Deb Sarah on the Early Days of Book Buying

When I was sitting down to write this post, I had all kinds of things I wanted to say—about my earliest bookstore memories, about the scent of bookstores (don’t you just love the way they smell!?), about the huge crush I had on the guy at the Barnes & Nobles cafe in Silverdale, Washington, when I was 16. But then the baby started screaming, I got sidetracked, and began thinking about my earliest book-buying memories and experiences. So I decided to write about something else, something I haven’t thought of for years and years–a fond memory that came floating back just now: mail-order book programs in elementary school. Do you remember these?

I was an elementary school student in the 1980’s (sporting hideous bangs, jelly bracelets and leggings with stirrups—oh dear) and every month or so, our teachers would pass out a book catalog for us to peruse. We’d thumb through the pages, circling the books we hoped to order, then begged our parents for the book money to make our purchases. A few weeks later, the book deliveries arrived. We’d sit at our desks, absolutely giddy with excitement, as our teacher sorted through the order, passing out the brown paper parcels to each of the students who had been fortunate enough to be able to order. Back then, I was addicted to The Babysitters Club series, and I distinctly remember my heart beating faster when I held a new book in my hands.

It’s just a little memory, but a significant one. This book program encouraged reading and made the process so exciting for my young self. It’s funny, today, whether I order a book online, or from my favorite local independent bookseller, I still feel a little of that same excitement when I hold it in my hands for the first time. (Yes, I have a Kindle, but I’m someone who still adores the feel of a real physical book in her hands.)

Did you have a book-ordering program in school? Do you have fond memories of it the way I do?

xo, Sarah

11 Replies to “Deb Sarah on the Early Days of Book Buying”

  1. We do – Scholastic. I have many of my books from the “Weekly Reader” book club in the 1970s. The Scholastic flyer comes home every month like clockwork and it’s a great way for kids to buy books and support the school too.

    You think stirrup pants were bad on a kid? Trying being in college and wearing them with pride. Aye yi yi! 🙂

    Hope Colby is letting you get some sleep, Sarah.


  2. I’d forgotten about those completely, which is odd, because it’s something I did as a teacher (and let me tell you, the teacher management side of it is much less fun, though the kids’ orders do give you points to buy books for your classroom).

    I am totally with you on the sense of excitement – I love the feeling of getting ready to break open a new book!

  3. Oh yeah, I got the hard sell yesterday morning to order the complete collector’s set of the From the Black Lagoon series for my 8 yr old (via the Scholastic Book Clubs form from school). Begging, pleading, promises to make his bed and put his little socks in the hamper. I know it’s fun for him to anticipate getting the books in his class, just like you said. I could get all those books from the library, but I do love how excited he is about books, reading, anticipating the arrival, having his own keeper library of faves.

  4. I remember that sometimes, when the box arrived, the teacher wouldn’t open it right away (I mean, really, what was she thinking, trying to teach us and all while there were BOOKS waiting!) It would sit there by her desk and I couldn’t stop looking at it – so close and yet so far. 🙂

  5. I remember the book orders so well. I feel for my parents who had three avid readers clamoring for book buying dollars. I was addicted to Babysitters Club and later, Sweet Valley High. I think my parents still have all of those books stored. I’m going to have to check on that. I would love to have that collection for my (someday) home library.

  6. I don’t remember book ordering programs (I’m sure we had ’em, but my family couldn’t have afforded it). I do remember the school library, which I adored with all my heart. I’d look up naughty things in the encyclopedias.

    This probably explains a lot.


  7. Since my mom enrolled me in a children’s “Book-of-the-Month” Club even before school days, I had a jump start on anticipating the arrival of brand new books. Always loved the smell too!

  8. I remember those!! Only in my case…it was the ’70s…but we won’t go there. Same idea though – little paper pamphlet, circling the ones I wanted, taking it home… Fortunately, my parents encouraged reading so I always seemed to get the ones I wanted (or at least some of them – I distinctly remember being told the catalog required choosing and was not simply an opportunity to say “yes, I’ll take them all.”) I’d completely forgotten the excitement of “book arrival day” until you mentioned it!

    As a side note – most of my teachers refused to pass the books out until right before we went home, but left the box sitting at the front of the room all day – to my extreme chagrin!

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