Keeping plenty of children’s reading material available at home is an important part of literacy development. While borrowing from the library is an asset, nothing quite beats the convenience and joy of having a personal children’s library at home. Here are six tips to make book-gathering efficient and cost-effective while building a stockpile of stories your child will love.
1. Buy used. New books are wonderful — the smells, the first pop of glue in the spine, the feel of crisp pages. But used books offer an experience of their own. A worn, well-loved book is a great addition to a child’s library. Secondhand book shops, thrift stores, and library sales are a great place to stock up on content for a home library.
Buying used is especially handy for infants’ and toddlers’ kid lit. Young children’s books are expensive to produce. Full-color illustrations cost more to print than books using only black ink. Textile books and board books for babies have high production costs, too. Getting them for half price or less keeps your library affordably well-stock.
2. Choose your old favorites. If you liked a particular book at a certain age as child, that is a good indicator your kids will like it at that age, too. In my pre-K years, I loved Jan Brett’s book “The Mitten,” as well as P.D. Eastman’s “Are You My Mother?” Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” was another favorite (although it wasn’t the story I adored as much as the illustrations). Children’s books tend to be timeless, so the ones you loved are likely candidates for your child to love as well. The bonus: Sharing your favorites offers an extra bonding experience with your little one and lets you reconnect with your childhood a bit.
3. Also choose new books. The kid lit market is consistently fed with great new titles. In addition to stocking a home library with your old favorites, ask librarians, teachers, fellow parents, and other children for suggestions. You may be surprised to discover even you will find a new favorite kid lit title — there is no age limit for loving children’s books.
4. Involve your child. Book lovers know the thrill of browsing shelves in the quest to find the perfect book. Children can experience the same joy when they get to choose additions to their home library. As they get older and their interests develop, they will begin to favor particular types of stories and art. (I favored books structured by repetition: “The House That Jack Built,” “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” “Are You My Mother?” etc.)
Letting them select many of the books helps you recognize their literary tastes, which helps you make even more selections and identify a book they’d enjoy.
5. Create an exchange. One way to keep a home library fresh and evolving is to create an exchange with other parents. Keep your child’s favorite books in stock to read repeatedly, and swap less favorite titles with other parents to introduce a new potential favorite in your home. Exchanges are similar to borrowing from a library, but there’s the option to keep the book if your child can’t bear to part with it.
6. Test pilot. You encounter a newly released book you think your child will love. You pick it up, flip through it, and then check the price on the back cover. Ouch. There’s a moment of indecision; you’re 90 percent certain this book will be an immediate favorite of your little one, but that 10 percent chance makes you reluctant to pay a double-digit price tag for a 10-page book.
That’s where libraries or borrowing from a fellow parent plays a role. Parents can test pilot a book before paying full price. It’s worth paying full price for a book a child will read 200 times, but maybe not for a book that gets read once or twice. In those cases, checking out from the public library is better than making it an addition to a home library.