Thrifting Tips

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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!
  5. 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!
  6. 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!


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