Before Giving Away Your Kids’ Books

Elizabeth Bluemle - March 8, 2013

It happens to many families: children grow up, move out, go to college, and their parents are left trying to figure out what to do with all of their stuff, especially their books. Book sales come along, too, and families clear the shelves to donate the books their children no longer look at (or that they think the kids no longer look at). The teenaged kids may be too old to want to re-read their childhood favorites, and too young to be nostalgic about them yet, or think about saving those books for their own kids someday. And the parents just want to de-clutter their lives. But judging from the number of young adults (in their 20s and 30s) coming in to the store searching for long-lost treasures their parents threw away, those books might be worth hanging on to.
With e-books starting to take a bigger bite of the children’s market, and the economy the way it is, the print runs of physical books are likely to decline — which will make those family favorites even harder to find once the grandchildren arrive. Cheap buys aren’t always as easy to find at garage sales and online as they used to be, and hard-to-find books can cost a true fortune. It’s often not the ubiquitous classics that customers come in looking for, but the more obscure books, books that caught a child at exactly the right time for fascination. I remember my own lost-book cravings; as a twenty-something, I needed to get my hands on Harry and Wende Devlin’s Old Black Witch (now back in print from Purple House Press) and How Fletcher Was Hatched, and Remy Charlip’s Arm in Arm: A Collection of Connections, Endless Tales, Reiterations, and Other Echolalia (which was recently back in print through, sniffle, Tricycle Press).

I recently heard about a great way to decide which books to keep and which to give away. One mom, a customer of ours, told me she throws a special “book day” every year when she goes through her three sons’ shelves to clear books for the library sale. Even though her sons are now 11, 14, and 15, they gather the books they’re going through into a big pile on a comfy rug, and go through them. They read all of the picture books aloud — which her sons LOVE doing; it’s sanctioned and justified cozy time — and reminisce about the chapter books. It’s pretty clear during that process which books are keepers and which can be sorted out of the mix without pangs. What a thoughtful mom, and what a fun afternoon!
Readers — which books do you wish your own parents had saved, and which of your child’s books will you keep?

29 thoughts on “Before Giving Away Your Kids’ Books

  1. Jana

    There are so many books I wish my mom had kept! I have scoured her basement in hopes of finding some of them. Some of them chapter books and some of them picture books. Mostly all of my old Beverly Cleary with Louis Darling’s illustrations–I am still trying to track down old copies of those. (I don’t mind the re-issues, I just miss those wonderful illustrations!)
    She did ask me if she could donate all of my Sweet Valley High books to my junior high library when I was in college. I did tell her yes because I thought that would be a nice use for them. And in an interesting twist of fate, I am now the librarian in that very library! (Sadly, those books have been weeded out).

  2. Kate

    “The Penderwicks” and its sequels will stay with us forever, as will all of the “Bad Kitty” books. “Falling for Rapunzel” was a particularly funny picture book, along with “An Undone Fairy Tale.” But just as you said, the kids know the keepers!

  3. Cindy Ulrich

    Very few of my early picture books survived to be saved- I read them to shreds and now early Golden Books and other picture book treasures of the mid-50’s are getting pricey. My sets and novels- Cherry Ames, Judy Bolton, Anne of Green Gables etc have survived in my storage or my sisters (we had to dup the Anne of Green Gables as one of them wanted the set and I did too). Then there were my Alcotts- my very favorites, which not only did I keep, but became the basis for a now extensive collection of Alcott titles that include late 1800 editions and more current ones. I shudder when professional ‘de-clutters’ say there is not reason to keep books, buy one toss 4. Blasphemy!!!

  4. Sean

    I couldn’t agree more! I have been searching for years for a book of stories my grandmother used to read to me. It’s long gone as such a shame!

  5. James

    Jana –
    The Sweet Valley High books had a built-in obsolescence – those photo covers. They just look dated now and no kid is going to pick them up with the girls on the cover wearing those old clothes (plus, those books are probably falling to pieces now as they were only paperbacks). Picture books are generally immune from this as good illustrations will always be such but the photo cover mass-market chapter books… not so much.
    I’ve been slowly collecting the old “Worlds of Power” series from when I was younger which was books based on old Nintendo video games. Not good literature by any stretch of the imagination, but a part of my childhood that I look back on with a small measure of nostalgia.

  6. Heather Villa

    Hello Elizabeth,
    Thank you for this thoughtful post!
    The messages of so many children’s books stand the test of time. Just recently, I have appreciated that my parents kept nearly every single one of our family’s “children” books. Now I enjoy the same books that I once read with my young daughter. Plus, it’s fun to see my name and my little sister’s name scrawled on the inside of many of the books.
    However, my parents didn’t keep everything. My mom sold my baseball glove at a yard sale.
    Heather Villa

  7. Amanda D

    I had to re-buy The Game earlier this year. It wouldn’t leave me alone until I read it again! But it’s been reissued with a teen-future-distopia cover, and I really miss the old cherry red one.

    1. Rachel

      I still have that cherry red cover, from when it was Invitation to the Game! I couldn’t bear to part with it. What an excellent book.

  8. Laura

    I was lucky. My parents saved a great deal of my children’s books. I was an avid reader and the books were such a big part of me. I have followed suit and saved a huge amount of my children’s books. No matter how many copies of Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse or Chrysanthemum we own, I have carefully preserved every Kevin Henkes book through the years. The same with Eric Carle. Lois Lowry, Kate DiCamillo…the 100 plus books in the Boxcar Children and Goosebumps series gave me pause but I found a little nook for all of them.

  9. Kirsten

    People will go to great lengths to keep books from when they were kids. My mom had a set of the My Book House books edited by Olive Beaupre Miller, from the 1950’s, that I didn’t know how much I would miss until they were destroyed by a flood in the basement, long after I moved out. I ended up tracking them down on Ebay, and it was not easy to find a set! When she moved I encouraged her to weed her collection (she had roomfuls, and even afterwards it took two moving vans) and now I’m sorry I did! So many of the ones she saved are beloved by my own kids, and even some of the science books are still wonderful. But a lot of the fairy tale books are gone, and they probably can never be replaced (She also kept a record player and a lot of those book/record combinations and every once in awhile my kids will ask her to bring them out so they can listen. You just never know).

  10. Shellie Braeuner

    I grew up with the Parent’s Choice book subscription. The books lasted through myself and three siblings, but were very ragged. I looked online for my favorites: Miss Twiggly’s Tree House and Just Only John. But the cost was prohibitive. Imagine my surprise when I found an entire set of the books at an estate sale. I bought two years worth for ten dollars. I can now share my favs with my own nieces and nephews as well as the classes I teach!!
    Sorry, the last post went all wonky!!

  11. Sudey

    Even if the books are still in print, they will never be as cherished as the “loved” copy your kids remember. It’s worth a little storage space. If it turns out your kids really don’t want them when they become parents you’ll make some $ on ebay.

  12. C Hernandez

    I never owned a copy, but heard Sugar Mouse Cake read aloud at school. I have wanted a copy for years now. Sadly it has long been out of print. My Mom gave almost everything to our younger cousins ( We had many.) I managed to squirrel a few books away in my teens. I cherish my copy of Brer Rabbit stories because I can still hear my Dad reading in the different voices. Of course, I had to keep a few of the horse books for my own girls. It’s funny the Brer Rabbit book and another my Mom often read are the two my sister has looked for to read to her clan so there’s the prove the time parents spend reading to their children pays off.

  13. Jeanette Larson

    My parents kept The Land of Green Ginger, my favorite book growing up. They gave it to my younger brother who finally gave it back to me.
    Librarians are always being asked to help someone find a blue book with yellow kittens on the cover that was a favorite read to a patron when they were 4 years old. Amazing how many times we are actually able to figure out the title!

  14. Johanna Hurwitz

    I can’t blame my mom. We lived in a small Bronx apartment and room was in short supply . As soon as possible she discarded clothing, toys and books. Still, I feel so nostalgic about those favorite books. When my brother turned sixty I tried to locate a childhood favorite of his about “Stuffy Dean was a greedy lad, he ate too much and that was bad….” I found it on a website but it cost well over $100 and I decided that was too much to pay for a joke gift. So he didn’t get it and my children and now my grandchildren have grown up without that one.

    1. Sallie Wolf

      Stuffy Dean was one of the earliest books I had. It left me feeling very uneasy. I was a picky eater, but very greedy about the things I would eat. I’d love to see that book again.

      1. Maynard Thomson

        OMG–For years I’ve gone on about Stuffy Dean to our children, and now their children. I have to find a copy! I still remember the picture of that bulbous lad, floating away.

        1. Mark G. Mazza

          On Thanksgiving Day the ’50’s generation fondly recalled the story of Stuffy Dean from Kindergarten days. Have you ever tracked it down? What was the name of the book and who is its author. I really would like to know.

          1. Travis Lyle

            I too recall Stuffy Dean as one of the earliest and favourite books of my childhood – but for the life of me, I can find neither online reference (or images, or publishing info) online, nor anyone who’s ever heard of it.
            I would love to read it again. I particularly remember the illustrations, which were superb.

  15. Nancy Silverrod

    My mother made us get rid of almost all of our books and toys when we moved from Michigan to California in a VW bus. Somehow I managed to hang on to a book given to me by my best friend for my 5th birthday (51 years ago): Pekoe and the Pirates. It’s held together by a thread and a lot of scotch tape, but it still goes with me everywhere I move. And yes, I’ve had to replace many beloved books as an adult.

  16. Debbie vilardi

    My son just went through all of the original Hardy Boys books. We got them from the library, but I remember them from the red bookcase downstairs.
    I found a used copy of Mr. Pines Mixed Up Signs, a book my brother often talked about. He turned it right over to my kids.
    I found most of my childhood favorites at the library. I’m happy to say they are still there: Beatrix Potter, Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, etc.

  17. Spellbound

    My goodness, Elizabeth, you have done it again! Several years ago on the ABC listserv you mentioned a favorite book called JANE-EMILY coming back into print, and it so happened that I had been searching for that very book for many years to no avail. (Couldn’t remember the title, the author, or anything remotely helpful.)
    And now, with OLD BLACK WITCH, you have done it again! I loved that book so much (and recall so happily my kindergarten class making those blueberry pancakes), but I thought I would never find it. I even went back and asked my kindergarten teacher years later, but she didn’t remember it. Apparently it came out in the fall and I completely missed it. I am ordering a copy for myself today!
    More on topic, I agree completely that parents should be conservative about throwing out or selling their children’s books (or other personal items) without talking about it first–you never know which ones might hold very special memories for them, even if they didn’t stand out in your memory. –Leslie

  18. Kirsten Berger

    I am really lucky in that my parents saved a lot of our old toys and books. My father has been cleaning out the attic and before getting rid of any books, he’s been asking me and my sister if we still want them. I was so thrilled when one time he came by with a box of books and the Night Before Christmas with illustrations by Gyo Fujikawa was in it. I always loved the illustrations of the children and the cute little Santa Claus. I’ve gone on treasure hunts at their house and found old copies of THe Berenstain Bears in the Bears Nature Guide, from way back when Papa and Mama Bear were thin, the text was written in rhyme and Papa Bear was really goofy. I have a copy of Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day, the unabridged version. Other favorites include Just the Thing for Geraldine by Ellen Conford and Where’s Wallace? by Hilary Knight. They seem so wordy compared to the picture books published now but they are still a joy to read. I even found a library book that I took out in 6th grade and thought I had lost. It’s Kavik the Wolf Dog and I still have yet to finish reading it. I think it’s guilt, LOL! Even though my kids old toys and books will take up space, I can’t deny them the future joy of finding these things when they grow up.

    1. Pat

      “he’s been asking me and my sister if we still want them”
      This is how it should be done and it shows respect. I did the same with my daughter and asked her what she wanted to give away.

  19. Sallie Wolf

    I have a vague memory of a picture book which might have been called Beep Beep Said the Jeep, about a bunch of military officers in a saucy jeep that could talk (beep, beep) and drive on the telephone wires.

  20. Samantha Vamos

    I love this piece and discussion. Among other books, I took great pleasure in sharing my hardback copy of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” with our son as well as my mother’s copy of “Charlotte’s Web.” I really regret giving away other titles now that I have a child. I felt almost sorrowful about it for a bit. Our son is now head over heels about “TinTin” and he’s reading copies that belonged to my husband, which to me, makes the experience all the richer. So although I’m very much keep the house lean and mean type of person, I’m packing Sterilite containers of books so that our son may enjoy them years later with his children. I’ll add that when he saw that I was saving some of his early picture books in such a container, he happily said, “Great! More room for new books!”

  21. Jane Dorfman

    You might try Inter-Library Loan just to read those titles again, works most of the time.
    I have an old book of my Aunt’s “Poppy-the adventures of a four inch Fairy.” The final chapter’s pages are missing. Even ILL could not find a copy that a library was willing to loan. Someday I will go to the Library of Congress and sit and see if Poppy ever gets home.


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