Education Opinion

A Book in Every Backpack II

By Donalyn Miller — April 07, 2009 6 min read
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I am drowning in books, but what a way to go. My bookshelves at home overflow with beloved titles I read again and again. I dedicated a three-shelf bookcase in my living room to the books I want to read--books I have borrowed, purchased, or checked out from my school and public libraries. Whenever I embark on a day of housecleaning, I begin by reshelving the books my family and I stack on every available surface.

My classroom is awash in books, too, with a collection that has surged beyond the confines of my classroom and into a storage closet across the hall. My students cannot get enough books, either. Heavy reading in class and access to books all day creates a ripple effect that influences my students’ reading habits elsewhere. Our favorite day of the week is library day. We race down the hall to check out the latest new books and request more titles for our librarian to order. My students are extremely jealous that teachers do not have a checkout limit or pay fines! They read more at home, too. I have to smile on Monday mornings when I overhear students describing their latest finds from the half-price bookstore or the public library. Many sign up for their first library cards and make sure their younger siblings get one, too. This is my goal--to build readers for life, who find value in books beyond the school day and the school door.

It is all about access. Surrounding children with books--in libraries, classrooms, and at home positively impacts reading interest and achievement. It almost seems too simple--give children books and they will read them. Countless studies prove that well-stocked and cultivated school and public library collections lead children to reading and that the most effective reading teachers have rich classroom libraries, too. United in our shared purpose to increase children’s access to books and improve motivation to read, I imagine we all agree that creating a book flood, rather than purchasing more canned reading programs is the best way to put funding behind our belief that all children read.

The goal of my last post was to share methods teachers use for finding inexpensive and free books for building classroom libraries. Your comments were overwhelmingly supportive of helping teachers who spend their own money to increase day long access to books for their students. I have collected your suggestions and added a few of my own.

Donations. Ask friends, family members, neighbors, that retiring teacher down the hall, or outgoing students to clean out their closets and donate their unwanted books to your classroom library. I honor donors with a computer-generated book plate affixed to their book. I recommend taking books you might not want for students, too, and use them to get coupons at book swaps or exchange for more appropriate books at thrift book stores.

Garage Sales. Books are not big garage sale sellers. My daughters are pros at scanning for boxes of books as we drive around our neighborhood scoping out the weekend garage sales. Cruising up to the curb, I have spent as little as $2 or $3 dollars for an entire box of books. At the end of the day, sellers are often willing to give books away rather than lug them back into the house.

Library Sales. Many nonprofit organizations sponsor used book sales in tandem with local public and school libraries. At a recent library sale, I bought an entire trunkload of children’s library books and audiocassettes for $40.00. To find local non-profit sales, sign up for the Book Sale Finder newsletter. This sends you an e-mail alert when a sale is happening in your area.

eBay. The first two hundred books I bought for my classroom library were purchased on eBay and I still frequent the site when I need additional copies of favorite books. If you are looking for specific titles, set up an alert to notify you when those books are up for sale. When building your initial collection, search for book lots--mixed sets of books that are much cheaper than purchasing individual titles.

Bookstore Clearance and online Bargain Bins. Who doesn’t love a sale? Bookstores move their stock constantly and you can often find great deals digging through clearance bins at bookstores and online sites like Amazon. Be choosy, often a book hits the clearance bin because it is not that good. I have discovered that the month the paperback edition of a book hits stores, the hardcover edition winds up in the bargain bin, often at a cheaper price than the paperback! Check out the New in Paperback pages at teenreads and kidsreads, then scoot over to Amazon and check the hardcover price.

Scholastic Warehouse Sales . Scholastic book clubs and book sales have put low-cost books into the hands of school children for decades, and many teachers build their class libraries from the book club points and incentives Scholastic offers. Additionally, Scholastic hosts several discount sales through their regional warehouses each year. Discounts range from 30% to as low as $1 a book. When looking for new or popular titles, Scholastic is a great low-cost source.

Book Swaps. The premise of a book swap is simple--solicit donations of unwanted books and give a coupon to the donor for every book they bring. The donated books provide the stock for the swap and donors can use their coupons to select more books to read. We host a book swap at our school the weekend before school is out to promote summer reading. At many swaps, you can purchase books, too, for as little as a quarter. One local school district in my town combines their book swap with their yearly library sale, using the sale to cull out collections in all of the district’s school libraries.

Get creative. Reading your comments, I was amazed by the innovative solutions many of you employ to get books into the hands of children.

Terry Doherty at The Reading Tub encourages book reviewers to donate the advance reader copies they receive to the Use Your ABC’s program.

If you are interested in writing book reviews yourself, author Kate Messner suggests Deborah Sloan’s Picnic Basket. Sign up to write a review and receive a copy of the book to share with students.

Tim Thompson at AKJ Books works with programs like Reading is Fundamental to provide low cost books. Speaking of RIF, check out their second annual contest to encourage reading aloud to children, the Read with Kids Challenge . The goal is to log 5 million minutes of read aloud time across the nation between April 1st and June 30th. Winners of the contest receive a trip to Disney World, sponsored by US Airways.

Tim also recommends DonorsChoose.org, an online charity which provides books and supplies to teachers who enroll in the program and post their classroom needs to the site.

Carol Blakely uses her own garden as a fundraising opportunity, selling cuttings to purchase books. Carol, I spend too much time with my nose in a book to have much of a garden, but your idea motivated me to start digging...

**Updated 4/25/09: Heather Wolpert Gawron over at Tweenteacher has a great post on The Importance of a Classroom Library, as well as a Book Begging letter and advice on how to Start and Finance that Classroom Library. Thanks Heather, for the advice!

Keep those tips coming! Let’s get books into the hands of those teachers and their students!

The opinions expressed in The Book Whisperer are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.