You probably know by now that Living Books are quality books that come to life on the page. They’re engaging, insightful, and worth reading. But what are the best places to find Living Books without going broke?
The Best Places to Find Living Books for Cheap or Free
Sadly many of the books on library and bookstore shelves aren’t the same quality they used to be. While I’ve heard passionate arguments advocating for Captain Underpants, it’s not a selection you’ll find in my home. So if the clearance rack at the children’s bookstore isn’t going to cut it, how do we find living books for our homeschool?
There are some gorgeous old books out there and I’m privileged to own a few. My great-grandma loved to preserve family history and I have some books that were passed down from her and even older generations. We have books of poems, original McGuffey readers, and a guide on how to survive in the wilderness (1800s style).
Old books can quickly get expensive though, especially if they’re in good condition. And in a Charlotte Mason education, we want to give our children a wide variety of quality books, both for school and personal reading. Over the years I’ve learned some tricks for finding affordable, Living Books.
The fact that children like lame, uninspired talk and insubstantial, insipid storybooks doesn’t prove that it’s good for them. They like lollipops too but they can’t live on them. Yet some schools are making a concerted effort to meet the intellectual, moral, and spiritual needs with mental candy. – Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education –
#1 Your Local Library
This may seem like a no-brainer, but yes, the library can be a good resource… with some caveats. I’ve heard horror stories of dumpsters full of classic books behind libraries, only to be replaced by twaddle.
While I can sometimes find the book I’m looking for at my local library, it’s not often. When we first moved here I was shocked and the librarian was embarrassed when we both realized there wasn’t a single E. Nesbit book on the shelf. She promptly ordered some.
I usually have to spend a good half hour browsing through my library’s online catalog and cross-reference it with a list of books I’m looking for. There are plenty of books at the local library, but not nearly as many good ones in my experience. Hopefully, yours is different.
For non-fiction books, I’ll look through several books on the same subject until I find one that’s a Living Book. With fiction books, I start with a Charlotte Mason booklist and search my library’s catalog until I find something on the list.
Pros and Cons of Library Books
The library is great for picture books and free reads but isn’t my favorite for school books. If I know we’re going to need the book for at least one trimester (or more than 1 month), then the book will be due before we’re done with it. Even so, I’ll still sometimes get longer books to see if I want to commit to buying them.
Libraries now have a wide variety of e-books, audiobooks, and interlibrary loan items. So even if your town’s building doesn’t have the book you want, chances are the librarian can still get it for you.
#2 Private Libraries to Find Living Books
Maybe you’ve dreamed of having a Beauty and the Beast worthy library. It might be closer than you think. Privately curated libraries are popping up all over the country, full of quality living books. You can find a directory with many of them here.
They work much like a public library, but you pay a membership fee to check books out. There are at least two in my area and the Charlotte Mason library is housed in an artisan coffee/bake shop. Swoon.
Free Public Domain Books
Many of the older classics are available for free online. Some of the books are typed up and formatted into ebooks, while others are scanned in and the images posted online. Here are a few of my favorite places to get free ebooks online.
#3 Project Gutenberg – Over 60,000 free ebooks
#4 Internet Archive– Millions of free books, audiobooks, movies, music, and more.
#6 University of Pennsylvania – search engine for over 3 million free books.
#7 Baldwin library of historical children’s literature – Over 120,000 books and periodicals from the mid-1600s to present day. The Library also has small holdings of manuscript collections, original artwork, and assorted ephemera such as board games, puzzles, and toys.
#8 The Rosetta Project complete library of children’s books online. The largest collection of illustrated, antique children’s books online. The books are translated into different languages. So you can read them in English, or in the foreign language you’re currently studying.#9 Online literature – a searchable database of thousands of books and poems. http://www.online-literature.com/
#10 Gateway to the Classics – Classic children’s literature, poems, and illustrated read alouds.
#11 Heritage history – classical student history books. You can find series, books for younger and older students, hero stories, historical fiction, biographies, living history texts, etc.
#12 Librivox – Free, public domain audiobooks. These are read by volunteers so some are better than others. I prefer using Audible, but this is a decent free option.
Affordable Print Books.
#13 eBay can have some harder to find titles. Just be sure to check the seller ratings before purchase.
#14 Facebook marketplace is a great place to find Living Books, both new and old. They have Charlotte Mason and classical book resell groups.
#15 AddAll used book search looks online for the best deals on a particular title. Amazon and Abe Books usually come out on top. I like this for harder to find books I want a physical copy of.
Affordable Ebooks and Audiobooks
#16 Kindle books are offered by Amazon and can be read with a Kindle reader or online. My library has Hoopla which lends out free Kindle ebooks.
#17 Kindle Unlimited is a subscription of select Kindle titles. There’s a lot of twaddle on here but they still have some good ebooks.
#18 Audible. This one does have a monthly subscription fee, but they have a wide variety of quality books. Some of the children’s classics are read by a full cast and include sound effects. Winnie the Pooh is one of my favorite full-cast Audible productions!
#19 Simply Charlotte Mason Book Finder is a compilation of living books that are available for sale or in the public domain. I like that they’ve already weeded out the Twaddle for me so I can easily find a quality book. I use this database to cross reference with my local library’s catalog before checking books out.
Finding Living Books isn’t hard once you know where to look. I spend most of my time searching in preparation for the upcoming school year so I have our booklists set for the year. Then as we need free reads I’ll peruse the various booklists. While ebooks are easy and low clutter, don’t forget to invest in some physical books too! They really spruce up a living room bookshelf.
Where do you look for Living Books? Did I miss a website or store? Leave me a comment and be sure to share this post with a friend!