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4 Tips to Get Great Deals on Quality Children’s Books

Guest post from Charity of The Homeschool Experiment

I could care less about shopping for shoes, but I anticipate my favorite used book sale for months.

I’m weird that way. 

If you are a parent, chances are you love finding quality books for your kids at great prices. Used-book and curriculum fairs (whether you homeschool or not) are great opportunities for finding some gems.

If you’ll be looking for used books this summer, here are a few tips:

1. Find Pickier Sales

There are a lot of junky books out there. I personally avoid crowded library sales and other book fairs in my area that have only a few good books tucked in among lots of mediocre ones. I focus on smaller sales with higher quality books.

If you don’t know of any used-book fairs in your area, find a homeschooler. Whether you ask her in person or on a Facebook group, chances are she’ll know of a few. Any used-book fair, library sale, private-school book fair, or church curriculum sale is an option.

2. Familiarize Yourself with Great Books

How do you know what books to buy? Every year I read over the Sonlight book list on Amazon (or look through their catalog), and the Five in a Row book list to remind myself of titles. Those books are the best of the best.

Since we homeschool, I also try to plan out what books I want to read with my kids the upcoming year, maybe 10 chapter books, and 10-30 picture books. For Easy Reader books, and additional picture books, I get what looks good at the sale and supplement with the library.

I might take my list to the sale, but it’s awfully hard to shop directly from it. It just serves as a reminder and gets the books fresh in my mind.

3. Think about what you need for this year

Even if someone is giving a high school curriculum book away, I don’t take it. My kids are young (eight, six, and two), and I just don’t know what life will look like five years from now or if we’ll even need that science book.

Next year, for example, I know I’m teaching an art class at my homeschool co-op so I am looking for art and artist books, art prints, etc.  I don’t actually need a lot else. I’m going to try to restrain myself.

4. Go early and take cash

I try to get there when the doors open for the best selection and I find someone to watch my kids (my brain works much better that way). I take a stroller to put the books in, otherwise, my enormous, teetering pile makes my back hurt.

My Favorite Deals:

1. Easy Readers –  There are many wonderful choices here.  I’m looking for books that will engage my child with history, science or poetry, or are just funny, warm stories. If a book is in great condition and we’ve loved it, I might buy it for a gift.

2. “Spine” or Anthology Books – By this, I mean books you can read every day for a few weeks or months. You’re looking for something you can get a lot of use out of.

3. Stories on tape – Since nobody listens to cassette tapes anymore, I’ve gotten some great deals on them. We once purchased a whole box for $1. Often, my daughter will  listen to stories on tape during her rest time, and sometimes we’ll put in a tape at meals when Mommy needs everyone to Just. Stop. Talking.

4. Educational Toys for Toddlers — These are great to buy at curriculum fairs. You can save them for birthday or Christmas gifts, or use them to keep your toddler busy while you read to your big kids or do a project with them.

What I Don’t Buy:

1. Junky books – Like books my kids might enjoy once or twice, but without a great vocabulary or an enduring story. I try to stick to the classics!

2. Books I can get at the library – If I’m running out of money in my budget, I think, “Can I get this at the library?” It is nice to have a good home library, but I don’t need twenty Henry and Mudge books. We can own three and supplement from the library.

I do still buy new books occasionally (often hard-to-find character books at a homeschool convention), but the bulk of my book budget goes to used book sales.

After the sale I get to drive merrily home, give our new friends a happy home on our bookshelf, and show the kids (and my husband) all the great deals I got.  It beats a pair of new shoes any day! 

What are your favorite frugal ways to find used books?

Charity Hawkins is the author of The Homeschool Experiment: a novel. Charity lives, homeschools, and scours used-book sales in Oklahoma. 

Note from Crystal: See a list of our family’s favorite picture books here.

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56 Comments

  • Fun Momma says:

    I find good used books at the thrift store! some look brand new!

  • Monica says:

    I prefer books over shoes too!

  • Great tips! I love getting books more than anything else too. Books way outnumber toys here at our house. 🙂

  • Donna says:

    Great tips!
    Last week I got 5 great books for $1 at our used book store in town. He also keeps very old books out front for free. That’s usually a treasure chest for me! ..Most of our Saxon math books came from the Goodwill at $2.99. I also LOVE Swagbucks- buys Amazon gift cards- buys good books! 😉

  • wendy davis says:

    We enjoy the library.Ours has a nice little play spot by the childrens books so while my 5 yr.old and I are looking for books my toddler is happily playing.So we all enjoy that time.
    I also am a big thrift store shopper and sometimes go to a used book store. That lets you trade books or give you a percentage of what your books originally cost new to go toward your purchase

  • Meredith says:

    Great article! I thought I’d share one more suggestion, ask your kids what kinds of books they’re interested in. Choosing their own books is a great motivator for kids. As a Reading Teacher, my number one goal is to get kids to love reading!

  • Jenni Dill says:

    We don’t get to go to the Library very often, but we go yard sale-ing almost every weekend! My girls each get a dollar to spend, and their favorite things to buy are books! Even if they only read it on the way home that day, and then later we donate it to the Free Store, sell it at our own yard sale, or use it in a craft – I feel that it’s well worth the dollar (usually they can get anywhere from 4-10 books with $1)! Books we look for: Bible Story books, Boxcar Children (my six year old is obsessed!), “old” books (that I can remember reading when I was a kid or even ones that Grandma recognizes – the girls love reading books that Gram or Mom has read as a kid!), activity books (we recently discovered a Christian version of “Where’s Waldo” type book for $.10!! Best buy ever!), and nursery rhyme books.
    The “book hunt” at yard sales helps keep the girls busy while I look through clothes and other goodies, and I don’t have to hear the “I want!” about the nasty bald barbies or sticky stuffed animals.
    We also hunt at yard sales for books for family members – a handful of nice looking children’s books make great presents for Baby Showers, First Birthdays, Christmases with extended family, etc.
    Note: My family are known for folding the corners down on book pages, to mark our “spot.” So we don’t like to borrow from the library often, I feel like I’m defacing their property, but I can’t NOT turn the page down! It’s a problem… I need an intervention….

    • Anitra says:

      Funny about folding the corner down. I was raised to NEVER EVER do that, and always find a piece of paper to use as a bookmark instead.

      Now that I have two small children, I think I’d rather fold the corners down, as my bookmarks get mysteriously “lost” (ie. pulled out and played with).

  • Stephanie says:

    If I can’t find a particular book locally I will use Swagbucks to buy Amazon gift cards to get used books from the marketplace. I just picked up a current edition used copy of a $50 book for 5.45 including $3.99 shipping. The cost to me was free. I really like the idea of thinking of the library for books that are nice to have but not necessary to own. I wish I had realized that years ago!

  • Joanna says:

    Don’t forget about the Dolly Parton Imagination Library! They mail a free book each month to children ages 0-5. We’ve received some great classic children’s books, like Ferdinand, Blueberries for Sal, Corduroy, The Snowy Day. My little guy loves checking the mailbox to see if his book is there.

    It’s not available in all areas. You can check availability and sign up at imaginationlibrary.com.

    • Wow, that’s awesome! I’ve never heard of that. Thanks for sharing!

    • Teresa says:

      It is a great program. If you don’t have one in your area, you could always see if you could get some people together to help you start one. If I remember right, it works by counties. You have to come up with the money for shipping the books. Dolly Pardon then provides the books that get shipped directly to the homes. It has to be open for anyone in the area to enroll, so you have to come up with a significant amount of money. You can’t require parents to pay for the shipping in order to enroll. This is a great program to be paired with a school or other literacy organization that can do fundraisers or grant writing. You can check her site for more details and make sure my facts are accurate. It has been a few years since I looked at it. I worked with a nonprofit literacy organization for my internship when I found out about it. They tried to get some grants for the funds. Don’t know if they got it started because I moved. Anyways, great program to look into. You may have one in your area already.

  • Jenae says:

    Great Tips! I wrote a post a little while ago about choosing high-quality children’s literature. Thought you might like it as well: http://www.icanteachmychild.com/2012/05/childrens-literature-how-to-find-a-good-book/

  • Heather says:

    I don’t care to shoe shop either!
    For those in or near VA, the Green Valley Book Fair is amazing. It’s worth a drive to stock up. People come from the whole mid-Atlantic region. Prices are about 60% or more off of retail. The books are new, not used. They have a website for more info.

    Otherwise, I go to the library about once a week, and generally have 40 books checked out at any given time. I have 4 children, and they go to public school. I believe that frequent use of the library is the best, easiest, cheapest, and most enjoyable way to ensure your child’s academic success. Having a good home library is important, but kids need new reading material also to keep them learning!

    • Danielle B says:

      Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting that about the Green Valley Book Fair! I’ve lived here in Staunton for almost five years and I’ve never heard of it before. I went over to their website and I’m definitely going to next one.

  • Lisa says:

    I’ve been wearing the same pair of shoes for three years, so I feel your pain there 😉

    We buy almost all of our books two ways, consignment sales(locally twice a year in several locations, we know which are the best for us)

    AND

    School book fairs. I do not homeschool for my own reasons and I figure since the kids are going to attend this school for 6 years each all I am doing is benefiitting them by supporting their library this way. I am on the PTO board and got to see first hand how our first Book Fair supported the library, the librarian was able to get bags and bags and bags of new books and materials from the sale from the previous sale’s earnings. It thrilled her and the same week, my son brought home a book from the sale he chose from the library, it was stamped inside with a sweet note that it was provided by the school’s PTO and scholastic. It was wonderful!

  • Sarah says:

    If you pay for the shipping costs, I would be willing to send you some brand new children’s music on audio cassette – Heaven’s Sake Kids. They are in my thrift store pile and I’d love to see them actually get some use.

  • Michele says:

    Here’s a good link to find some used book sales in your region: http://www.booksalefinder.com/

    The first year (or 6 months – many are twice-per-year sales) you go to used book sales, you should check out as many as you can in your area. From that scoping trip, you can narrow down which ones are the best for you. In our county, most libraries have friends of library sales, but they are not created equal. At one library, the books are mostly donations – not ex-library books, and kids’ books are 25 cents! At another library, most books are ex-library books and are 50-cents. I only go to the former sale.

    I also find many at our small, local thrift store for 25 cents. Our larger thrift store sells kids’ books for 69 cents, but I often find a whole series.

    After we are done with our books, I “sell” them to our local used book store for credit. Even though the books for sale there are much more expensive than used book sales or library sales, my kids can fill in the holes of their collections with our credit.

    • Debbie says:

      Our library has used book sales twice a year – 50 cents per title. It’s a great way to get some quality titles and also to gather up a well-loved series, as many people donate entire series sets (such as Little House or Hardy Boys) that wind up in the sale. The last day is “fill a bag for 50 cents” day — harder to get the best titles by then, but still a great deal! Each of our kids has bookshelves in his/her room and are allowed to read for a half hour each night before lights out. Filling the bookcases with these finds has really created some good habits. (Of course we check out books from the library too!)

  • Lori says:

    When I need a specific book, I use thriftbooks.com. They are very reasonably priced and the price includes shipping. I highly recommend it.

  • I wrote a 4 part series on this on my blog called “Building A Home Library Inexpensively”. My favorite way to get books is still yard sale shopping. I get a lot of great titles for .25 cents to $2, and often I will pick up other great condition books for .25 cents,even though we don’t need them for our home library, and then exchange them for book credit at my local second hand book store. That way my second hand book store finds cost me significantly less. Great article. I didn’t know Amazon had a Sonlight list (thanks for the tip)

  • Meghan V. says:

    My favorite part of this article was when you mentioned you listen to a book on tape when you need everyone to stop talking. LOL. This is a great idea for the 5 o’clock whine!

  • Brittany says:

    If you live in the South, don’t forget to sign up for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Kids 5 and under get a book free in the mail every single month. It’s awesome (they’re nice, good classic books, too).

  • Kristin says:

    I am a 1st grade teacher and I have to say I love this post. Also, Scholastic runs warehouse sales twice a year where you can get great prices on high quality books. They also sell teaching resources and computer games.

    You can search on the scholastic website for one near where you live, they are open to the public. If you sign up for notifications of the next sale they will e-mail you a coupon for the sale. I have gotten some great books for my classroom this way!

  • jeannine says:

    http://www.rodandstaffbooks.com and clp.org has some great readers for low cost. Also, I found books I wanted and searched Ebay and Half and bought them for my first child’s birthday each year. After doing this for several years I have a pretty well stocked library.

  • Sarah in Alaska says:

    I’m really spoiled. We have a friends of the library bookstore – no waiting for an annual sale. Everyone in town donates their books to the store and then the store resells them. The proceeds support family and children activities at our library and recently purchased new, comfortable reading chairs for the library too.

    “New releases” go for $3 – $7. Popular books are $1. Everything else is a quarter or less. Children who shop with their parents receive a free book (<$1) and a bookmark.

    We can generally find what we're looking for and then some, though sometimes we do have to wait a few weeks and check back.

    A few years ago my husband found a technical book that he thought his brother would like. He bought it and shipped it to him. My BIL called as soon as it arrived, "This is the book I've been renewing from the library every month for the past year. It retails for $150. Let me pay you for it." My husband wouldn't take any money 'cause it only cost us $0.25 + shipping.

  • We have SO MANY books that I am completely overwhelmed. I’d love to find some stories on tape! I have quite the collection of Adventures in Odyssey from my grade school years, and I loved them– but I haven’t seen any other stories on tape.
    ~Kristen @ http://trialanderrorhomemaking.blogspot.com

    • Crystal says:

      We check out audiobooks from the library. Our library still has lots of audiobooks on tape, so if you prefer that over CDs, I’d definitely recommend checking to see what their selection is.

  • Kate says:

    I don’t know what we’d do without our library’s book sales! I would say to try out your local library book sale at least once before taking it off your list of good places to find great books.

  • I sure have benefited from this one. My kids LOVE books so thanks very much for sharing!

  • Marie says:

    I love to find books at garage sales. I especially look for Christmas ones as we started a 25 days to Christmas reading. I have 12-15 and then this year I got the others from the library.
    Also there is a children’s consignment store by me where there books are buy 2 get 1 free and the highest $ is the FREE one. Paper books are usually .50cents and hard books are $1!!! I love this because I’ve gotten so many great titles and if they don’t last long I can sell them at my garage sales.
    Also I utilize the library a ton!! I use the kids scholastic book orders to get suggestions of books and then I just reserve them at the library and my kids are thrilled!!!

  • Kiana Alana says:

    You could also check and see if your city has a book project organization. I get probably 50-75 free books a month that are close to brand new if not brand new. Sometimes these organizations are only open to teachers. I take the books and give them out at Halloween. The kids LOVE them! Parents are stoked because it isn’t candy AND the kids are excited about them. There are also books for adults most of the time too. These organizations really could use volunteers most of the time as well.

  • Amanda says:

    I think Crystal posted about this before, but I truly LOVED the book “Honey for a Child’s Heart” by Gladys Hunt. It includes lots of helpful info on how to choose good books, also a very nice book list at the end broke down into age groups.

    http://www.amazon.com/Honey-Childs-Heart-Gladys-Hunt/dp/0310242460

  • Linda Dietz says:

    Ohio may not have sunshine all the time, but we DO have Half Price Book stores! Books on the regular shelves are…half price! They also have clearance shelves where I often find books, games, cds, dvds in new or nearly new condition. Books go for as little as .85…or even less on special sale days! We have several around the city & for a special treat, I make the rounds…some in the morning…stop for lunch & hit the rest in the p.m.
    Since they buy books, the stock is always changing so there are always treasures to be found!

  • Andrea says:

    Hosting an Usborne book party is a great way to get free and deeply discounted high quality educational children’s books!!

  • Kerry says:

    half.com is where I shop when I’m looking for a particular book

  • Amy C says:

    I don’t know if anyone has mentioned this or not, but we live a few blocks from our local library. Across the street they have a small house that was converted into a used book store, where they sell second hand library books that are taken out of circulation. This is a great place to stock up on books for kids or adults at a very low price. Am assuming other libraries may have something similar if you ask?

  • Danielle B says:

    I LOVE this guest post! Perfect timing! I had just been thinking over how to really expand our library over the next year. I love books, and I hope to one day have an actual “library” room in our home. I know it’s not important to some people, and some may feel that they can just go get those books from the library, but that may not always actually be available. We never know what the future holds, and having plenty of quality, classic books on hand means something to me. Thank you for taking the time to write this post.

    I especially loved the line about needing the kids to just stop talking! I understand that feeling well! 🙂

  • Someone emailed me with this question. Thought it might be helpful to others: “What is the Five in a Row list you referenced on Money Saving Mom blog? I know that it is on Amazon but how is the list derived? And the significance of 5?”
    My answer: “sorry, I probably should have explained it! Five in a Row is a book you can get. It’s sort of a teacher’s guide that gives you about 20 books with related activities to do with each of them. Here’s the link on Rainbow Resource Center. http://www.rainbowresource.com/product/sku/019808/37783a8791aa61d7ad9f1d77 Also, here’s their website that tells more about it. http://fiarhq.com/fiveinarow.info/index.html)

    The idea is to read the best in children’s literature, one book for 5 days in a row, then do related activities. I think it’s an excellent preschool curriculum all by itself (well, with a bit of phonics and number recognition added in around the edges). But it’s a great supplement for ages K-3rd, I’d say. Our family didn’t do all the books or activities, but by using their book list as a guide, we’ve found wonderful, rich books that can teach a lot about history, geography, math, etc. in a fun way. One book that comes to mind is Blueberries for Sal, and another one is How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World. I have the Five in a Row book (and the Before Five in a Row for 4 year old age), and just check out the individual books from my library, but if I saw one at a used book sale, I’d snatch it up, knowing it would be worth our time and money.

    Hope that helps!

  • April says:

    I love book sales, not only for children’s books but also for books for me. Another great place is at garage sales!

  • Grace says:

    Got 3 dr seuss books today at salvation army. I prefer not to use library at least not till the kids are older if it is lost late destroyed etc we owe more than just going to the thrift store and picking out a book

  • Elly McCall says:

    With two little pumpkins at home, it seems like leaving the house involves a lot of work, so I don’t venture out much beyond necessities…and wanting a “new” book or few doesn’t climb high on the list of things I need to go out for! Every time I need to buy a book I open up four tabs in my internet browser (Firefox). I do a few minutes of comparative work and end up with great deals. The websites I open up and perform a title or keyword search on are as follows: http://www.AbeBooks.com, http://www.Amazon.com, http://www.ebay.com, and http://www.RemnantBooks.org

    I have gotten such great deals through doing the comparative work on these websites, with books costing as low as $0.01 plus s&h. I know – that price is ridiculous! They must really want to push those books out the door lol :o) Honestly, I don’t know if I could get as good a price at a local used book store that I get online most of the time – even considering shipping and handling charges. If nothing else, check out AbeBooks.com I think it’s a website that booksellers from all over the country sell books on – I’ve even received books from GoodWill through AbeBooks.com! And oh, the RemnantBooks.org website has *such* good prices too, and all the money goes to support the missionary work of the family that runs it.

    Happy *online* shopping! :o)

  • Kim says:

    Right after Christmas Barnes and Noble has a HUGE clearance sale online. They have bargain books in the store too but I’ve found that online they are generally at least half what they are in the store. This past year I purchased a ton of books for my daughter, myself, and my husband – many for $0.99 – none over $3 or $4 – even hardback novels for my husband. There were even some kids books with CDs included which we like to listen to on long car rides. They always have a bargain section online but it’s definitely the best right after the holidays.

  • nikki says:

    i go to our local thrift store, once upon a child. i can get books for $1 or $1.50. we are building our library with series books now, like the magic tree house and who was. the boys love to hunt for the books.

  • Sarah says:

    I love books too. Thank you for the tip about looking at the Sonlight list. I wrote recently about “Books for less”. http://weshallobtaindeliveringgrace.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/books-for-less.html

  • Ashley P says:

    I can attest to the stories on tape thing because that’s what I did when I was younger. I had a bunch of Bible stories that I got from… I don’t even remember, I was so young.

    And as much as we love Adventures in Odyssey, we were always too broke to afford their albums. But we found a really good deal on blank cassette tapes at a dollar store. A bunch of blank tapes + me sitting by my radio every night at 7 PM… you do the math on that one.

    The GREAT news is, I still have them. We plan on starting our own family soon. I already have lots for them to listen to! 🙂

  • Kristin says:

    Second vote for Thriftbooks.com! And Goodwill and used curriculum sales. 😉

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