Sourcing Books + Getting Kids to Read

Given my penchant for reading, I suspect I’m a bit of an anomaly in that I buy very few books.

Two shelves on Abby’s bedroom built-ins are filled with books, and we have a small bookshelf in the family room with under 100 books (a combination of adult + picture). Of the books we own, almost all have been handed down, gifted, purchased for a university course, or thrifted.

Some of it is economics – I’m a naturally frugal person and books aren’t an area where I generally want to spend money. (I’ve told this story before, but I think of it often: one of my best friends in college did a major budgeting session with her husband right after their wedding which resulted in strict spending guidelines but, she told me, “We both agreed there would be no limit on buying books!”)

I also don’t like clutter, and books can quickly become a major source of clutter.

So where do I get my books?

My number one source is the library (~95% of all the books I read). I visit our library – nestled inside a repurposed railway station – on a weekly basis. I also spend time every few weeks ordering books through their online portal (while I love wandering and browsing the shelves, since COVID, I order 80%+ of my books) and always have a stack on my bedside table.

I also regularly visit one of the many take-a-book/leave-a-book libraries that have cropped up around our little town, but this is pretty hit-and-miss and tends to house mostly thrillers and other fiction.

I occasionally source books second-hand at used book stores or thrift shops – or borrow them from friends – but the library is my happy place.

I have started to buy a few more books in recent years, but only after I’ve already read them (I am a big re-reader); I have most of Gretchen Rubin’s books, I asked for (and received) a boxset of the Harry Potter series a few Christmases ago, and started working on a James Herriot collection this year. In a shock decision, I ordered Matt Haig’s Notes on a Nervous Planet within a day of finishing because I wanted it on my shelf (second-hand via Amazon).

How do you get your kids to read?

Growing up my Dad was always reading (my Mom enjoyed reading, but said she didn’t have the time for it, which I 100% understand now, but her statement flummoxed me at the time).

I tend to be a fast reader/like to skim and tend toward nonfiction which I think lends itself better to being picked up/put down frequently. So I read a lot of books (100+/year)

Our library picture-book stash

The kids see me reading regularly and, since the time they were infants, I’ve also been reading to them.

Picture books are still in steady rotation at our house, though I can feel this phase slowly slipping past me. I adore picture books and find there are often profound messages waiting for both parent and child.

During their early years, I would read to them multiple times a day. As they’ve gotten older, I’ve had to be more deliberate about carving out time for this. For a while I was splitting up bedtime by reading chapter books with Abby (in her room) and picture books with Levi (in his room). Now that both kids can comprehend the same reading level and go to bed at the same time, I tend to read almost exclusively at the table. I often finish eating first and will grab a book and start reading, especially at breakfast; on Saturday and Sunday nights they eat before John and I, so I read to them for the duration of their supper meal.

Once a week or so, we’ll cuddle on the couch at bedtime and read a chapter of whatever book we’re working on (currently: The Mysterious Benedict Society) or a handful of picture books.

I do miss reading to them each night. It was a nice wind-down ritual but I haven’t found a great way of reinstituting this routine now that the kids are more independent and bedtime is more streamlined; they dress themselves, brush their own teeth and, in a bittersweet development, sometimes want to just read on their own. Yet another example this This too shall pass.

P.S. Parenting Hack: Read Books With Accompanying Movies – I blogged about how we’ve been reading chapter books with accompanying movies; there were also some great suggestions in the comment section we haven’t gotten to yet! The kids watched a Pippi Longstocking movie this weekend, and we finally got around to watching Anne of Green Gables + another version of Heidi over March Break.

P.P.S Confessions of A Picture Book Addict (There Are Worse Things…) – I love picture books and will try to find a way to keep reading them forever, if only to myself.

Your turn. Are you a borrower or a buyer? If you have young kiddos at home, how do you incorporate reading into your family routine?

Header photo by Mariia Zakatiura on Unsplash

24 thoughts on “Sourcing Books + Getting Kids to Read”

  1. SIGH. When I was little I was a HUGE reader. I was constantly reading- as a matter of fact I would sometimes get in trouble in school because the teacher would catch me reading a book on my lap instead of paying attention. On a Saturday, my best friend and I would ride our bikes to the library and sit there reading all afternoon. When my kids were little, of course I read to them all the time- but I think my mistake was in assuming they would be bookworms just like me. I encouraged reading, and let them read anything they wanted- Captain Underpants, graphic novels, whatever- but now that they’re older, neither one is a reader. My son will read- like he recently re-read all the Harry Potter books- but he doesn’t normally read a book. And my daughter never reads, other than what she has to for school. Nowadays there are so many other things, and not all of them are bad. My son listens to some interesting podcasts, for example, but it’s not the same as reading a book. I guess I should have fought harder to make them into lifelong readers.
    To answer your first question, I get most of my books from the library. But I do love browsing in the bookstore every once in a while, and sometimes I’ll buy a book if I know I’ll want to mark it up, or re-read it.

    1. Those childhood Saturday’s sound…divine!
      Hmm. An interesting point; just because a parent is a big reader doesn’t mean the kids will follow along that path. The same thing has happened in my family – my Dad was a huge reader and my brother and I read a lot, but my two other siblings are NOT readers.
      Podcasts and audiobooks are a new – and great – way to stimulate the same imagination centers as reading but, to me, they still fall woefully short. My kids LOVE audiobooks and they listen to them regularly, but my heart always soars when I see them reading a book. But I’m also very rigid about using paper books as well as I just love the tactile experience of holding a book in my hand. But, that doesn’t mean my kids are going to feel the same way!
      Can I be completely honest – I don’t think ANYTHING you could have done would have impacted their reading. I think it is mostly an inherent tendency. My parents exposed all of us siblings in the same way and we vastly different experiences with reading. The same thing with my kids. They want to read (to themselves) so much less than I did. That was my go-to activity as a kid and it’s not for my kids and yet reading is such a big focus in my quality time with them…which isn’t necessarily translating into them being bookworms. Ultimately, I think this has a lot to do with personality, too. I’m an introvert and my kids are extroverts.

  2. I am a huge library user. I would go broke if I bought all the books I read. I do occasionally buy books if I’ll reread them and I do reread on occasion. Our library does this cool thing where it prints the total amount of money you’ve saved every year at the bottom of the receipt and my most recent one says I’ve saved more than $800 this year by using the library – and it’s only March!

    I do sometimes splurge on a Kindle book if the author only releases via Amazon or none of my ebook library holds have come through yet, but I try not to buy physical books because we are smack out of shelf space in our house!

    1. I only buy books to re-read or if I’m a big supporter of the author (for example, I’m very likely to buy Laura Vanderkam’s newest book without getting it at the library first).

      I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that “amount saved” feature on your library receipt. I never get the receipts printed off – with all the kids books I take out, I figure I can at least reduce some paper consumption – but I don’t think they say anything about amount saved. I think this is would be such an interesting figure. I bet there is an app or website that would do this, too…but it would be ever so much more convenient if my library tabulated this information for me…

  3. Love this post! I don’t remember my parents reading on their own when I was growing up, but they had 5 kids and ran a business together so I don’t think they truly had time. I only remember my mom reading a devotional or prayer books in the very very early morning hours, and those memories are from when I was probably 4 or 5? But they read to us, especially my mom. Both sets of grandparents were also readers so I usually got books from them for Christmas. I sadly did not have access to a library growing up – our town was tiny (500) so there was no public library! I would have loved having access to one. Instead I would beg my mom to buy me books and she would often oblige since she valued books/reading.

    These days, we have very few adult books as I got read of lots – like over 300 (!!) before I moved in with Phil. But we have TONS of childrens books. But we re-read those books so many times that they are worth the money spent, and I received lots of books for baby showers/baby gifts/etc. Most of our collection is board books and I feel it’s better to own those than borrow them from the library since they end up pretty germy when handled by babies and toddlers! We have a growing collection of picture books but most of what we read comes from the library. I just went to the library and checked out 20 books, which is about average for me. 1/4 were holds, the rest are things I grabbed fairly quickly.

    When it comes to reading for myself, 95% comes from the library and most of those books are ebooks because reading on a kindle is way more convenient in this stage of life! I will very very occasionally buy books but it’s very rare. Instead of spending money on books, I donate to the library as a way to sort of help authors? I guess I do feel a bit conflicted because I want to support their work, but I don’t buy books anymore so that is my way of indirectly supporting them!

    1. That IS so sad you didn’t have access to a library.
      I get about 20 pictures books a week, too. I get more kids books from the stacks than adult books, but love walking in to have a big pile on hold. In terms of board/picture books, we’ve been gifted some, but even there I’ve always preferred the library. I have a little drawer full of them for when guests with small kids come over and a few that are sentimental from my childhood…
      It does seem odd, even to me, that I don’t have stacks and stacks of picture books because I also love re-reading them. But I really mind the clutter and love the option of getting a new big stack out each week (and we regularly do check out books we’ve had – and loved – before).

      My only conflict is your point about supporting authors but as people request books, it drives up the copies purchased by the library sometimes via multiple sources – like books AND audiobooks AND large print.

  4. Even though I am an upholder, it is really hard for me to read books that don’t have due dates. For some reason, library due dates are really compelling to me. I get most of my books at the library, either in actual book form or through my audiobook library app Libby. I am really competitive about getting brand new books FIRST at the library and put things on hold months before they even come out. I DO have a Book of the Month subscription and get 1-2 (or sometimes 3 LOL) books a month that way. I also have an audible subscription and buy an audiobook every month.

    I do all of the same things you do with kids and book and still! THEY DON’T LIKE TO READ. One NEVER reads if he can help it. One is obsessed with audiobooks, and 2 read every night before bed but not usually any other time. We still do read alouds for the littlest 3 (my husband is 5 books into HP with our elementary schoolers), but no one is the kind of bookworm I was/am. I have gotten a newspaper subscription, and we subscribe to MANY magazines– everyone (even Minnie who has a Hello subscription) reads periodicals, so that’s a win?

    1. What a good point. And something I completely overlooked but that is also very true for me. Sometimes the due date can feel like a ticking time bomb (because I order so many, I sometimes get a backlog – often of books I can’t renew) BUT I know without a doubt that the due dates compel me to keep reading.

      I commented earlier to Jenny that I really think the bookworm this has more to do with personality/interest than anything we can influence as parents? Obviously GIVING the opportunity to read and supporting that through reading out loud, taking them to the library, making sure they have time in their schedule to read, is all important. But you can’t force someone in to loving books.

      Although how people couldn’t feel compelled to read boggles my mind, as an avid reader!

  5. My oldest son has always been a huge bookworm. My younger son never quite as much, but pretty into reading, too. They were always the kids reading in the car, reading at restaurants, etc. from about age 5 on. Well, lately, I’ve noticed a lot less reading going on, especially from my younger son. And you know when I really started to notice this change?? In December, when he got his phone. UGH. We don’t really let them just have their phones totally free for all, but we have yet to really solidify when exactly the plan is. I’m so confused. haha. They use their phones to communicate with friends a lot/ set up meet ups at the gym/ etc., so it’s hard to just totally keep them away. But I definitely see times that I KNOW they used to read, but are instead watching you tube videos or something (e.g. on vacation, in the hotel…. they might have used to get up and read in the morning, but now they are texting with friends or something). It’s actually stressing me out a lot and I need to figure out how we should handle it. My younger son’s teachers say he reads a ton at school- in breaks, downtime- so that’s good, but I just see so much less of it now than before. We also read less together before bed…I’m thinking of implementing a stricter “reading” time again before bed, where maybe I’ll sit in there and read my book and they can read theirs. We have become lax on enforcing some of those habits now that they are older. My older son also tends to video chat/ group chat with his friends in the evenings oftentimes now, which is definitely new. Anyway, I’m just sad because when I look back on pics of my boys as 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 year olds, they ALWAYS had their noses in a book. Like almost obsessively so! So I’m panicking a little that they are going to lose their love for it and replace it with these stupid phones!

    1. That visual of all your pictures of the boys reading is sweet. I have those of Abby when she was younger, too.
      Screens were really impacting my reading too…
      I don’t necessarily need my kids to be reading if they’re not on screens (neither have phones, but very much enjoy videos/computer games)…but it sounds like that would be the default for your boys pre-screen?
      So, tough @GratefulKae. I do suspect this will even out, but trying to come up with a bit more structure around providing dedicated time for reading/non-screen activities would likely help nudge this in the direction you’re hoping? Let us know what you learn as my kids are a few years behind yours so I’ll learn vicariously from your experience!

  6. My mom was an avid reader, my dad not so much although he did read the newspaper regularly (front to back). He liked to do crosswords. I grew up on a farm, near a very small town and so we had to drive to the next town for a library. My mom did go, I think once a month. It was out of a sheer necessity to deal with boredom that I became an avid reader. I received an allowance and spent a lot of babysitting money on books. It would have been nicer to have kept some of that money and used the library more, but it gave me worlds to visit when I had nowhere to go and no-one to talk to. My brother is not a big reader though!

    For my kids, I bought board books mostly and had a friend who gave us a couple of huge bins of books when her kids were done with them. I would read to them every night before bed. I also will buy books as well. I also encouraged all types of books from the Captain Underpants, Minecraft variety to reading out loud the whole Harry Potter series.
    My son who is 12 next month is an avid reader. I have encouraged him to get books from school and the library as he goes through quite a few books. He is more introverted, although given a choice he would choose video games most of the time. I do enforce off-screen time that he will always choose to read. My daughter who is 9 does not love reading. I have to work harder to get her to read. I still read out loud to her most nights. And will try to get her to read to me. She is way more social-oriented than my son. She would much rather play with friends and will also choose drawing over reading. With her, my goal is to keep her at grade level reading and get better at spelling. Otherwise I think she is just a different kid. She may delve into reading one day, because she is imaginative and she may like the stories. But honestly she prefers making up her own stories to reading.

    I think it is so hard to pass on the avid reading quality to someone who it’s not their innate interest.
    During my 20’s I had to read A LOT of accounting textbooks in getting my designation and that killed my enjoyment of reading for a long time. It was only in my mid-30’s that I really got back into reading a lot more.
    All to say to those mommas that have encouraged reading and there isn’t the interest – you are doing a great job. The love of reading that they saw in you, is still in there somewhere!
    Apparently I have a lot to say on this topic. I will stop there.

    1. I think it is so hard to pass on the avid reading quality to someone who it’s not their innate interest.
      Yes, yes, yes. So true. I’ve seen this among my own siblings (as I responded above to Jenny).
      I also have a child who loves to draw/create/make up stories and I see this as an extension of the imaginative qualities I want them to get out of reading. I don’t stress over my kids being bookworms. I think it can be a great asset as it’s such a nice way to provide independent entertainment and helps so much with verbal skills. But, like you, I aim for interest/grade-level proficiency.
      One other thought: I think some kids just really need the “right” book. I would have read a book on biomedical enzymes as a kid and just been happy to have a book in my hands. Harry Potter has been a big boost in this regard as so many kids who weren’t really “into” reading, suddenly couldn’t get enough. So sometimes as parents we have to try to help our kids hunt around for the “right” book…and then try to find more of the same?

      1. Me too! I read really weird topics as a teenager as I would also read pretty much anything.
        I agree 100% about really experimenting with finding the “right” book or comic or comic that can pique interest in reading. My daughter is obsessed with cats and I think I found almost every board book at the library that has a cat theme or a cat in it in any capacity. I now have several different chapter books that are cat-based. That was the key to her doing the reading that she has.

        1. I think one hard thing is when you, as the parent, had a broad interest and willingness to read just about anything, it can be hard to help someone find that needle-in-a-haystack book they’ll love? I’ve lost count of how many books I’ve brought home that has been met with very unenthusiastic responses.
          I bring home books for myself that I end up not reading, but I always give them a chance. The kids will judge a book by its cover or theme and not even read the back or try a chapter or two which, I’ll admit, does frustrate me sometimes.
          But taking them to the library and letting them pick their own books helps and I don’t ever really nag them to read. Occasionally I will say “I’d like you to read before bed” (especially if they’ve had a really busy day and I know they need to unwind) but mostly they prefer to just do creative things (like play with action figures or draw or categorize buttons!) when they’re solo in their rooms before it’s time to turn out the light for the night.

          1. My son who is turning 12 loves to read now but when he was younger I read to him all the time. I was “terrible” in doing the grade 2 and 3 home reading tracking sheets the teachers would send home (I think I did one and did not fill in many others). His interest was graphic novels and now he reads fantasy 500 page books. Besides encouraging and not pushing (maybe this worked), I have no idea if it was me at all. I think quiet time and the choice to be creative off screen is great.
            Ironically the other impetus for my daughter to up her skill in reading was her desire to play video games like Animal Crossing that have a story line! That pushed her to up her reading level last year. 🤷🏼‍♀️

          2. Never even heard of Animal Crossing. I’m intrigued!

            Oh, reading logs. How I hated reading logs. I blogged once about how my mind was blown when a fellow parent told me she and her daughter…just didn’t do the logs?! I would never have thought about it being a choice…but ugh, the logs, and they’ll likely start for Levi next year.

  7. I’ve gone through stages of hardly buying any books in a year to buying an insane amount in a year. It’s definitely one of the categories in my home where we have a large inventory, not to mention a budget line item that we’ve tried to maintain even when times were tight. However, now that our adult book collection is probably somewhere around 1,000 books and our picture book collection is probably a few hundred, I’ve been trying to scale back, especially because there are literally hundreds of titles I’ve never read before.

    Our local library is very small, and while I do occasionally borrow books from them, I’ve actually found myself finding going to my own shelves and picking up the titles I’ve owned forever and never read. It’s been a good way for me to get through our massive stacks, as well as help me to part with several of them once I’m finished.

    We do try and buy a book for our kids for most major holidays and for their birthdays, just because as a kid, I read and re-read nearly everything on our “kid” shelf many, many times, and some of my fondest memories and happiest surprises were that my parents always made room in their budget for new books every year, even when they hardly had any money. It’s a priority I’ve intentionally tried to carry on for us, just because I hope our kids will have the same thrill that I used to have because of it.

    1. Wow! That is a big book collection!!!!
      I love re-reading.
      I used to get the kids books for Christmas (and, I guess this year, I did as I bought Abby a copy of first book of The Mysterious Benedict Society as she loves those books), but it just…wasn’t my thing to feel “obligated” to get a book. So funny eh – as I insist on getting a new ornament every year and love that tradition but the book thing I didn’t end up wanting to maintain?!

  8. Huge reader here! No surprise there 🙂

    I used to buy all of my books, but last year I rejoined the library and now I borrow probably 80% of my books. I track in my reading list which books are from the library. I still own a lot of books and that’s because I tend to keep the non-fiction books I read, because I highlight them etc.

    A also has lots of books. Even though she can’t read (and may never be able to), she has always loved looking at books. She knows she can pretty much request any book and I will buy it. We read together, she looks at books alone, and she loves a wide range of books. She has everything from the regular picture books to dog breed books and even some medical textbooks with pictures in! We have a basket in each bathroom and in the living room where we store some of her books, and she has some in her bedroom too. I love watching her enjoy books!

    1. It is such a delight to watch children enjoy books and that can take so many forms. What a broad range of interests for A; and I love how you describe having them accessible in so many locations. Being surrounded by books (though I don’t own a lot, there are always A LOT of books around, mostly from the library) is just such a treat for me.

  9. I am terrible… I buy most of my books as e-books through the Apple store. I have tried my library and for some reason it seems very user UN friendly in terms of e-books. Holds are commonly >6 months, and so I just try to buy books when they are on ‘sale’ in the Apple store (I buy a lot of $1.99 and $2.99 books – often ones that I have wanted to read, but have not yet).

    I used to read all the time, and then got in the habit of doomscrolling for, well, most of the last 5 years. (Ahem… I’m sure you can figure out why…) BUT after reading this post, I realized, instead of doomscrolling on my phone while walking around the apartment to get a break from sitting, I could… *read the book I am reading on my phone*. This is the beauty of e-books, to me! And so, today, I *finished a chapter that I just started yesterday!!!* This is HUGE. Thank you so much for prompting this much-needed change in behavior!

    I don’t have kids but my mother is an avid reader. My father never read when I was growing up – unless it was medical journals! But in retirement he has joined a nonfiction book club and really enjoys it. I think he was always a reader, just one with, well, limited time. My brother also loves to read – the four of us love nothing more than to sit and read when we are traveling together. The rest of the family (my sister in law and nieces) plays games and ropes us in occasionally but reading is my family’s happy place. 🙂 I’m glad it’s your family’s, too.

    And I do love that you still read aloud to your kids, particularly when they are eating. What a wonderful way to instill a love of learning and books. <3

    1. Time is the enemy of all readers – there are just too many books I want to read! But I love how adaptable books are to any schedule…they wait until we have another free moment!

  10. It’s funny – I know a whole lot more readers who don’t buy books than readers who do. I used to source my books exclusively from the library until one day, I decided I love the aesthetic of books in a home and I wanted to have bookshelves filled with some of my most-loved books. Now I have three sets of those cube bookshelves from Target and I use them to store all of my books. I couldn’t tell you how many I have – maybe close to 200? Whenever a bookshelf gets too full, I do a purge and send some of my books to little free libraries around me.

    Most of the women in my book club do not buy books, so even though that would be such an easy gift for them, I try not to give them books as gifts since I know it’s not something they value. Bookmarks and bookish tees, though – fair game! 🙂

    1. What a great source for extra books – I LOVE frequently the little libraries and town and it, of course, takes generous people like you to donate books.
      It’s interesting that people in your book club don’t buy books as that was definitely the demographic I would have expected to collect books! A nice bookmark is a lovely gift (unless everyone is on Kindles, I suppose)!
      As much as I love books, I rarely give them as gifts – except to family; I know other people who consider gifting books to be their go-to gift option. A fascinating topic for all the book lovers out there 🙂

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