I love going to bookstores and could spend hours browsing the aisles, but I really don't have enough money to buy a bunch of books brand new for myself or for Juliet--especially at the rate we go through them. Brand new books are outrageously expensive, in my opinion, so we save those for special once-in-a-while treats. Despite our "no new books" policy, we managed to amass quite a significant collection of children's books over the past two years. Here are some of my sources:
1. The local library
Beside the obvious, "borrowing books" service of libraries, you might be surprised to learn that often you can also buy books there. Our library has a little rack right by the door with children's books for sale. The cost? 25 cents a book. Even goodwill can't beat that.
You can find tons of books at Goodwill if you are willing to dig through them. A lot of them are damaged or scribbled in or just too well-loved to want to take home, but some of them are in beautiful condition. And if you don't mind a few tears or minimal scribbles, your options increase even more.
A lot of the books have inscriptions on the inner cover--something like, "To Sally--love Granny and Pee-paw, 1987." I like knowing that these books sat on someone else's shelf before making it to ours. I also wonder where little Sally is these days. Sometimes I feel bad that Juliet has a shelf full of books with other kids' names in them and I always tell myself that I need to get out a sharpie and write her name in them, but so far, I just haven't gotten around to it.
3. Baby thrift and consignment shops
The nice thing about these stores is that they are usually a little more selective about the quality of books they accept from donors/consignors. This means less digging for you--no chewed up or scribbled on books. This is a good option for people who are loathe to step foot in a goodwill (such as my husband) because the volume of broken down/beat up/dropped-in-a-toilet a few times too many aspect of most of the goods is too overwhelming to you.
4. Local charities
Our local crisis pregnancy help center has a baby thrift store nearby and we have found a lot of good books in great condition there. All the items for sale there are donated and then the profits are used to help young mothers. Books generally go for a dollar a piece (both children's and adult's books.) I like that our book money goes to help other mothers and babies.
5. Used Book Stores
These are great places to find books--our local used book store has a big selection of children's books. The quality is always good and the prices vary from between $1.25 to $5--depending on the size of the book.
6. Garage Sales
You can hit the jackpot at garage sales. I don't go to these as often as I should, but have found some great deals. Usually, I find books at 25 cents to a $1 a piece, but sometimes you can find big boxes of free books that people just want to get rid of. I got about 10 free books at a garage sale a few weeks ago. You can't beat free.
7. Church sales
Like a garage sale, these are great sources for books. The great thing about church sales is that so many different families have donated items, so the selection is a lot larger than if you just went to a single-family garage sale. The other thing that is nice is that since the person at the cashbox is not usually the original owner of the merchandise, they don't have an emotional attachment to the item and thus, usually give you a pretty good deal. I find that there are generally no set prices--I just carry my items up to the "cashier" and say, "how much?" They eyeball my stuff and say, "um...how about $3?" and I hand the money over and run before they can change their mind.
8. Kids Meals
I know these aren't free, but since I am paying for the food regardless of what they give me, I'd much rather get a "free" book in a kids meal than a "free" plastic toy. Chik-fil-A is really good about giving out books as prizes and the books they give are top quality. Here's a post about one book we got at Chik-fil-A.
9. Marshall's and TJ Maxx
I don't really know what the term is for these kinds of stores, but you can often find brand new books at thrift store prices. You do have to search through the books (not all are dirt cheap), but I have found nice books for $2 or $3 dollars on clearance that would have cost $8 to $10 brand new. I like buying books that I am giving as gifts in these stores.
10. Grandparents and neighbors
If your parents are like mine and Ben's, they have probably saved a big box of books from your childhood. Ben's mom has saved all Ben's favorites from when he was a boy and passed them down to Juliet. A lot of them are now Juliet's favorites as well. We have probably read The Great Big Fire Engine Book by Tibor Gergely a million times already.
My mom saved a box of books in the attic and just recently got them down. We keep some at her house and have brought some home. A childhood favorite of mine that Juliet now loves also is Never Talk to Strangers by Irma Joyce.
Our neighbors have donated their books to us as well. We find that a lot of people in our neighborhood, even those we don't really know, are very eager to get rid of their old baby stuff, including books. We got Time for Bed by Mem Fox from a neighbor whose child had outgrown it. It is now one of our very favorite bedtime books.
These are the ways WE have gone about building our library, but I know there are many more. Something I plan on doing more of is finding free book offers on the web. There are several websites for moms that share information about reading programs that offer free books after your child has read X amount of books.
Freebies4mom is a good site--click here to see her list of free book resources.
Also, check out queen of free--this site provides daily freebies available on the web. From time to time she finds free kid's book offers and posts them on her site.
Hope this helps you in your own book-hunting quest! I'd love to hear how you find books for cheap--leave a comment or send me an email!
[illustration by Denman Hampson from Never Tease a Weasel by Jean Condor Soule, published 1964.]