LOWELL -- Nashley Rosario's newest book has a title that's easy to remember.
"Bugs, Bugs, Bugs," she said, reading the title aloud.
Rosario is in kindergarten at the Morey Elementary School and, actually, doesn't like bugs. But she chose the book Friday morning, because "it looks funny."
Giving children a choice in what they read and making the process exciting is a key to promoting literacy, according to Patti Shepherd, President of Lowell chapter of Reading is Fundamental, or RIF.
For over 40 years, the local arm of the national nonprofit has put new books in the hands of Lowell Public School students, but after years of limited funding, Shepherd said the organization's ability to fulfill that mission is faltering.
"We have no consistent funding for this," she said. "Right now what we have is a plan and a hope."
In 2011, federal funding for the nationwide nonprofit was cut, which has contributed the local chapter's unsteady status, she said.
A month ago, Shepherd feared the distribution of free, new books to students the Friday before April break would be the last ever for the school, where she also works as a literacy specialist. Since then, Shepherd said she has raised enough funding from individual donors to carry the program into at least part of next year.
Currently the organization operates at six district schools, Morey Elementary School, McAvinnue Elementary School, Bailey Elementary School, Pawtucketville Memorial Elementary School, Pyne Arts Magnet School and Shaughnessy Elementary School.
The program is meant to make reading something students do because the want to -- not because they have to -- by giving away free, new books the day before a school break, she said.
"Our problem today, particularly in Massachusetts, is not really illiteracy, it's aliteracy," she said. "We have a whole generation of people who know how to read and don't."
She said research shows children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds don't have many books at home.
"And we know there's a direct correlation between achievement and success and ownership of books," she said.
The program gives children a book they can access without going to the library, she said. A weekly book swap program at Morey Elementary School, independent of RIF, allows students to periodically trade in these books for different ones.
Since Shepherd became president of the organization last May, she said she has tried to bring awareness to the importance of the service.
She started a website and Facebook page. Last week she mailed letters to local businesses asking for donations. She said anyone can donate online at www.lowellrif.com or mail checks to 53 Cliffside Road in Lowell.
When each class arrived to pick up books Friday, Shepherd -- who wore a shirt with the words "Reading is Magical" in "Harry Potter" inspired font -- revved up the students.
She told them to ask their parents to take a picture of them reading and post it on social media to promote the Lowell chapter of Reading is Fundamental.
Kathleen Flaherty, a first grade teacher at Morey Elementary School, said she talks to students about getting new books leading up to the give away.
Her students walked in a line around a table spread with books. After completing one rotation, they made their selection. Before the class left the room, a volunteer stamped their books and wrote their names in the inside flap.
"It makes a huge difference if they choose the text," Flaherty said.
Following the giveaway, she said her students would return to the classroom and read their books in pairs or alone.
Minutes earlier, Destiny Robinson, a kindergarten student at Morey Elementary School, took home "Who's At the Movies?"
She said she has the same plans for that book as "Little Critter: Just Critters Who Care," the book she picked up earlier this year. She is going to read the story to her siblings.
Follow Elizabeth Dobbins on Twitter @ElizDobbins