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Hosting a book swap for kids

Published on: February 01, 2009

Who hasn’t been the recipient of hand-me-downs? I for one benefited from the annual growth spurts of my older cousin Krista. By the time my little sister Marcy received the clothes, they’d be threadbare remnants. But my mom and dad swapped more than clothes with our friends and neighbors: babysitting, sports equipment, appliances, beds, cradles and especially, books to keep kids reading.

More than savings

 When my husband and I had our own kids, we found out how expensive it was to outfit a family. A few years ago, a friend of mine and I came up with the idea for a book exchange, so the kids could meet and swap good books. We wanted to get the kids in on the act so they could see, in a very tangible way, the benefits of being creative while watching the family budget and sharing with others.Popular children's books

Unlike the colorful hand-me-down clothes that fade after every wash, the content in a good book always remains color-safe and vibrant. The words may peer up at you on slightly torn pages, but the imagination and conversation they often start can be as fresh and new as the first time the story was read. And if you’ve read a good book for your last time, there’s no reason not to pass it on to someone else.

A book exchange is also the perfect opportunity to get friends together, and we were pleasantly surprised by the social aspects of swapping tales. Our book exchanges begin with some light snacks and conversation as adults and kids sorted the books they brought onto tables, arranged by type and genre. The excitement builds as attendees ask owners questions about the books. After about an hour, we officially holler, “Go ahead and swap books!” and hands and Book Bucks (more on this in a minute) start flying.

An actual book swap is often filled with good-natured jostling and some bartering as kids find books they want in the hands of friends (“I’ll let you read this right after I’m done with it.”), and can go on until most books are picked up by new owners. After everyone settles down, the kids look over their new stash of reading or orchestrate last-minute trades with friends. True, it’s more chaotic than a day at the library, but it’s an acceptable way to be loud and wild in the company of books.

How to run a book exchange:

  1. Limit the size of the group instead of sending an open invitation.
  2. Set a timeline, an agenda, and let attendees know what they are.
  3. Make tables and signs for genres.
  4. Let folks know what is not acceptable for the book swap (videos, older computer games, licensed software, etc.). If in doubt, keep it simple and age appropriate.
  5. Give a Book Buck (chips, play money) for each book brought, good for one book.
  6. Determine how and when the book swap ends. What will you do with leftover books?
  7. Decide if kids may trade books after the book swap. You may need an adult to oversee a brief 15-minute open trade at the end of the event.
  8. Any books left over on the tables must be reclaimed by the people who originally brought them to the event.

    Tracy Romoser is a Seattle-based writer. She and her husband have two children who enjoy reading as much as they enjoy music, TV and hanging out with friends.

    Websites that provide popularity lists and ranks for books:                      

    Local kids’ bookshops:
    Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association              

    All For Kids Books                 
    Third Place Books               
    Secret Garden Books
    Square One Books  

    Finding used books:

    The Seattle Used Bookstore Guide

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