by the Tennessee Board of Regents found that 48% of kindergarten and 64% of pre-K teachers said that students receiving books from the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program performed better than expected or much better than expected. For students not participating in the Imagination Library program, these numbers were 10% and 11% respectively.  The Middletown Ohio Community Foundation found that kindergarten students receiving free books from the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program scored 15 percent higher on kindergarten literacy tests than the average score by students who were not participating in the program (“Dolly’s Imagination Library”).


Cairney, Trevor. “Why kids re-read books”. Literacy, families and learning. 14  Feb 2010. Web. 4 Jan 2014.

Clark, Christina and Lizzie Poulton. Book ownership and its relation to reading enjoyment, attitudes, behaviour and attainment: Some findings from the National Literacy Trust first annual survey.London: National Literacy Trust, 2011. Web. 4 Jan 2014.

“Dolly’s Imagination Library- Research”. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.  The Dollywood Foundation, n.d. Web. 4 Jan 2014.

Grady, Wayne. “The Importance of early childhood literacy”. The National Reading Campaign. 15 Sept 2011.Web. 4 Jan 2014.

Neuman, Susan B., and David K. Dickinson, eds.Handbook of Early Literacy​Research. Vol 2. New York: Guilford, 2006. 31-32. Print.

Parent Resource Centre. “Community Profiles”.  Parent Resource Centre. 3 Dec 2010. Web. 4 Jan 201. 

People for Education. “Reading enjoyment on the decline in Ontario schools”. People for Education. 2 Jan 2012. Web. 4 Jan 2014.

Sanders LM, TD Gershon, LC Huffman, and FS Mendoza. “Prescribing Books for ​Immigrant Children: A Pilot Study to Promote Emergent Literacy Among the Children of Hispanic Immigrants. Archives of Pediatrics and ​Adolescent Medicine. 2000;154(8):771-777. doi:10.1001/archpedi.154.8.771.

Weaving, Harriet and Rose Cook. Evaluation of Booktime in England 2012-2013. ​Slough, Berkshire: National Foundation for Educational Research, 2013. ​Web. 4 Jan 2014.