A novel idea

For local homeschooling mom Sarah O’Grady, a strategically chosen side hustle allows her to mix business and pleasure


Sarah O’Grady is busy. As if the stay-at-home mom homeschooling four kids under the age of 11 didn’t have enough on her plate, she’s added a business venture to her repertoire.


Evelynn O’Grady, age 5 (left) and her sister Ellie O’Grady, age 3. Photo Courtesy Sarah O’Grady


O’Grady is a consultant with Usborne Books at Home Canada, which has been distributing Usborne Books into the homes of families and schools across Canada for 47 years.


Usborne’s parent company is based in the United Kingdom, so although the books have an international scope, having a rep like O’Grady means that there’s a local touch that area parents and teachers appreciate. In addition, raising funds for local kids’ charities is a mandate of the company, which also contributes to the Ottawa community.  


O’Grady has loved books since she was a child, and read bedtime stories with her family before she moved into reading novels on her own. Her childhood favourites include The Berenstain Bears and Little Critter books before eventually settling in with The Baby-Sitters Club novels (she has every one of the latter and has saved them all for her kids to enjoy). She remembers coming home with the Scholastic book orders and her mom always buying at least one or two for her and her siblings. “It was so exciting to bring the books home from school when they came in,” O’Grady recalls.

With a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Education from University of Ottawa, home schooling and working with Usborne was a natural fit for O’Grady. After one year of teaching Grade 4, O’Grady went on maternity leave with her youngest child, Ellie. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and O’Grady has opted to become a stay-at-home mom since. 


In June 2020, O’Grady realized that homeschooling might a long-term choice for her family. With that, at-home learning resources became a priority. Realizing she could get those resources at a discount — and that other moms in her area might also be looking for resources — O’Grady decided to try her hand at selling Usborne books online.

Reading to the kids has long been a family pastime. O’Grady’s children, Olivia, age 10; Owen, 8; Evelynn, 5 and Ellie, 3, love Usborne books and are always begging her to buy more sticker books, craft books, and novels. Olivia reads every day and goes through novels quickly; Owen is into dragons and space; and the youngest girls go through magic painting and sticker books — by far their favourite quiet activity — quickly. 

It’s reading time for Evelynn O’Grady, age 5, and her sister Ellie O’Grady, age 3. Photo Courtesy Sarah O’Grady

Parents might ask what makes the books O’Grady sells stand out from the hundreds that they can choose from, and according to her, Usborne offers books geared to different learning styles that are engaging, full of bright illustrations, sensory experiences, and fun facts, O’Grady says. Readers move from illustrations to text as they grow older. Durability is a big factor, too. How many times has a flap been lifted to reveal the secret treasure? Too many times is not enough, making staying power crucial to a good kid’s book, O’Grady says.


There are books in both French and English geared towards newborns to ones for teenagers. For variety, a range of games (matching, ludo, snakes and ladders, snap) and puzzles (two pieces to 300 pieces) are available as well.


O’Grady’s had parents send her photos of their kids getting out of bed to look at their books when they should be sleeping. Some moms have told her their kids are fighting over one book, so they need a second copy. She’s even had one mom send her a picture of herself using her child’s magic painting book after its rightful owner has gone to sleep.


Sarah O’Grady with her son Owen, age 8. Photo Courtesy Sarah O’Grady



Useful website