Why free books?

In Ottawa, access to books presents a significant challenge. Many families cannot afford books or cannot bring their children to the public library regularly. In some Ottawa neighbourhoods, schools are unable to schedule class visits to the library due to a lack of volunteer or staff resources.

Books are about more than reading and writing

Books are far more than words on a page. Being able to understand the printed word and put it to use helps children engage more with their families, and fosters opportunities in their schools and communities.

Studies show that parents read more to their children when there are books at home. Exposure to books improves early literacy skills, school readiness, and academic performance. Young children love to read the same books over and over again; this repetition helps them internalize language patterns.

Why literacy matters

1 million

Canadian children have below-grade-level reading skills¹


of senior kindergarten children in Ottawa are vulnerable according to the early development instrument indicators and socio-economic status²

1 in 5

Ottawa Francophone senior kindergarten children are not developmentally healthy at school entry²

Building literacy skills in children is one of the most powerful ways to improve their potential in school and throughout life. According to the Canadian Children’s Literacy Foundation, literacy helps:

  • Foster communication skills;
  • Build emotional and social resilience;
  • Teach children empathy, giving them a window into the perspectives and feelings of others;
  • Improve the chances of better, higher paying, more stable employment; and
  • Reduce the costs of healthcare services, criminal justice systems, and social assistance.

A more literate community is healthier, more productive, and more socially engaged.

Children benefit from book ownership

We advocate for children to own books because of their transformative impact on literacy rates, education, and opportunities for their future.

Research suggests that raising children in book-oriented environments positively impacts academic growth and employment standing³. Growing up surrounded by books helps children achieve better literacy, numeracy and technological problem solving in adulthood.

A 20-year studyfound that having as few as 20 books in the home has a significant impact on propelling children to a higher level of education, and that more books lead to greater benefits. Researchers also found that children of lesser-educated parents benefit the most from having books in the home.

Compared to peers who do not have books of their own, children who own books:

  • Enjoy reading more
  • Read more books and read more frequently
  • Read for longer lengths of time
  • Read more of other types of material beyond books
  • Have a more positive attitude toward reading
  • Find it easier to find books that interest them

Free book programs make a difference

According to a 2020 analysis of over 40 book giveaway programs⁵, participation in free book programs improves home literacy environments and encourages caregivers to support their children’s literacy development.

A survey conducted by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette⁶ found a positive impact on parents and children after one year of participation in the Dolly Parton Imagination Library Project. Key findings included:


Parents indicated that they read to their children every day


Parents read more to their children since receiving books from the project


Parents feel that the project will help their children be better prepared for kindergarten

By providing free books to children, Twice Upon a Time not only bridges gaps in access but also unlocks many benefits that contribute to their personal development. Investing in children’s literacy is an investment in the future – nurturing a love of reading from an early age creates a positive ripple effect, influencing not only individual lives but also entire communities.


¹ An Economic Overview of Children’s Literacy in Canada, Deloitte, November 2020

² Our Kids Our Future, Early Development Instrument, City of Ottawa & Ontario Ministry of Education, 2017-2018

³ Joanna Sikora, M.D.R. Evans, Jonathan Kelley (2019). Scholarly culture: How books in adolescence enhance adult literacy, numeracy and technology skills in 31 societies. Social Science Research, Volume 77.

Clark, Christina & Poulton, Lizzie (2011). Book ownership and its relation to reading enjoyment, attitudes, behaviour and attainment. National Literacy Trust.

⁵ de Bondt, M., Willenberg, I. A., & Bus, A. G. (2020). Do Book Giveaway Programs Promote the Home Literacy Environment and Children’s Literacy-Related Behavior and Skills? Review of Educational Research.

⁶ Bryant, Martha (2007). Louisiana Association of United Ways-Dolly Parton Imagination Library Project. Cecil J. Picard Center for Child Development and Lifelong Learning at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.