Fill Your Class Library with Bargain Books

A MiddleWay Blog

Helping students learn to read and love to read are two of the most important jobs any teacher in the middle grades has.

The ELA teacher’s role is obvious, but subject specialists across grades 4-8 should also be promoting reading of nonfiction and fiction texts.

You can’t do any of this without having robust libraries offering books of all types, subjects, and levels.

For some reason that I can never quite understand, there are schools whose leaders don’t allocate money for school libraries much less classroom libraries. This is a problem, but a problem I hope will not be insurmountable, when we’re able to focus on our school and classroom libraries again.

You can act on some of these ideas and resources now. And I hope, as we all do, that the day will soon come when we’re all focusing on our physical schools and classrooms again.

Getting the Books You Need

The first list offers resources for filling your library with low-cost or even free books.

1. Thrift Stores/Library Sales:  If you’re not a thrifter, you will be shocked at the number of almost new books you can find at thrift stores for under a dollar each. I am a thrift store addict and run a circuit of favorites about twice a month. It’s also worth it to check with your local library to see if they have a used books store or do annual sales.

I’ve been to library sales all over the country and the costs are incredibly low. Purchases from thrift stores and library sales have filled my school’s free book store (see link below) and classroom libraries, and has even added hundreds of high quality books to our library media center (where I once worked!).

2. Donation Bins: I placed an empty plastic tote near the school’s front doors and slapped on a homemade sign that says, “Book Donations!” on the side. From time to time, I post a note on Facebook that says, “Have gently used books to spare? Bring them to the school! We’ll find good homes for them!” Occasionally, I ask classroom teachers to add the same note to their weekly newsletters. The result? Boxes and boxes of books! Sure, there is some trash among the treasures, but it’s a small price to pay for all the good stuff.

3. Scholastic: Scholastic Book Clubs are a boon for any teacher who is willing to use them. Many teachers in my school do, and not only does it infuse their students’ homes with books, but the points earned through every order allow teachers to buy everything from single titles to class sets. If you live in a city or near one, there are often Scholastic Warehouse sales that offer incredible deals.

4. Donors Choose: If you haven’t yet tried Donors Choose, I highly recommend it! Making an account takes a short time, and I’ve had every single grant I’ve written funded. Donors Choose is a kind of crowd sourcing, and folks all over the country and beyond can donate to projects as they wish to. There are often matching grants available.

5. First Book Marketplace: First Book Marketplace and its Book Bank division are a boon to any working educator. Here you will find high quality best-selling children’s books – from today’s top authors to the classics – for prices that are at least half off what you’d expect. Most of First Book’s offerings are $3 or less with free shipping at $25 or more. The Book Bank offers boxes of titles for FREE! You just pay shipping! Check it out. I promise it’s worth the time. Here’s how they do it:

6. Epic!: If you have iPads or Chromebooks available for your students, getting a free educator subscription to Epic! will triple your library in a click of the mouse! Epic offers digital books of all types in its online library. There are great novels and many graphic novels as well, but what really stands out for me is the plethora of amazing nonfiction books. They seem to be endless and are from top publishers that have proven to provide high interest nonfiction books at all levels.

Sharing the Passion for Books

This list offers links to posts that I have written (from both principal and school librarian perspectives) with the goal of helping schools turn kids on to reading, which is the great passion of my life. Ideas found in these posts will help you convince yourself and others that the need for full classroom libraries is real and urgent.

1. Let Them Read! Why Quantity Really Helps: This post explores the what’s and why’s of helping students read, read, read. Tools for making time for independent reading and helping kiddos pick books are shared.

2. Here’s Why Our School Loves to Read So Much: Having an open school library policy can help you turn your students into binge readers, and that’s what you want!

3. Don’t Throw Out Your Leveled Library Yet!: How using a leveled library can build your students’ love of reading and reading skills.

4. Making Sure Kids Can Access Books: A review of the wonderful Game Changer! Book Access for All by Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp.

5. Next Read: Forget Netflix and chill! Get out a good book to relax. Tips for helping your students become “binge readers.”

6. A Community of Passionate Readers: Ideas for integrating reading into the wider community so that students begin to view reading as more than a “school thing.”

7. A School Library’s Free Book Store Turbocharges Reading: The story of how my school developed and maintains a well-stocked free book store for students to shop in when they need books at home.

I hope these lists help you fill your schools with books, books, books! I’ll bet you have some good ideas too. Please share them in the comments!


Rita Platt is a principal in Wisconsin and recently received a leadership award from the Kohl Foundation. Her first book, Working Hard, Working Happy: Cultivating a Culture of Effort and Joy in the Classroom, is a Routledge/ MiddleWeb publication. It’s a quick read, filled with practical ideas about creating a learning culture in your classroom and school (see this review by Anne Anderson). MiddleWeb readers receive a 20% discount at the Routledge site with the code MWEB1.

Rita Platt

Rita Platt (@ritaplatt) is a National Board Certified Teacher and a self-proclaimed #edudork with master’s degrees in reading, library, and leadership. Her experience includes teaching learners in remote Alaskan villages, inner cities, and rural communities. She currently is a school principal, teaches graduate courses for the Professional Development Institute and writes for We Teach We Learn. Rita's first book,Working Hard, Working Happy: Cultivating a Culture of Effort and Joy in the Classroom (Routledge/MiddleWeb), was published in July 2019.

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