Teachers' joy at the unexpected pound;23 million Standards Fund windfall announced last month has been tempered by the fact that books must be on school shelves by March 31.
The tight time-scale is compounded by the fact that many publishers say their stocks are low because March is traditionally a quiet month at the end of the budget year. Instead they are being deluged with enquiries as every school in the country seeks to spend its grant.
In an attempt to ease the pressure and give schools longer to choose and order books, some local authorities are issuing advice and some publishers are making offers which breach the Department for Education and Employment's restrictive rules.
A DFEE spokesman warned that schools could spend their pound;1,000 grants and then find themselves unable to claim it back.
The grant is intended to encourage reading for pleasure and must be spent on reading books, not textbooks. "Big books" - outsized versions of children's books used by the teacher for shared reading lessons - are allowed.
All schools and pupil-referral units with more than 85 pupils can claim the pound;1,000 grant, including nursery schools and special schools. Those with fewer pupils will get pound;12 per child.
Publishers have reported that some schools have turned the money down because they think it is tied to literacy targets which they have already met.
Others believe, mistakenly, that it must be used to buy resources for the primary literacy strategy and complain that they have to receive training for the strategy. In fact that grant - pound;19 million - comes next year.
Local authorities such as Calderdale have told schools that they can claim for books they have previously purchased. West Sussex has issued complex advice telling schools how to transfer money between budget headings to "give you more time to buy the reading books your school needs."
Meanwhile some publishers, in an attempt to meet the unexpected demand, are issuing vouchers or invoices to be redeemed later. Cambridge University Press, promoting its Cambridge Reading scheme, is topping up the pound;1,000 grant to pound;1,500 as an added incentive.
Its head of sales and marketing, John Tuttle, said: "The reality of the book trade means the likelihood is that schools will get only part of their order by the end of March. Traditionally, March is a time when schools have little money and often publishers' stocks are run down."
The Educational Publishers' Council has also issued guidance to members that books need not be on shelves by March 31. But the DFEE said that was wrong.
"It is clear from our accounting rules that it must be goods received in order to qualify as expenditure incurred," a spokesman said. "You also cannot claim for previously-ordered books. This is additional money and we want schools to do additional things with it."
Comment, page 20
Platform, page 21