Archives For Used books

Bags ready? Set to find great bargains? Go to Newtown, Connecticut, for the Friends of the C.H.Booth Library where over 100,000 books, records, DVDs go on sale annually. Their book sale always marks for me the beginning of the book sale season. This year’s starting date was July 12, 2014.

For the first time, I went on the admission day ($5) and used extra help (husband & son) to follow me with bags. Even then, I was too late to get the 20 or so copies of The Great Gatsby I saw someone packing up at the check out counter. My son noted that I also missed out on copies of of The Hunger Games Trilogy selections.
“The woman was only four feet away from you when I saw her stuffing them in her bag,” he claimed, “but I wasn’t going to tackle her.”

Fortunately, thanks to the diligent efforts of what looked like a small army of volunteer Friends of the Library, the tables were well organized by genre and author. I was able to get multiple copies of the 12th grade summer reading book, A Walk in the Woods.. In addition, I filled bags with the required summer reading for Advanced Placement English Literature including:
Little Bee, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and
Bel Canto. I also found copies for the grade 10 world literature library including The Places in Between, The Life of Pi, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, and A Long Way Gone.
There were also books to add to classroom libraries for independent reading including Dairy Queen, Elsewhere, and a pile of books from the Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series.


Counting Books at the check-out with the friendly volunteer


Five bags of books for classroom libraries for $229.00; a bargain!

The book sale at Newtown is a model of efficiency. There is room to move between tables, the books are properly sorted by genre ( for the most part) and the volunteer help is cheerful and efficient.

“You must be using these in a school?” suggested the woman checking us out as she counted out 20 copies of The Help.
“Actually,” my son replied feigning seriousness, “we really like this book….we’re going to read every single copy.”
“Oh,” she started, and then smiled,”you’re terrible…”

What is not terrible is that I spent $229 for over 80 books; some of them core texts and some for independent reading.
The summer book sale season helps me put books in the hands of readers. The Newtown Friends of the Library book sale does that extremely well.

Yesterday, there was one paperback copy of The Hunger Games squeezed in-between other trade fiction. Two hardcover copies of Mockingjay were together on an opposite shelf. These books from The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins had been donated to a local Goodwill store. When I found them tucked away on the store’s shelves, I knew that the series had met a tipping point: still popular but not popular enough to treasure and (19)

The Hunger Games series (2008-2010) has been to today’s graduating seniors what the Harry Potter series (1997-2007) was to today’s 28 year olds…a collective reading experience. The series developed a dedicated young adult following, and the most obvious signs of their dedication was the carting of hardcover editions because each reader could not wait for the book to go to paperback.

Once The Hunger Games series caught fire (literally), book conversations centered on Katniss. There were speculations on her choice of Gale or Peeta. Predictions on the fate District 13 were rampant. The publication of each new book in the series was a major event; students shared copies from period to period. When the first film, The Hunger Games, came out students critiqued every detail that was present and noticed every detail that was missing.

Our Reading/English/Language Arts teachers loved having students read these books as well. The series laid the connections to more traditional texts such as the Greek myths or Romeo and Juliet. There were plenty of connections on current events in the economy and media that could be made as well.

Finding three copies in the used book shelves now, however, signals a sputtering of interest. Students will still pick up the used copies from the book carts in the classroom, but the rabid fans have moved on.  Collins has helped this year’s graduating seniors develop their independent reading skills, the kind of skills that will serve them well in the future.

There are benefits to the recycling of books. I spent $7.98 on the three copies that would have been $27.66 if purchased new. The consequences of reaching a tipping point in popularity is a benefit for classroom libraries, which means finding used books from this series will be easier now that …. “the odds be ever in our favor.”

Browsing at the Southport Pequot Library Book Sale, I overheard the following conversation:

“Why, here’s another book by Thackeray….”Pendennis”. Have you read that?”
“That’s a lovely read, but I’m not reading Thackeray this year; I told you that this is the summer I am reading Trollope.”
“Yes, you did..(*pause*)…Oh!…do we have a nice copy of “Ethan Frome”?”

Behind the two people conversing was a sign with an appropriate message:

Old (but Interesting) Books.

“Yes,”I thought, “that certainly was an interesting conversation about old books,”

The Pequot Library Book Sale
720 Pequot Avenue  Southport, CT 06890-1496  |  203.259.0346

Pequot library

Friday, July 26 to Tuesday, July 30, 2013
OVER 140,000 BOOKS, CDs, DVDs, RECORDS, etc.
Admission is FREE and all Sale proceeds benefit Pequot Library.
Friday, July 26 9am to 8pm DOUBLE the marked price
Saturday, July 27 9am to 5:30pm Priced as marked
Sunday, July 28 9am to 5:30pm Priced as marked
Monday, July 29 9am to 6pm HALF the marked price
Tuesday, July 30 9am to 2pm $5 PER BAG DAY!
High quality books at reasonable prices
Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express Accepted

Going to the Pequot Library in this small Fairfield County town reminds me of visiting my Grandma Rosie; she was eclectic, tousled and conversational with books and crosswords stacked around her armchair. This sale is equally eclectic, housed partially in a venerable mansion that is the main library and partially under the large white tents that cover the lawn.  Inside both the library and under the tents the books are laid out onto tables in rows, in stacks, in mounds; many tables bend with the weight and some books spill over to the boxes or tarps below.

As you shop, there are surprising little gems mixed in every genre. Admittedly, some of these surprises are probably due to volunteer book sorters who, when faced with the daunting task of organizing the 140,000 plus books, may have been a little unclear about the divide between fiction and non-fiction. What else could explain the placement of several copies of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time on both the Fiction and the Animals and Nature Table? Or why would Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle be on the Art and Architecture table? But I quibble. Be polite and pretend that you are sorting though the library in Grandma Rosie’s house. Notice and enjoy the rich variety of texts available for purchase, regardless as to where they have been placed. Tidy the piles as you go, and you will be a welcome guest.

I secured a dozen hardly used copies of Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses. The first time I read the book, I was so annoyed by the lack of punctuation for dialogue that I complained to several of my students. One student thoughtfully replied, “It’s like he is breaking down the walls between what is thought and what is spoken.” I have not complained about the lack of punctuation since.

New copies of All the Pretty Horses retail for $12.29 each and my 12 copies would have cost $147.48; I spent a total of $132.00 for four bags of books in addition to these copies. The titles I selected were mostly “replacement” books such as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Coehlo’s The Alchemist, Andersen’s Speak and Kesey’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I even purchased a number of copies of John Knowles A Separate Peace; I dislike the book, but the copies were too new to pass up, and the English I honors classes like the story. There were no copies of my target book The Help to be had, but I could have purchased a class set of 30 or more copies of Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees.

Other notable qualities of the sale that provide hints to the character of Southport’s residents include:

  • an amazing array of cookbooks, many in pristine condition (may not be a good thing in a cookbooks; shouldn’t they be falling apart?)
  • well organized audio texts (someone knew his/her stuff!)
  • award-winning fiction seriously represented  (the Booker Prize, the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, Pulitzer Prize, Newbery Medal, Nobel Prize for Literature, PEN/Faulkner Award, etc.)
  • a tremendously large section of biographies in the main library (My Grandma Rosie loved biographies as well…)
  • teachers from area schools are given vouchers (wish my school could be included??)

The drawbacks?

  • books under the table are hard to access and bending and straightening leads to awkward collisions of heads/buttocks/stomachs/elbows;
  • the children’s section was ransacked by…you guessed it…children;
  • not enough room around paperback fiction, while the romance section sat forlorn with wide aisle surrounding it;
  • the smell of the cookout is hard to bear on an empty stomach…be warned.

At the checkout line, the volunteers were characteristically more gracious than efficient. Your choice of books could be the start of a lovely conversation, but you should hasten the end of the pleasantries as long lines could be building behind you.
Like my Grandma Rosie, they understand, just as long as you promise to visit next year as well.

There has been a heat wave in Connecticut this week, temperatures in the high 90s with muggy, sultry, humid weather, so it was no surprise that the bargains were “hot, hot, hot” under the tent at the Westport Public Library Book Sale.  So hot, in fact, that organizers had large fans set up in some of the outdoor tents! The sale is held in Westport, Connecticut:

Tents on Jesup Green and inside the Library
July 20-23, 2013
(Monday—Everything half-price)
Tuesday: 9 am-1 pm (Free day, donations appreciated)

The Westport Public Library Book Sale is a premiere event in the state for several reasons:

  • The tents are huge with tables laden with books;
  • Prices are good (Hardcovers are $3/trades $1/paperbacks and children’s books $.50);
  • Books are of exceptionally high quality.

The main tent offered a spectacular number of books with wide aisles. This is where the non-fiction texts/literature/reference texts are usually laid out.

Informational texts for science classes!

Informational texts for science classes!

For some perplexing reason, however, the teen/YA section was also in the main tent, while the sports/nature books were in the children’s tent. This led to some mistaken shelving; there was a copy of fairy tales and Miss Nelson is Missing in between golf books and some travel guides. The magnitude of the collection of donated books meant some challenges for those  keeping book sorters on message; sometimes the same text appeared on tables for different genres. For example, copies of Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation were in biography, history, politics, and for some inexplicable reason, Judaica.

The children’s book section was extensive enticing shoppers of all ages; shoppers should be wary of smaller patrons underfoot.

My target area for filling the classroom shelves was the tent for fiction, which was overflowing with hardcovers and paperbacks. There were so many hardcover fiction books, that I later discovered an adjunct aisle of hardcover fiction that spilled into the classic literature section in the main tent. I am sure that The Girl Who Played with Fire was enjoying spending time with her more mature cousins Ethan Frome and The Red Badge of Courage.

Unfortunately, the aisles in the smaller fiction tent here were not as wide as in the main tent, and there were boxes loaded with trade paperback fiction below the tables. Stooping to browse through these lower levels slows down buyers and makes for some awkward moments in passing. To make passing smoother, though, there was a volunteer dutifully loading up the tables once people made their selections.


One stack of The Help for English III

I was looking for specific titles and soon was rewarded with a dozen copies of Katheryn Stockett’s The Help. This book retails for $12.92 on Amazon; 12 copies would have cost $155.04. Instead, I spent $73.50 in total for these books plus three and a half bags full of other titles, many also beginning with word “the”: The Things They Carried, The Road, The Giver, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, and The Book Thief. 

Because the trademark of Westport readers is their ability to take exceptionally good care of their books, these copies are in pristine condition. I suspect there must be some town ordinance about bending pages or preserving book covers on reading material in town.

A further study of the town, based on donated books, would be that Westport residents:

  • Believe in parenting book (five tables full);
  • Do not donate small paperback copies (only three tables full);
  • Do not read the genre “romance” (no tables full);
  • Travel extensively (based on travel guides);

The book sale has dedicated volunteers who will tally books on the side lawns of the main tent if you are purchasing more than an armful; there are boxes available for ambitious shoppers and checkout is a breeze.

The Westport book sale is a bibliophile’s delight with red hot bargains for all ages. Now, if only they could do something about this heat wave!

The Friends of the C.H. Booth Library Book Sale in Newtown, Connecticut, was opened this weekend, and the used book business was good! This is one of the premier books sales in the state: well-organized tables filled with excellent quality used books, lots of attentive check-out staff, and great prices. This year, I attended on Sunday, the day after the big rush, and there were plenty of bargains to be had for classroom teachers since the large crowds on Saturday had left something for the discriminating shoppers the following day.

The 38th Annual Book Sale is held from Saturday, July 13, to Wednesday, July 17, 2013, at the Reed Intermediate School, 3 Trades Lane Newtown, CT 06470

HOURS: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (all items full price)
9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Monday (half price) and Tuesday ($5 a bag)
9:00 a.m. to 12 noon Wednesday (free).

Glass Castle coverThe paperback trade table is always my first stop, and the titles were alphabetized and arranged spines facing in the same direction for easy browsing. I immediately grabbed the remaining 21 copies of Jeanette Walls’s The Glass Castle for the English IV Memoir class. This book retails for $9.85; twenty-one new copies would have cost $206.85 as compared to the $21.00 I spent. Walls’s memoir of her childhood captures any reader’s interest on the first page when, on her way to a fancy dinner party, she spots her mother “rooting through a dumpster.” The following chapters chronicle Walls’s survival through childhood at the hands of her brilliant, but mentally unstable, alcoholic parents. The riveting story is one of the required readings for the Memoir class.

There were also multiple copies of Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street, two copies of Elie Wiesel’s Night, and three copies of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. Over in the drama section, there were newish Folger Library copies of Hamlet, Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet.

From the classic fiction table I selected several different editions of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectation, all in excellent condition; our freshmen honors students can handle working from different page numbers in class. Over in young adult (YA) fiction, a friend pointed out two copies of Sharon Draper’s Copper Sun, a book I have been looking to add to Grade 11 American Literature. This is an easy read, but with extremely mature subject matter that is bound to bring about interesting discussions..

A quick trip into the other large all-purpose room where children’s books and non-fiction are available, and I found four copies of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, a non-fiction read that we are using in a mandatory English IV unit. Bryson’s journey through some of the Appalachian Trail is a hilarious read, and we intend to relate this trip with the journey student have completed after 13 years of education.

So what sociological study can be applied to this book sale? If the tables loaded with books donated by residents from Newtown could talk, they might say that Newtown residents:

  • Believe in providing their children with books at every age level;
  • Have enough “Chick Lit” books to warrant a separate table;
  • Have enough animal books to divide them into categories: “pets”, “farm animals”, etc;
  • Prefer paperback trades to hardcover fiction;
  • Have a respectable amount of mystery books;
  • Enjoy books about sports.

If there was any criticism, it must come in the form of their (intentional or unintentional) relentless promotion of one title: Seabiscuit. For some inexplicable reason, Laura Hillenbrand’s non-fiction award-winning book about the award-winning race horse was mixed in with almost every genre. As I shopped, I noted several copies in trade fiction, one copy in classic fiction, three copies in memoir, several copies in animals, one in psychology, and one copy in with the Star Trek series. Perhaps, they were try to interest readers of every kind in this great story?

Three bags full

Three bags full of books for $152.00

I ended up spending $152.00 for three FULL bags of books (see photo). This is $54.85 less than I would have spent on the 21 copies of The Glass Castle books had they been new copies. Three bags of books for classroom libraries for independent and assigned reading left nestled comfortably in the back of my car waiting for September.

Thank you, Friends of the C. H. Booth Library in Newtown, CT. Your efforts help keep students reading, extending the reach of your community!

PS: The friend who went to the book sale with me also reported a “find” in the books she purchased. When she got home, she noticed the almost new copy of Eloise was signed by the illustrator Hilary Knight!

There are organized containers of books, spines out for easy browsing, that sit in rows on well-spaced tables. There are signs that mark the genres (fiction, travel, nature, self-help, romance, etc) for targeted shopping. I notice there is a lovely older woman who shadows me anxiously; she is trying to take my heavy load of books to a table for “lay-away” so that I can shop easier. I smile politely and refuse her help; I don’t want to belabor the point that my bags weigh as much as she does. She seemed disappointed. As I looked back I considered that perhaps I had been mistaken; her biceps were very defined! Yes, tidiness and a cadre of very fit efficient elders ready to provide assistance are the hallmarks of the Friends of the New Milford Library Book Sale in New Milford, Connecticut.

The sale is held in the New Milford High School on Route 7, and the hours for 2013 are:

Thursday, July 11th –
Early Bird, $5.00 – 9am-10am
Doors open @ 9am – 7pm close
Friday, July 12th: 10am – 7pm
Saturday, July 13th:10am – 5pm
Sunday, July 14th – HALF PRICE DAY!: 10am – 3pm

In 20 minutes, I had two bags (totaling $31) filled with books used at different grade levels. Note the three copies of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (photo) which retails at Amazon for $12.41. Three new copies of this book would retail for $37.23. I got these three lightly used copies and all of the other books pictured in the photo for $6.31 LESS than the cost of the three new copies. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime is in our Grade 10 World Literature course, and our students enjoy the narration by the autistic boy who uses Sherlock Holmes’s deductive reasoning to solve a mystery.

photo (20)

Stack of books used in our curriculum; additional independent reading books in the other bag

Other big finds that are in the photo included copies of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing, and Nancy Fisher’s The House of the Scorpion. There are many other “finds” in the bag next to the neat stack of books.

When I shop at these local sales, I think about how each town’s book sale is a small sociological study. If one could speculate about the interests of the people of New Milford, one would conclude:

  1. There are some serious, diehard James Patterson fans;
  2. There is a dedicated interest in nature, animals, and travel (althought this is the first year I did not find a single copy of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods);
  3. The entire back half of the area illustrates that children have access to books at all levels.

Finally, I feel it is worthy to note, but rather awkward to say, that there were at least 10 cartons of the Books for Dummies series. I am not saying anything about New Milfordites here…. I’m just sayin’.

Check out was a breeze; receipts for teachers were pre-prepared, and I made a beeline for the door so that lovely elderly woman wouldn’t try to help me carry my bags back to my car. Her energy was making me look bad!

In keeping my classroom libraries filled with books, the trends I notice are not necessarily trends in book buying, but trends in book discarding. After exams, midterms or finals, assigned titles are discarded to make room on a bookshelf or in a school locker for new required reading. Following trends means knowing that three to four months after the curriculum unit ended, an assigned title begins to crowd its way onto the bookshelves of thrift stores such as Goodwill or St. Vincent’s or the Salvation Army.

Three copies of "The Scarlet Letter" on the shelf at Goodwill. All new; never opened!

Three copies of “The Scarlet Letter” on the shelf at Goodwill this past week. All new; never opened, bearing their $1.00 each price tags.

Since Puritans are usually up for discussion in September in American History coursework, many English departments turn to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter for their Advanced Placement or college bound students as a complementary read. Therefore, I was not surprised when, during this last week of January, copies of The Scarlet Letter began appearing, not in single copies, but in droves. I expected as much. The Scarlet Letter represents the “not keeping” trend. While a student may hesitate for a millisecond before placing The Great Gatsby or To Kill a Mockingbird or Catcher in the Rye in the “throw away” pile, I imagine there is universal delight in discarding The Scarlet Letter, a delight only exacerbated by discarding its equally loathed curriculum companion, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

The mention of The Scarlet Letter may set off groans. Woe to the teacher who attempts this book without the iron cast-backbone or the determination of an evangelist. Readers of The Scarlet Letter will need to be converted, and it is only the fear and damnation of another scarlet letter that keeps them plodding on, the scarlet “F”!

The tone of the book is set immediately with the opening line:

A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments and gray, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes.

Looking further down the page for some relief from the gloom, the reader should notice that he or she is being directly addressed, as if from a pulpit delivering a parable or allegory:

Finding it so directly on the threshold of our narrative, which is now about to issue from that inauspicious portal, we could hardly do otherwise than pluck one of its flowers and present it to the reader. It may serve, let us hope, to symbolize some sweet moral blossom, that may be found along the track, or relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow.

Yes, Hawthorne will be delivering this sermon for 192 pages in the Dover Thrift Edition ($3.15).

Students are aware that this classic will improve SAT scores with the challenging vocabulary and complex structures of 19th Century prose, but they still seek help beyond the classroom. There are Sparknotes, Schmoop notes, E-Notes, Cliff Notes, and Bookrags available for this text, so as a result, the paperback text on the thrift store shelf may never have been opened. The copies available at thrift stores are generally pristine copies. I imagine they were purchased by parents who dutifully picked up the book because of a syllabus of some sort. Maybe this was a summer reading choice, a particularly deadening assignment. Actually, the effort in purchasing this text could have been avoided, because the text itself is online at no less than six places:

And there are free audio versions at:

But we still teach The Scarlet Letter, and our paperback collection of The Scarlet Letter distributed in class is comprised of at least 10 different editions. No student is on the same page number when the text is read aloud in class in order to share the conflicts between Dimmesdale, Hester Prynne, and Chillingsworth. Interestingly, what seems initially complex to the student is eventually understood as a really a ripping good love triangle of sex, intrigue, and irony. Once they see Hawthorne laying out hypocrisies of the Puritan society, they are more genuinely engaged. Plus, there is the lovely child Pearl, and they grow to sympathize for her.

In order to engage students in assessments, our Grade 11 teacher has organized “self-directed” projects for students to choose  and some of these have included:

  • Create a song telling the ballad of Hester Pyrnne.  You may compose the song, or write new words for an existing melody.  Share the song with the class either live or via audio or videotape.
  • Think of a sin associated with Dimmesdale and Chillingworth.  Create a badge that uses a letter or other symbol to represent the sin.  In addition, use art, needlework, or some other craft to make the badge reveal something about the man’s character, interests, or profession.  Write an explanatory caption or paragraph to accompany the badge.
  • Choose music to be the score for a film version of the novel.  Choose music for at least five major scenes.  Write explanatory notes for each selection

The harvesting of The Scarlet Letter texts from thrift store shelves is best from January-March. I can add as many as 10-12 copies during these months. Competition for the title grows during the summer, and the books are often more dog-earred by then.

But with all the negativity, why teach The Scarlet Letter? Because Hawthorne provides a bridge from this historical period to ours by using the empathy that is generated in fiction. Our brains are wired for stories more than facts, and reading The Scarlet Letter helps our students identify with characters in order to understand the politics and policies of this turbulent time when our nation was still in its infancy. Additionally, his story serves as a springboard for other stories. According to Canadian author Margaret Atwood, “The roots of totalitarianism in America are found, I discovered, in the theocracy of the 17th Century. The Scarlet Letter is not that far behind [the novel] The Handmaid’s Tale, my take on American Puritanism.”

Oh, and yes. We also assign The Handmaid’s Tale.

A bit of self-indulgence here. I have been blogging for a year on July 3, which means that the Used Books in Class blog is a one year old “toddler.”

I started this blog for two reasons. The first was a response to Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide, a book I have mentioned numerous times in posts on this blog. I was determined to increase reading in the classroom per his suggestion through “book floods,” and I began purchasing used books for the classroom libraries at Wamogo High School (Region 6 in CT). Fortunately for me, in the Fairfield and Litchfield counties in Connecticut there are numerous sources for excellent quality used books available for $1.00 (or less) through public library book sales held generally in the summer and Goodwill or other thrift stores.  I wanted to share how I had added entire class sets of books ( for example: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, The Kite Runner, The Bluest Eye, A Walk in the Woods) or increased books in classroom libraries for independent choice reading in grades 7-12.

The second reason was that this past year I required students to write using blogs. At each grade level (9-12), the Wamogo English Department teachers used blogs in the classroom in order to increase student reading and writing collaboration. Our Lord of the Flies unit included “survival activities” on team blogs for 10 graders. The freshmen classes used a blog in different ways: to record individual book reports and to respond to questions associated with whole class reads.. The journalism class’s newspaper format is a blog, and we have also had students blog responses to Hamlet or record their progress on Capstone projects. If I was requiring that students blog, I needed to know how to blog as well.

I researched the use of blogs in the classroom. According to Trey Martindale and David A Wiley,  in their paper Using Weblogs in Scholarship and Teaching, “Clearly two keys to effective blogging are knowing who one’s audience is, and knowing that that audience is in fact reading one’s blog. My students were motivated and willing to write regularly and with clarity, knowing that fellow students and the instructor were reading the blogs.”  I recognized that most student writing is read by the teacher, so our students needed to understand how to target an larger audience. I emphasized this question for my students by having them identify the audiences of other blogs, and then consider the question  “Who am I writing this blog for?” and “Who will be able to read this post?”.  Similarly, I had to apply the same consideration for this blog.

I also researched whether blogging was an effective strategy to increasing reading and writing in the classroom. Would student blogging rather that standard writing (papers, essays) improve comprehension skills? In one study by N.B. Ellison and Yuehua Wu, “Analysis revealed no significant differences in comprehension between blog and paper assignments, although students reported spending less time writing in the blogging condition.” However, in another study by R. MacBride and Lynn Luehmann using blogging in science and math classrooms, “Findings indicate that (1) teachers’ intentions focused on creating additional forms of participation as well as increasing student exposure time with content; (2) blogs were used in a wide variety of ways that likely afforded particular benefits; and (3) both teacher and students perceived the greater investment to be worthwhile. ”

I found the same to be true for this blog, Used Books in Class. My first post (7/3/11)  received 8 hits! I was surprised anyone would be interested in this blog about used books, but those first hits motivated me. Now, after a year, the focus of the blog has shifted from “used books” in class to posts discussing “how books are used” in class. I have drifted into other areas of education, namely the English Language Arts Common Core State Standards, but these issues directly or indirectly impact teaching in the classroom.  26,518 hits later, I still am still surprised at the interest this blog has received. Honestly,  it’s not like readers could use yet one more education blog; there is some serious competition for attention!

Yet there is one more reason that I discovered for blogging as I wrote over the course of a year. I found other blogs to be informative on issues in education, and their comment sections were one way to enter into online discussions. I had followed Shelly Blake-Plock who authored Teach Paperless from 2009-May 2012. In his post, Why Teachers Should Blog, he offered one line that stood out:

Because to blog is to teach yourself what you think.

I had no idea how true that statement would be for me this year. Blogging has allowed me to frame an evolving philosophy of education, and I had to think about my own teaching practice every time I sat down to write. Blogging has provided the platform for me to articulate my responses to issues in education, and I had to think about how public my response would be every time I sat down to write. Blogging has let me practice my writing voice, and I had to think about how this voice needed to attract the reader and keep the reader reading every time I sat down to write. In summation, blogging has taught me over the course of this year how to think in order to write about education.

Thank you for reading posts on this blog. I am heading into year two with this “toddler”. When I started, I wondered if I would have enough topics to write about. I do not worry about that any more because this blog has taught me how to write what I think, and I  am thinking all the time. I think, therefore I blog.

The book room at Wamogo Middle/High School will need to be reorganized to make room for recent arrivals from sales in two very different locations: Greenwich, CT and Poughkeepsie, NY. Books purchased need to be integrated onto the shelves with their companion sets of titles.

The Greenwich library sale is a physical challenge; little aisle space!

The first infusion of texts came last weekend (June 8-10, 2012) with The Friends of the Byram Shubert Library book sale in Greenwich, CT.The layout for the Greenwich sale is very challenging. Like last year, there was little room to pass a fellow shopper at the non-fiction tables downstairs in the church basement, but there is less room at the fiction tables in the “garage” area back up at ground level. Books spill out into the driveway, and there are many packed tightly in boxes under the already overflowing tables. Sunday is the “fill a bag for $3.00” or “fill a box for $5.00” day, a sales pitch that almost guarantees there will be few books remaining at the close of sale on Sunday evening.  The volunteer staff is very helpful and tries to compete for the negative floor space in order to straighten the tables. Titles were originally well organized for genre shopping: history, psychology, biography, sports, and cookbooks, but by the end of the day, a multitude of children’s books was spilling naughtily out of their contained space. One volunteer repeated the mantra that “every book will be sold”, and apparently this is true. At the conclusion of the sale, a recycling company arrives to take the unsold books for so much a pound. While the thought of some of the texts being used for scrap can be a bit disconcerting for a bibliophile, this wholesale purge of any remaining books assures that every year the used books will not be “leftovers” and shoppers can select from a fresh selection annually.

Texts from the Greenwich Library sale June 2012: above books purchased for $5.00/box

In one short hour, I  left with five boxes filled with texts we use in the high school. There were many  titles  available that we have collected over the past two years, but our shelves are almost filled to overflowing, so I tried to be judicious in my choices. For example, The Life of Pi and The Memory Keeper’s Daughter are both assigned summer reading for the honors/Advanced Placement program, so having extra copies to distribute is helpful. Additionally, we are collecting texts for use in US History as well, and now have a class set of The Killer Angels. We have been able to keep up with the attrition rate for many of our titles, specifically The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. The creative cover suffers the most damage from my curious sophomores who like to trace the dog cut-out.

On the following Friday (6/15/2012) , school had only been officially over for an hour, when I turned west to the first day of the Friends of Poughkeepsie Public Library District in Duchess County, NY. I had never attended this sale, but the advertisement on Book Sale Finder promoted a “BIG sale of 150,000 books and media.” The sale was held in a large warehouse, and true to the advertisement, there were hundreds of rows upon rows of books on tables. The books were well organized,  and there was ample SPACE to shop for books; shopping cart races could be held in the aisles. There were some drawbacks to this location, however. The lighting system emitted a loud buzz that was particularly maddening in the large echoing warehouse; 45 minutes was all I could take of the sound before heading to the cashier’s table. Unlike the Greenwich Library book sale which purges unwanted texts, the Friends of the Poughkeepsie Library appear to have kept every book ever donated. The boxes clearly labelled “fiction”, “sports”, etc. under each table identified the resting area for texts the other 51 weekends of the year.  This commitment to find a home for every text, no matter the condition or the content, means  a shopper must look peruse through piles of yellowing, damaged books in the hopes of finding a particular title. No matter, I filled three bags of books at the usual price of $1.00 trade, $2.00 hardcover, and $.50 for smaller paperbacks. On Sunday, prices are cut in half;  on Monday, one can fill a grocery bag for $5.00;  and  Tuesday, from 8A.M. to 12 Noon, leftovers are free for the taking. In looking at the selection on the “classics” table, I determined that Poughkeepsie area schools must also assign To Kill a Mockingbird; there were five new copies available. The best title “finds” on the tables were In Country by Bobbie Ann Mason for the grade 11 Vietnam War unit and Perfume by David Susskind for a new English IV course being offered this coming fall titled “Heroes and Monsters”. Apparently, the Duchess County area clearly went through its William Kennedy phase, favoring his upstate NY setting because there were no less than 27 copies of Ironweed available on the fiction tables along with his companion books Legs, and Billy Bathgate. Alas, there were no Joyce Carol Oates texts to support a rabid NY author fan base. After the sale, we stopped at the Daily Planet Diner (Route 55 off the Taconic), with all its kitchy thematic elements, to round out the end of the last day of school and the first day of summer vacation.

Funds spent over the two weekends were $25.00 at Greenwich and $49.50 at Poughkeepsie bringing the grand total  to$74.50. Total number of texts purchased? 117 books.

Over the course of the academic year, English teachers have been integrating the numerous used books purchased through library book sales into classroom libraries; some books have been offered as independent choice books while others have been used as whole class reads. Once the school year ended, we stacked the returned texts back into our hidden book room where access, strangely enough, is gained by going through a bathroom. Based on this latest haul, we may have to order another set of book shelves!

The original purpose of this blog was to explain how used books were purchased in order to increase the classroom libraries at Wamogo Middle and High School, grades 7-12. The name of the blog, “Used Books in Class”, was initially chosen to indicate the condition of the texts. The term “used”, however, can also serve to mean how the text are used in class. In other words, how are the used books being used in the English Language Arts Classrooms at each grade level?

A carload of Used Books after a summer book sale!

In writing this blog, I have found myself increasingly commenting on English/language arts curriculum, lesson plans, and current issues in education. This means the purpose of the blog has grown to include topics that are all related to the use of reading materials in the classroom, and reading is the most important skill that students will need to be successful students at every grade level. Providing a wide variety of books-new and used- is critical to engaging readers.

To date, the used books purchased in the secondary markets have helped in four specific ways:

Used books have replaced copies at each grade level. Used books have been used to replace lost or damaged copies of books assigned to a particular curriculum. For example, there have been replacement copies of The Giver for Grade 7, Of Mice and Men in 9th grade, and Animal Farm in Grade 10. These titles are taught in almost every school system in Connecticut, and are titles that are relatively easy to find locally in the secondary market. These are also titles that are readily available in large quantities online on used book dealer sites such as Better World Books.

-Used books have increased selections for independent reading in classrooms. The English Department has incorporated more time for silent sustained reading (SSR) in class at each grade level, and classroom libraries have been increased to allow students the opportunity to choose books to read. For example, students in grade 9 are provided 40-45 minutes each week to read self-selected books during the school year. Students may choose a book from the school’s library media center, or choose a book from one of the carts in the classroom.  Titles vary in genre, subject and reading level in order to meet student interest. Students are responsible for blogging reviews about the books they read at least twice a quarter.

Other classes that take advantage of independent reading are the Advanced Placement English Language and English Literature classes. Students select independent reading that meets the critical standards of the Advanced Placement program. These selections range from the classics (Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment) to more contemporary titles (Roth The Plot Against America) and write responses to these books.

-Used books are added titles as “satellite texts”. English teachers have extended thematic units to include titles that complement a text from the literary canon. For example, the 11th grade thematic unit “Coming of Age” is usually associated with Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Purchasing used books have increased selections to include Sittenfield’s Prep, Cormier’s The Chocolate War, Lamb’s She’s Come Undone, Gibbons’s Ellen Foster, and Chbosky’s Perks of Being a Wallflower. Students select a text to explore the thematic idea through the lens of another author.

Score! A set of books for Grade 10

-Used books have allowed for the addition of new texts. The purchase of used books has expanded curriculum at several grade levels with high interest titles.  For example, Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, Coelho’s The Alchemist and Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (see picture) have been added to the World Literature curriculum in grade 10. In addition, Walls’s The Glass Castle has been added to Grade 12 Memoir class while Farmer’s The House of the Scorpion will be added to grade 7.

Ultimately, the re-stated purpose of this blog will be to continue to discuss the inclusion of specific used book titles in English/language arts classrooms as well as discuss how we are working to improve reading in and out of the classroom  at every grade level. Used books in class is also about using books in class to improve reading!