My latest “old friend” found at Goodwill.

I love books and I want my children to love them as much as I do. In order to pass along this zest for reading, I am constantly on the lookout for quality literature. Because books can have a hefty price tag, I like to look for books at Goodwill and other thrift stores. I’ve found dozens of great books this way! Some are not in great condition, but considering that some of them are now out of print, I’ll settle for “readable” over “like new” any day!

I have a short list of books that I loved as a child which are no longer in print, and that’s where I start every time I shop. I’m like a prospector looking for gold. Sometimes I strike it rich, sometimes not, but I still enjoy the hunt. While my top priority are the “gold” books, I do have other, newer friends for which I’m searching, too. These are books that I have discovered since leaving home. You may have lists like mine in your head, too. If so, then just get to a thrift store and start digging! If not, I’ll give you some tips.

As a general rule, children’s literature written before 1965 is going to be pretty good. These books may not be well written, but they will be appropriate for young ones. Most of them will have an obvious moral, which I view as a plus. If you see an older looking cover on the shelf, but don’t recognize the author or the title as being your “gold standard”, then check the copyright. You’re looking at only spending a couple of dollars at thrift store (maybe only fifty cents!) so if it’s not good, you can donate it back. No big loss. I once bought a nice geography book for our library, but once I saw it was riddled with evolution, I got rid of it. That sort of thing doesn’t happen often, but it can happen. Also, if you see a “Weekly Reader” logo on the back of a book, well, that’s a good sign! Some of my favorite books are those old “Weekly Reader” books that came in the mail. Below are some examples of the “Weekly Reader” emblem:

logo2 logo

Look for Newbery Award winners and Caldecott Medal winners. Newbery Medals are given to the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children” each year. Caldecott Medals are awarded to the “artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children” each year. Of course, being an award winning book doesn’t guarantee you’ll love it yourself, but it’s a nice place to start. There are several other awards lists to check out, so do a web search and start reading!

Find a favorite author, and search for him or her. I have enjoyed reading aloud the historical picture books by David A. Adler. He has written many, and I have gained several from thrift stores. Another great author is Jean Fritz. I also like Arnold Lobel, Carol Ryrie Brink, Patricia St. John, Garth Williams (artist), Harry and Wende Devlin, Beverly Cleary, Tasha Tudor (artist), Eloise Wilkin (artist), Richard Scarry, and a host of others. Whenever I see a familiar name on the spine of an old, forgotten book, I can’t help but examine it. Most of the time, I will adopt it. If I get more than one copy of a favorite title or author, I can always share the love by passing it on to a friend.

Do a web search for book lists. There are award winning book lists, as mentioned above, and then there are just “tried and true” lists in various places. Sonlight Curriculum is a great source of book lists, even if you don’t use their curriculum for homeschooling. Jane Claire Lambert wrote a great literature based unit study called Five in a Row. The books are listed in several places online, so search them out. They are all great books, even without the Five in a Row activities, so give ’em a try. There are also several good books about books. Really! They are called Honey for the Child’s Heart, The Read Aloud Handbook and Books Children Will Love.

Don’t forget clearance shelves at bookstores! I do sometimes shop in a bookstore that sells new books. However, I’m always looking for deals there, too. Check the clearance tables for your favorite volumes. I found the hardback book below on sale for $4! I had been wanting it for our homeschool for a long time, but couldn’t afford the $17 (plus shipping) price tag. It was a happy book-buying day for me!



Check out book swapping sites for old books. My favorites are  bookmooch.com and paperbackswap.com. You must be a member, which means you have to be willing to post ten books you’d like to part with, in exchange for receiving the books you choose for free. You pay the postage to mail your books, and then the books you’d like to own are shipped to you for free. I hope that makes sense. You can also buy credits (without posting books) for a low cost. Visit the websites for more (and clearer) information.

Disclaimer: Obviously, my reading tastes may vary from yours. Please read at your own risk. For example, I don’t like books with profanity, but I try to use my discernment in each situation. It is important that we don’t swallow a lie just because it looks like the truth. Likewise, the truth can come disguised sometimes, and we must work to find its real identity. I read with discernment, and I’m working to teach my children to do so as well.

I hope these few tips will get your library off to a good start, or help you continue to build it. Books allow us to live many lives, see new things and visit far away places. Books, as I once read, give us somewhere to go when we have to stay where we are.

How true.

Happy reading,


7 thoughts on “How to Compile a Great Children’s Library

  1. Amanda Tyler says:

    Good tips! I love books, too, and started buying them for my children before they were even born. Yard sales are another great place to find these treasures. That is one of the things that we miss so much when living in a foreign country…the library and cheap English books. I do have a Kindle and it has been a big blessing.


    1. Yes, I would think the Kindle is a must-have for a missionary! I’m not a big yard sale shopper, so thanks for that tip. 🙂


  2. Stephanie A says:

    Thank you for the book-searching tips, Valerie! Thanks to you, I now check the book section of thrift stores when we go. This confuses my kids, because they are too old to read the children’s books that I’m looking for. I just love the idea of having a bookshelf of sweet, innocent children’s books for any child to look at. 🙂


    1. I agree with you, Stephanie! I’m so glad the tips were helpful.


  3. Traci Matt says:

    “Honey for a Child’s Heart” has always been my go-to reference because the author has actually read every one of the books. It was important to me to read everything my kids were reading before they did, even (especially!) as they moved into junior high and high school.


    1. I love that book also! I do read ahead of them when I can, but they move so quickly that sometimes I can’t keep up. That’s why I am working on teaching good discernment, so they can judge books themselves.


  4. Carolyn Courtney says:

    Those are great tips, and isn’t it wonderful to have the Internet? I didn’t have that luxury when you were a child.


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