How to Buy Children’s Books

Children’s books can be expensive, and many are age appropriate for only a few years. If you want shelves full of brand-new books for your children to read, you had better be ready to spend some serious dough. Many parents decide to buy children’s books used because–as with children’s clothes–they are quickly outgrown. Unfortunately, even when bought used, children’s books can still be expensive.

Erasmus said, “When I get a little money, I buy books. And if there is any left over, I buy food.” Hopefully, these tips will ensure you always have enough money to buy your kids books…and food.

1. Find Bulk Deals on Books

While you can get great deals on books at thrift stores and yard sales, you can get even better deals if you buy in bulk. See a box of gently used children’s books at a yard sale? Instead of picking out a few at fifty cents apiece, offer them five dollars for the box. Check with your local library to see when they have their annual book sale. Often you can fill up a whole bag for a few bucks. Also check thrift stores in your area or when traveling. Many will offer bag deals that will allow you to get as many books as you can fit in a plastic grocery bag for $3-7 dollars. Even if such a deal isn’t posted, ask if they ever hold such a sale.

2. Buy Books to Use and Trade

So you’ve found a bag sale. Make the most of it. Start with getting your bag. Not all bags are created equal. If the sale has a box of bags for you to serve yourself, take a couple seconds (not minutes) to look through the box. Plastic bags from restaurants and clothing stores are bigger. If the sale offers you a large paper bag for a couple bucks more, the paper is usually a much better deal. Grab two bags and start filling.

There are a lot of great children’s books out there. You can afford to be picky. However, at a bag sale, it is unlikely that you will be able to fill your bag with books you want. I rarely find more than five books I want to keep. So what to do with the rest of the space in your bag? Buy books that other people will want.

Start with the children’s section because that’s what you came there for anyway. Look for anything in reasonably good condition by Disney, Boynton, Carle, Curious George, Beginner Books (Cat in the Hat logo on spine), or anything with a Movie/TV connection. Look also for board books in good condition, especially if they have some unusual (and undamaged) feature.

Skip the young adult for the time being and head for the paperbacks. Fiction works tend to hold their value better in paperback than in hardcover. Look for popular authors. Trade paperbacks are more valuable. Romance novels are generally worthless unless they are about Amish people (I don’t know why, but there seems to be a big market for them. Personally, however, I avoid romance entirely). If an author is super-popular like John Grisham, get only his most recent stuff and perhaps some older stuff if they have new covers. Never buy books with clipped corners or stamped “not for resale” as a bookstore probably gave them away for free at some point.

In the hardcovers, don’t buy anything without a dust jacket in reasonably good shape. Also, don’t buy anything that is a book club edition. These editions are slightly smaller and virtually worthless (however, some authors like Nicholas Sparks write shorter works that are always published in this size). As a general rule, never buy a book that was withdrawn from library circulation (contrary to popular opinion, library sales are usually comprised mostly of donated books rather than withdrawn books). Nonfiction hardcovers will generally be your most valuable finds, but there’s a fickle art to picking out the right ones.

Young adult books tend not to hold much value. However, you might consider picking up books with Movie/TV connections and popular series like Choose Your Own Adventure, Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and Hardy Boys. Remember that your child will one day be old enough for these, so you might want to keep some.

Remember I said to pick up two bags? Once both bags are loosely filled. Take out all the books and stack them according to their size. Place the two largest stacks in the bag and fill in around the sides. Stretch the bag to its limit and then double bag. Believe me, you can fit an amazing number of books in a single bag.

3. Trade the Books You Don’t Want

Take your unwanted books to a used bookstore. Since most towns have more than one, go to the one with the nicest selection first. They probably won’t take all the books you bring them. Take the rejected ones to the next nicest etc.

This year I’ve bought four bags of books at a cost of $16 (two for $3 each, two for $5 each). In the four bags, I got about twenty books I wanted (at less than a dollar per book). In addition, I got about $100 worth of trade credit at local bookstores.

Of course, most towns also have well stocked public library, but a personal children’s library can be a great help in teaching your children to love reading.

Have any tips for buying books or reading to your children? Let me know!


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