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A Book in Every Backpack II


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!


I have found that my greatest allies in my quest to grow my classroom library have been small bookshop owners. Over a year ago, I was delighted to discover that a used bookstore in my area keeps an "Any Teacher Any School" credit on file. Customers can choose to donate any credits on their accounts, and Any Teacher from Any School can use the credit to purchase books for their classroom. Customers can also choose to make cash donations to the credit. In over a year, the credit has never dropped below $500. I make generous use of the credit, and in turn I donate all of my own credit to help other teachers. I have spread the word to all my friends and family, as well as many of my students' parents. I have also suggested the idea to other used bookstores, and it has been implemented enthusiastically. It works entirely on an honour system (I have never been asked to show prof of my profession), and apparently teachers are honourable people!

YES!!! Ask parents. The youngest in our extended family is my 7 yo. I now donate all the books that have filtered down to us as we outgrow them. [[And sometimes I have to hunt down people to give them to.]]

The other thing we do in our family is give "book gift certificates" for appreciation gifts. So instead of a Starbucks card, or flowers, teachers get to pick out books they want for their class.

Books are for sharing until the pages grow ragged and fall out.

Great list of ideas! I'm sharing this entry with our language arts folks and the librian.



Yikes! That's librarian.

When you said " 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." of course I wholeheartedly agree! But it made me think.

My experience of canned reading was way back as a child, when we competed with each other to move through the SRA levels. We would gobble a card, spit out the answers and wave our new card triumphantly on return to our seats. I don't recall any of the material, all I recall is the competition. Whereas I remember many of the "readers" we had, the poetry we learnt, the games we played based on books we'd read.

So my point is, canned reading (for me at any rate) was about competing. Literature is about collaborating. It leads to sharing of ideas, of creativity, of thought. It opens doorways for children and adults. And as you said Donalyn, surrounding kids with books will be intrinsically motivating.

Vive le book!

I love your enthusiasm for reading-- I also share a love of reading and teaching children to read! I have my summer reading list going and growing! I also teach, at elementary level, in St. Louis, Missouri. It gives me joy to watch a first grade begin to successfully decode words and begin to understand and enjoy reading! It is a continuing issue to keep students enthusiastic about reading, because unfortunately, they don't all love reading as much as I do. Another place I find great books at a great price is a second-hand children's store. In my city, there are several of them and while they sell clothes, toys, and other children's items, there book section is pretty expansive. I'm picky about the titles, authors, and subjects of the books I put on my shelves for my students, and I am pleased to say I've found many excellent titles, often hardback, for $1.25 each!

These are great ideas, but I am looking for the author who can write a book at a 3rd grade level with interest of a high school boy or girl. They are out there but always in the form of a history or other non-fiction topic.

Most of the books I own are from Goodwill. It's amazing what you can find on those lonesome shelves, tucked away in a corner at the back of the store. Just the other day I was skimming through the rows of books when an elderly woman found a hardcover copy of "Dante's Inferno." We never got to read it in class and till then, I had forgotten about it. I honestly contemplated snatching it from her cart. Ridiculous. I ended up buying it from a used bookstore the same day. Anyway, paperback books are only twenty-five cents while hardcovers are around $1.

I love your blog Ms. Miller! On occasion one of the entries gets me a little teary-eyed. A good thing of course! When I started college, I stopped reading. I don't know if I was burned out or uninspired, but I didn't pick up a single book on my own free will for that first semester. Well one day I was being a bum and fiddling with my Yahoo page when I came upon your blog. I read through some entries and I got so nostalgic. I immediately went back to reading and haven't gone a month without finishing at least two books. So thank you! We appreciate you and all the great teachers out there!

I found a great place for students to get free books. it is called bookboon.com and they make secondary litterature which is aimed at helping students reading up for exams. the books are short, like 120 pages, and focus on the core elements of curriculum, to ensure the students knows all the basics well.

I can't agree with you more about the importance of the availability of books to students. My daughter was fortunate to have Maria Walther (herself an author who writes about getting kids to read and love books) for first grade. Dr. Walther has the most abundant classroom library that I have ever seen. My daughter reveled in this abundance and is now an avid reader of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. It was quite a shock for my daughter this year when she walked into her classroom to find a single shelf holding a dozen or so books! While she is still reading voraciously, it is much harder to find new books and authors that interest her. We got spoiled with the abundance and the excellent teacher who clearly loved a good book!

These are great ideas! Sharing a book - new or used - is such a great opportunity to get kids hooked on reading.

Melanie - We have some high/low books in our inventory for classroom reading. All fiction!

Thank you! Thank you! Your recently published book and your blog have given me grand ideas for my 48 4th and 5th grade readers and the 2300+ books in my classroom library. Thanks to your wisdom, I predict the upcoming school year will be an outstanding reading and writing experience for all of us.

Be assured I will share your book and your blog with coworkers and administrators throughout the district.

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