We didn’t mean to actually BUY anything at this particular thrift store; we always pass it up to go to the one in the next town over which has a much better selection. But we had a few minutes to kill and oops, $90 later… 10 of those dollars were spent on these 13 books. (The other 80 went toward two pairs of winter boots, a maternity shirt, dress shoes, shirts, a rockin’ Burl Ives record, three games, a skirt, building/shop books, gloves and a bike helmet if you must know)
So surprised and pleased at this happy handful of children’s books. Just posting this picture to inspire and remind you all to seek out picture books second hand: 90% of my ‘healthy’ library are now thrift store/garage sale finds… less than a buck a piece usually. I’m not going to add many notes except I already had some of these so I either saw they were in excellent shape and bought them as gifts or I wanted to replace my beat-up paperback versions. Super excited especially to find the Poetry for Young People series book for Kipling, whom we are studying next term, a mint hardback of James and the Giant Peach, which will be gifted to my almost 7 year old on his birthday in a couple weeks, another Billy and Blaze book, which are the best books for horse loving BOYS, and a fresh replacement copy of our well-loved board book, Harry the Dirty Dog.
Building your home library take time, patience, thoughtfulness and money. I can’t help you with time or patience but I do hope to help you with thoughtfulness (See this post for more on that.) and I have a couple tips to help you not break the bank. “Yeah, yeah, yeah…” you say. “Go to thrift stores; we already know that.”. Oh good! I’m glad you know that. But allow me to spare you some frustration with thrift store shopping with these tips:
- Find the right kind of store. Every store is bound to have the occasional good find. But the best stores are the ones you can go to and have reliably good luck. I regularly bypass at least four more local stores to get to my gold mine in the next town over. For some reason, it collects fantastic books on a regular basis. What this means is that the people who donate to this Goodwill are fairly well off, fairly typical in having only a couple kids, and fairly ignorant to the glories of good literature… So it gets dumped. See, I benefit greatly from families who aren’t open to having many children; I get their good clothes and books in excellent condition for my brood! The other thing is that I’ve noticed that many people like to give lovely books to children as gifts. But either the spoilt dears don’t care for books or they their parents don’t because I have found many remarkable books in near mint condition with inscriptions on the inside dated only a year or three ago! A pity. But their tremendous blindness to greatness is to my benefit so I won’t complain too much.
- The other component of a right kind of store is one that has a flat pricing structure. Many stores charge a flat price for children’s books and this is where you can save a lot of money! You don’t have to be AS selective because if you aren’t totally familiar with a book, it really only costs you 79 cents to preview! Unfortunately, you can’t rely on the franchise name of a store to guarantee same costs. The Goodwill in my hometown prices children’s books the same as regular books and even puts more expensive prices on ones that look popular or to be in especially great condition. Gag. You are looking for a store with a staff that doesn’t know any better when it comes to children’s literature.
- When you get to the kiddy book section, depending on the size of your selection, you may or may not have time to do a title-by-title scan of each book. You sometimes need to employ razor-quick econo-shopping mode. It looks like this: First look at all the hardback books closely. This is where the better titles usually live. This is where you’ll find your treasures. I often don’t even scan the paperbacks anymore because their lifespan can be quite short in a large family. I DO scan the paperbacks more closely if the pickins are slim in the hardbacks and I’m feeling desperate to score SOMETHING. And if your home library isn’t well established yet, you may want to give the paperbacks a closer look. After all, having a flimsy copy of Blueberries for Sal is better than having no copy.
- You can’t always judge a book by its cover or its title… but they sure do tell a lot sometimes. You can continue your quick-shopping mode by training your eye to gloss over things in the generic vein like “Franklin Goes to School” and training it to catch things that sound like they might be a fairy tale or folklore or of course, one of the millions of titles you’ve memorized that you want to own. The title The Man Who Kept House is one that caught me on my latest trip, a book that I knew nothing about until then. With time, you’ll be wise as a serpent in your selections and quite efficient at sorting titles out.
- Lastly, get reading some books about books! The more you become familiar with the rich titles out there, the more equipped you are to sift through the piles of junky books to find treasures. There are lots of books about books out there. I can trust the booklists of a few out there. A good starting point would be Honey for a Child’s Heart. Excellent other ones include A Landscape with Dragons: The Battle for Your Child’s Mind (though unfortunately, many of his recommendations are out of print), and A Picture Perfect Childhood which is FULL of recommendations. And there’s also For the Love of Literature which is a great tool if you are a fan of learning through LIVING books. There are other good books about books… but this should get you started…
Don’t forget about other great ways to build up your library:
- Consider giving books as gifts to your children. This will help you to feel better about shucking out $15 for a brand new book if you were going to spend that money on something anyway. Children see that its worthwhile, and you have a gift taken care of. Incidentally, I have an amazon list on books that I think make excellent gifts. I’ve not updated it in a while… I ought to do that presently. Also make it known to family members that you’d like to build up your children’s library and would welcome Christmas and birthday gifts to them to reflect that. (This comes with the caveat that they may not have good taste in literature… I would say direct them to your amazon wish list, but I personally find it kind of tacky when people personally “direct” others to the gifts they want.
- Check out your library sales! I’ve gotten so many gems this way and they are usually the cheapest possible option. Our local library “Friends of the Library” charges something like 50 cents for children’s books! Sometimes, you find something and you can swear you hear an Alleluia chorus ringing in the heavens as your hand trembles in finding a jewel. I have found an entire collection of fantastic kids books on Ancient Egypt which I used this entire year for school. My real piece of glory however was when I paid pennies for three… count them THREE David Mac Caulay books. HARDBACK! I got Mosque, Underground and Mill to accompany the Pyramid I already owned. What a find! If you don’t know Macaulay… get to know him posthaste. He is a brilliant author and illustrator on so many excellent historical, architectural books. Turns out there are a few excellent PBS documentaries featuring him on youtube: Castle, Roman City, Pyramid, Mill Times and Cathedral. All would be a superb supplement to studies of those eras.
- Elementary schools often just TOSS books into the trash. They make room for new library books buy getting rid of old ones… lucky for us, so many old ones are the better ones anyway! If your child goes to a public or private school, talk to whosever in charge of the library and ask what their policy is on discarded books; you just might be able to work out an arrangement!
- Garage sales and rummage sales are historically where you can find the CHEAPEST children’s books. Most people selling books will tell you that kid’s books are a dime or quarter… maybe fifty cents for a hardback. These are people who are looking to get rid of stuff, whose children have outgrown certain books or who just don’t know what they’ve got. My best garage sale score to this day was finding the entire Little House on the Prairie series for $2. I’ve also bought the entire Anne of Green Gables series, the Narnia collection, the E.B. White collection and (my favorite) the Great Brain collection at garage sales. I just realized that other than the Lord of the Rings books, all my ‘collections’ have been acquired at garage sales!
- Don’t forget about online swapping sites like Paperbackswap or Bookmooch. I wrote a bit more about how this works here. You have to have a bit of luck and a lot of patience… but it can pay off!
- Sniff out family members or friends whose children have grown up. They are often ready and willing to part with their kiddy books if they know they are going to a good home!
Remember above all of this, that it is much more beneficial to have a small collection of quality books than a large collection of riff-raff. Don’t expect it to happen overnight! But books are an investment indeed. We don’t think much of spending $15-$20 on a single visit to a fast food restaurant. But that same amount of money could buy a brand new treasure that will last much, much longer than those french fries. Be smart, be patient, and happy thrifting!
This is the latest thrift store cache, a smallish but respectable lot. First is a nice, sturdy hardback of the winter classic, Owl Moon, which I bought to replace my raggedy paperback copy. Next to that you see a mint condition copy of Sector 7 from that wordless master, David Wiesner. I am so happy to add that to my bookshelf! Then we add to our Tomie de Paola collection with Strega Nona Meets Her Match. Underneath you see a really novel book that is excellent to leave lying about near the breakfast table for the children to “discover.” It’s called: Nature Got There First: Inventions Inspired by Nature. But the real treasure Goodwill had to offer me was this book on bottom left called Owls by Tony Angell. It is fascinating. This is truly what a living book is all about.
Tony Angell is a naturalist and an artist and he writes and draws about eighteen different owl species with superb realism and from his own first hand experiences. (Read this lovely article on him here.) I never really thought much about owls, but they are a fascinating part of the bird family and this book is just the hook to draw someone in. I also discovered that Angell is actually from this area and he has several public sculptures around the Puget Sound that I hope to see at some point. The book is published through the University of Washington so it’s not a big mainstream seller, but it’s absolutely worth keeping an eye out for!
I went to the Goodwill yesterday saying a little prayer as I went in that there would be some decent pants in the sizes of my two middle sons… they are in desperate need of some fresh knees to rip through.
No such luck. God, in His infinite goodness, did not allow such a mercy. But He did allow me to find a book that has been on my want list for a very, very long time:
Pagooby Holling C. Holling is the very first living science book that I read aloud to my children when my oldest was six years old. It was a very surprising hit. Kind of like how I was shocked when my six year old requested that we read Pinocchio (the original version) where the language is archaic and challenging, but they loved it! Children really ought to get their ears trained to hearing excellent vocabulary though. Don’t make the mistake of thinking they always need to be talked (read) down to. They will rise to the challenge. And when I taught myself to read at age four, whenever I came across words I didn’t know, I just sort of ignored them until they slowly came to meaning based on context. That’s how readers and writers are born. They get challenged with the words in their natural setting which they are exposed to often. If you yourself are uncomfortable with reading challenging books with your children, get the audio version! Play it in the car where they can’t escape the words which might ordinarily make them disinterested only because they are unfamiliar…
But I digress, I think if I were to read Pagoo again with their ages now (9, 7, 5), it would be even more popular. As it is, Holling C. Holling books are one of the more superior options you have in teachable stories. I mean, a lot, lot, lot of picture books really double as educational too… but these are something special. Each one is a perfect science or geography lesson in and of itself with a story wrapped up in it. And the art, which is usually a color spread on every other page, and more nature-journal black and white sketches with captions in between… is super. Do not expect a typical 15 minute story however, they are fairly dense. We spread our reading of it out over a week.
Pagoo is about the life of a hermit crab. We learned all about tidal creatures, life cycles of hermit crabs and fun little facts here and there. It was really easy to make it come alive for them when we went to the aquarium and could see real hermit crabs up close… and then I reinforced it with buying this excellent little companion
for our toy animal bin too.
Other books we’ve purchased (albeit full price) from this author are Minn of the Mississippi
which we began reading when we studied the beginnings of European explorers in Canada last year. Excellent, excellent books. And who really needs pants when you have books?
I got seriously lucky last week at Goodwill. The Goodwills around here have a price of 79 cents on all children’s books (note, this is NOT true of Goodwills everywhere unfortunately), whether it’s a ripped up Elmo’s ABC book or a pristine collectible. While the store seems to have someone on staff who knows how to gouge prices on clothing depending on the brand, it seems they count all childrens’ books as equal… much to their own ignorance… and a fact upon which I am happy to capitalize. As it is, for $6.32 I scored 8 great books. The Tomie De Paola book you see was a quarter at the “Friends of the Library” book sale last week.
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. I normally wouldn’t have taken the time to purchase this beloved classic because it’s so readily available at the library and at thrift stores. But this particular copy is an old, hard copy with divine illustrations and a dust jacket that makes it worthy of prominent display on the shelf. It smells like precious old books (once Kindle can nail that, they might win me over). Books of this sort are like deepwater pearls for me.
The Boxcar Children.I’ve passed up millions of Boxcar Children books because while I think they are fine on the moral compass, they aren’t necessarily super high quality literature that I’m dying for my children to read. But many children love series like these and I don’t mind if a child of mine gets hooked on these benign books. I bought it that day because it was a mint condition hard copy of the first book in the series… and I had just read a blurb about The Boxcar Children earlier that same day from an (adult) book I’m enjoying right now.
The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado. We have a ton of Christmas books in our home because we tend to slow school WAY down during Advent and focus on liturgical activities and lots of good reading. Some years, I wrap up all our Christmas books and the kids open them one each day… so I like to invest in quality Christmas stories… and this is a lovely one. Same reason I bought Tomie De Paola’s “Country Angel Christmas” up there.
The Sign of the Seahorse: A Tale of Greed and High Adventure in Two Acts. All the goodness we can expect from Graeme Base. I’m not familiar with this particular story yet, but the copy was mint and we’ve loved everything else we’ve seen from Base thus far!
Papa Piccolo by Carol Talley. I love when children’s stories show a strong sense of place or culture and this one highlights Venice at its best. Not only is the book in excellent shape, but it was on my wish list. This book may be elaborated upon more greatly in a future post about best books around which to design a curriculum.
The Vikings… I couldn’t find author information on this offhand and it’s disappeared into the folds of a child’s blankets for now, so fascinating it is. The book offers great visuals about real Viking artifacts and art and stories, it’s a great supplement to our Vikings study (which we finished last fall and won’t revisit for a few years, but still…)
Ollie’s Ski Trip by Elsa Beskow. Now I just got done ranting about how Beskow books NEVER make it to the second-hand world but I was proved wrong as I found one of her titles for the first time EVER! Little Ollie sets out on skis and runs into Old Man Winter who’s trying to keep the Spring Thaw lady away… what a great find!
Finally, Little Rose of Sharon by Nan Gurley. This is a sublime little book, one of the best analogies on Christ I’ve ever seen in children’s literature. It’s a story of sacrifice and love and absolutely great Easter timing. I am VERY happy to own it!
“Good children’s literature appeals not only to the child in the adult, but to the adult in the child.”
I’d wager that at least 75% of our children’s home library is made up of second hand books. There is no better way to aquire books without breaking the bank. Furthermore, I think it’s important that children see that we spend money on books… not just on groceries, toys, and clothing. We show them books are important and worth our time and money. While the public library is a fantastic resource, nothing beats the feeling of a child randomly wondering about Iroquois Indians and being able to pull a book off the shelf about it. As homeschoolers, establishing a suitable and generous home library is extremely high on our priority list. Keep in mind that I’m extremely picky about books and do not
recommend just buying every cheap book you see, just for the sake of having lots. No, quality over quantity. But variety is important too. Some of the books I bought yesterday wouldn’t have made it onto my Amazon wishlist necessarily, but I think they’ll be useful to have on hand… and at 25 cents or so, I’m willing to splurge. Let me introduce you to my finds yesterday at St. Vincent’s:
The Boy Who Loved Music(excited about piecing this together with our Haydn studies!)
Scholastic Children’s Dictionary (the kids have been needing their own dictionary)
Sounds of the storyteller (neat anthology of stories/poems with intriguing layout/fonts) Thunder Cake(my favorite Patricia Polacco book, replacing our worn out paperback)
Welcome to the Ice House (not linking it because it’s mildly disappointing)
Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book: Make a World(my boys LOVE Ed Emberley books!)
The Usborne First Encyclopedia of Science (a good basic reference point)
Hedgie’s Surprise(another replacement for a worn out copy we had)
Wolves for Kids (I love the real photographs in this one)
Justin Morgan Had a Horse(we’ve collected most of Marguerite Henry collection now!)
“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.” -Groucho Marx