Early Literacy Research Library (ELRL) - Article

Do Book Giveaway Programs Promote the Home Literacy Environment and Children’s Literacy-Related Behavior and Skills?

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, 90(3), 349-375.,

Access: FREE/Open Access

Publication year


study description


core topic(s)

Reach Out and Read (ROR)

Population Characteristics


Exposures, Outcomes, Other

Bookstart , Child Behaviors and Skills , Dolly Parton Imagination Library , Home Language/Literacy/Learning Environment , Parent Behaviors and Skills , Programs and Interventions (other)


To evaluate the effects of three book giveaway programs that provide free books to families with infants to encourage caregivers to begin reading to their children during infancy: Reach Out and Read, Bookstart, and Imagination Library.


Reach Out and Read (ROR), Dolly Parton Imagination Library (DPIL), and Bookstart.

outcomes evaluated

Home literacy environment and children's literacy behaviors/skills.


This meta-analysis of 44 studies retrieved from 43 articles tests the effects of three major book giveaway programs: Bookstart (n = 11), Reach Out and Read (n = 18), and Imagination Library (n = 15). Effect sizes were aggregated within two domains—home literacy environment and literacy-related behavior and skills—before being averaged across studies.

sample size

n=11 (BookStart articles); n=18 (Reach Out and Read articles); n=15 (Imagination Library articles); n=44 (total articles)




The findings corroborate the assumption that book giveaway programs promote children’s home literacy environment (d = 0.31, 95% CI [0.23, 0.38], k = 30), which subsequently results in more interest in reading and children scoring higher on measures of literacy-related skills prior to and during the early years of school (d = 0.29, 95% CI [0.23, 0.35], k = 23). Parent interest in reading and number of children’s books were commonly reported for Reach Out and Read studies but rarely for other programs. Library use, on the other hand, was an outcome measure in Bookstart (n = 6) but only once in other programs. The effect of Reach Out and Read (d = 0.42, 95% CI [0.31, 0.53]) was substantially higher than that of Imagination Library (d = 0.25, 95% CI [0.18, 0.31]) and Bookstart (d = 0.23, 95% CI [0.02, 0.44]). In particular, the following program characteristics explained the differences between the programs: demonstrating shared book reading (Between = 8.818 (1), p = .003); providing an information session (Between = 5.557 (1), p = .018); and multiple personal contacts (Between = 7.762 (2), p = .021). Family participation in a book giveaway program had a significant effect on children’s literacy-related behavior and skills; d = 0.29, 95% CI [0.23, 0.35]. Congruent with the view of reading interest as a stepping-stone to literacy skills, it makes sense that the effects of book giveaways are stronger for children’s interest in reading than for literacy-related skills. All three programs had an effect on literacy-related interest and skills, with Reach Out and Read having significantly stronger effects than Bookstart and Imagination Library. Book giveaway programs were particularly effective when they included multiple personal contacts with caregivers, information sessions, and demonstration.


This meta-analysis supports the practice of combining book giveaways in infancy with personal contacts about health issues: The Reach Out and Read model whereby book gifts are presented by a pediatrician or nurse practitioner in a health care context is by far the most effective (Dowdall et al., 2020). We hypothesize that the health care context in which caregivers receive the advice to read to their young child is more influential than any other form of parent training or guidance could be. It should be noted, however, that adding personal contacts to the interventions may substantially increase the cost of program implementation. The higher staffing needs in Reach Out and Read make the program more expensive than Imagination Library, which only provides book gifts and is highly cost-effective: Once monthly book gifts provided by Imagination Library over a 5-year period cost approximately $126 per child (Skibbe & Foster, 2019). It may even be possible to further reduce the cost of book giveaways by distributing digital rather than hard copy picture books (e.g., Bus et al., 2020).


When interpreting the current findings, it bears consideration that most studies do not meet the gold standard of experimental research (Yeager Pelatti et al., 2014). However, via application of stringent selection criteria, we ensured that all 44 target studies included in our analysis were reasonably well-designed. We excluded studies with poor outcome measures (e.g., studies that simply asked parents to indicate whether or not they benefited from the book giveaway program) or studies with deficient designs (e.g., studies that only obtained pre- and posttest measures but did not include a control condition). A puzzling finding is that Reach Out and Read, the program with the strongest effect on children’s literacy-related behavior and skills, did not show the strongest effect on the home literacy environment as well. Although a theoretically plausible expectation would be that effects on achievement are mediated by the home literacy environment, this was not borne out by the data. One possible explanation is that the variables contributing to the home literacy environment composite were mainly self-reported by parents and, therefore, susceptible to social desirability bias and inaccuracy. By contrast, the assessments of children’s skills, commonly obtained via standardized testing, was probably more valid. Alternative measures for assessing the home literacy environment, such as print exposure lists (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1991) or young children reflecting on literacy practices in their homes (Evans & Hulak, 2019), were unfortunately not used in the current set of studies.