I don’t think many people would dispute the value of surrounding our young children with books. Long before they understand the words, parents can inspire a love of reading and set the foundations of literacy by reading to their babies. But like most things, reading comes with a cost: children’s books average between $5 and $25 apiece, so building a home library can mean a significant investment.

Whenever I approach things my child needs, and I consider books a need, I look at it from my ECOparenting perspective. ECO stands not only for eco-friendly, but also economical. While many eco-friendly choices for our families only become economical in the long term (investing in an energy-efficient vehicle, retrofitting our home, even buying cloth diapers), my ideas for ECO-library-building are immediately cost effective! In terms of being eco-friendly, all of these options encourage reducing consumption or reusing.

Think Thrift

Not everyone’s a thrifter. Dressing in second-hand clothing is not everyone’s cup of tea. Even if you’ve never set foot in a Value Village store before, I strongly encourage you to head in and go straight for the books. The vast majority of my son’s book collection was purchased for under $3 apiece at the nation-wide thrift store chain, Value Village. There are true literary treasures to be had: our copies of Guess How Much I Love You, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and Belly Button Book all come from second-hand shops. I even scored an autographed copy of a Laurent de Brunhoff Babar book! What’s more, year round at Value Village, you can buy four books and the fifth (of equal or lesser value) is free. Books range in price from 69 cents to $3.99. Leaf through your selections to make sure no pages are missing or obliterated by marker, and if you want, you can spritz those board books (which we know go in every kid’s mouth) with a vinegar solution to disinfect.  If you don’t have a Value Village close to you, check independent thrift stores, second-hand book stores and even children’s consignment chains like Once Upon a Child!

Build a Library Box

Yes, we all know how the public library works. But does your community have a Community Library Box? The initiative is known as “The Little Free Library” or “Neighbourhood Book Exchange” and consists of a lovely enclosed box, placed somewhere communal like the playground or community garden. It runs on one simple principle: take a book, leave a book.

I’ve seen two community library boxes, one in Crescent Beach and one in Squamish (both communities in BC). The box isn’t just for children’s books: adults can participate, too! Children and adults alike can’t read the same book infinitely (toddlers and their favourite picture book being the one exception), so why not share? Your Little Community Library can go hand in hand with scoring awesome books at thrift shops: it’s a lot easier to leave a 99 cent book for your neighbour than one you paid $19.99 for!

Click to Borrow

There are so many reasons why we don’t get to the Public Library with our kids. Lately, my reason is because it’s just too darn cold and I’m too darn pregnant to make the trek over. I’ve recently discovered the joy of taking out e-books. Most public libraries now have a vast collection of e-books which can be read on your PC, your mobile phone, tablet or e-reader.  Their collection includes hundreds of children’s titles! As long as your child is able to understand the difference between reading time on the tablet and game time (my toddler is definitely not there yet), then the next time they claim there’s nothing to read, they can have something brand new and interesting at their fingertips within instants, and at no cost! To use most library’s e-book service, all you need is your library card and a password.

Other tips:    

Start a book-giving chain: Gather a group of parents across the country or more locally, and set up a “chain letter” for books. Each family sends on one book to the next on the list so that everyone ends up with something new to read, and the excitement of receiving mail!

Free books for newborns: Many libraries across the country have early literacy programs that include a free book for all newborns. Check with yours!

Put a few books away periodically: Just like toys, children get bored with their books. Tuck a few away for a couple of months. When you “find” them again, they’ll be like new!


Lindsay Gallimore is a former high school teacher now working from home as a translator and a blogger at Maman Loup’s Den. Expecting her second child this summer, she strives to help her readers find the ECOparenting balance – making choices for their families that are both eco-friendly and economical.