How To Collect Cheap Children's Books

You understand the importance of creating a literate environment at home, but new children's books are just so expensive.  How can you build a quality collection without spending a fortune?  The following steps will tell you where and how to get great finds for pennies on the dollar to buying new.

  1. Be selective when buying used books.  Not all used books are worth buying.  Do not buy books with damaged bindings, mildew stains, or water damage.  Used books range in condition from like new to ‘throw it in the garbage'!  You won't buy every good title you come across if the condition is not good. Don't buy it if you wouldn't want to cozy up and read it.  Also, just because the price is good, you don't have to buy any book that is in good condition.  Be as selective about titles as you would be at the bookstore.
  2. Shop garage sales.  Garage sales are an excellent place to find slightly used books.  The problem is that the prices will range greatly as some people are overpricing their books or charging for sentimental value.  I think that you don't have to pay more than a quarter for a paperback book and more than fifty cents for a hardcover book.  How much you spend is up to you, but you should not have to pay more than half the original value of the book- and even that I would consider quite high.  If you go on the first day of the sale, there will be more selection but the prices may be higher.
  3. Shop rummage sales.  Rummage sales are often fundraisers held in places like church basements or warehouses.  There may be more to dig through, but then that means that there's more to choose from.  Use a box or paper grocery bag to help you gather your goods and don't forget to still be selective.  Find out if they have a day where you can fill a bag for five dollars, or other such deals.  Like garage sales, the best selection will be on the first day.
  4. Shop thrift stores.  Whether buying used clothes and furniture is your style or not, you may be surprised at the selection of used children's books at your local thrift store.  There is a range.  The children's section of some thrift stores is not much more than a pile of broken down toys and torn-up books.  Others have shelf after shelf of fantastic books.  You may even forget you're not in a regular bookstore.  Believe it or not, there are fancier thrift shops and dumpier thrift shops.  Shop around and ask around in your community.  You may find one favorite shop and become a regular there.  When you do, ask them what day they put out their new books so you can get the best of the lot.
  5. Shop library sales.  Public libraries regularly have sales to get rid of excess books, books not checked out frequently, and outdated materials.  Some libraries even have a constant cart of for sale books or even a shop within the library of their rejects for sale.  The books may have the thick, plastic covering on them.  This can be removed, often revealing a like-new cover.  As in other venues, you won't want to buy everything that they are selling.  There will be a lot of obscure titles and well-worn books.  But there are some gems mixed in so do a little digging.
  6. Clean the used books you purchase.  As mentioned above, you do not want to purchase books with mildew or water damage.  However, a book cover that is slightly dirty can probably be cleaned easily.  What we consider paperback books do have a very thin plastic coating on them.  Use an antibacterial wet wipe and gently wipe down the front and back cover and spine.  Dry off with a paper towel or tissue so the moisture doesn't leak into the book.  For cloth-covered books, you can try gently spot cleaning the same way, but you risk leaving a wet mark.  For hardback books with jackets (covers folded around the outside), you can clean the jacket in the same way or maybe just toss it.  The book underneath might be quite clean.  No one wants to read a book that is soiled, yellowed with age, or smells bad.  It kind of takes the fun out of it.  You might bring home books that are in worse condition than you thought.  Put them to the side or toss them if they're really bad.
  7. Shop at your child's book fair at school.  Often times schools have book fairs in conjunction with school conferences.  While these are new books and pricier than used, they are often published through a company that produces them more cheaply for schools.  Be aware that the quality of paper or covers may be lower than what you get at the bookstore, but it is probably worth it for everyday reads.
  8. Trade with neighbors and friends.  Organize with your child's friends and neighbors.  Have them get together for book swap parties.  Bring five books and take five books.  You may need to set some basic rules about condition, but kids will enjoy this activity without too much help from you.
  9. Have your own sale.  Now that you know where to get cheap books, your collection will be overflowing.  Par down the bookshelf once a year or so and sell them at your own garage sale.  You can even let your kids be in charge of their own sales.  Their profits can go towards their next book shopping expedition.  Now they now how much reading a few dollars will get them.

Will all of these finds, you will be teaching your child great lessons about the value of a dollar, the importance of reading, and the thrill in the hunt for bargain priced treasures.

Susan Niz, M.Ed.

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