Building a Home Library Without Spending Thousands

Right now I’m looking at an “I Can Read!” Level 2 book with a sticker price of $3.99. If I paid list price for all the children’s books we buy, we’d be eating ketchup packets for dinner. Read on for my techniques for obtaining childrens’ books on the cheap. What are your strategies?

Garage sales/Community sales
We pick up a lot of books at garage sales and church sales. Going rate is 50 cents a children’s book, and it’s sometimes possible to negotiate a better rate if you buy in bulk.

Thrift stores
Each month--usually tied in with a holiday--the Savers/Value Village/Unique chain runs a half-price sale for the entire store.  Beginning reader books—usually 69 cents—are 35 cents each on sale day.

Library book sales
Why not buy a book and support library programming? Children’s books at our local library book sale cost 50 cents each.

What’s your strategy for buying children’s books on the cheap? Leave a note in the comments.

Discount bookstores
For example, BookOff, a Japanese used book chain, has locations in New York, California, and Hawaii and a good children’s section. Many titles—including some classics—are only $1.
This online book swapping club allows you to swap unwanted books from your own shelves for credits, which can then be used to request a book from the 3.7 million books listed by other members. It works out to about $3 a book. The site allows you to create a “wish list” so that you can be immediately notified if another member lists a book you want. We just received Peter Spier's People this way.

So there you are, in front of a giant table of used books at a garage sale. What should you buy? Here are some tricks to use to identify good books.

1. It has a medal on the cover. Here are some awards and book lists:

  • The Caldecott medal is given each year “to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.”
  • The Newberry medal is given each year “to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.”
  • Barnes and Noble’s website contains a Kids' Book Awards page that lists not only Caldecott and Newberry medal winners, but winners for six other awards.
  • Lisa R. Bartle maintains a free online database of award winning children’s literature from the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, England, and Ireland.

2. It’s on a list. Here are some good lists to follow:

3. You checked it out from the library and loved it. If Junior loved a book so much that he didn't want to return it, then I put it on my to-buy list.

The library is a great place to “try before you buy”--even if your library doesn’t have the book! Ask the librarians at your local library if the book can be sent over from another library in the system, or if you can do an interlibrary loan. Both types of requests are free at my local library. I’ll give details on how I managed to do this with an active preschooler in a later post.