The woman picked up a book, flipped it, scanned the bar code, put it down, picked up another, and repeated the process. And repeated it and repeated it and repeated it. Thirty minutes into the Friends of the Library children's book sale she had an empty book bag and a perplexed look on her face.
Scanners are not very useful at a children's books sale. Most of the valuable books were published before 1963, predating the use of ISBNs. Yes, you might be able to check the Library of Congress number, but of course those numbers are not scannable. And there is no electronic gadget that can scan the "nostalgia" factor, that intangible quality that can make a children's title a candidate for Craig's 50/50.
I was at the same sale with my friend Em, who is also a children's book seller, and we were not exactly doing the happy dance either.
There were piles of Newbery Award winners, multiple copies of losing candidates for the Bluebonnet
Award (a state book award), Weekly Reader book club editions, current Young Adult fiction, and stacks
and stacks of non-fiction. The advent of the internet and on-line databases
has radically changed collection development (library talk for what books to buy), and libraries are
discarding their copies of California: The Golden State or Jose, Boy of Guatemala as fast as time allows. There are tables of 900's (the Dewey Decimal classification for history and biography) that nobody wants at just about every FOL sale I attend.
The donated books were no better: Clifford the Big Red Dog was everywhere; Disney Princesses abounded; and there was no shortage of board books (slightly chewed).
So, what to do? Cut our losses and go home? Go out to lunch and drown our disappointments in nachos and margaritas? No, we took another careful look around to see if there might be something other than children's books on those crowded tables. There is a trend among FOL groups to add education and parenting books to such sales. At last spring's big sale I had the education books all to myself because the FOL volunteers put them on a table adjacent to the children's books. Scan-only dealers will usually not go near the kid lit section.
Most parenting books are worthless. I am not sure who thought the world needed 8 million copies of
What to Expect When You're Expecting. About the only parenting titles worth picking up are books on ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and books with a very recent copyright - that is, as long as they weren't authored by Dr. Phil. These should always be passed by, no matter how much Oprah loves him.
However, education books are birds of another feather. Here you will find candidates for the 50/50 list. Some will be textbooks, and with these the standard textbook rules apply: pass if more than 3 years old, check the revision pattern on the verso of the title page, and so on.
The education books that are the most solid buys are books that teachers use to do a better job of teaching, not books that teach people how to be teachers. Divide these into two types: the semi-scholarly books and the teacher idea books. With either of these, the shelf life is much, much longer than the life span of the average textbook - normally about 10-15 years. This appears to be the length of time it takes the pendulum to swing in the education business. And swing it does. Education is constantly re-inventing the wheel.
The semi-scholarly books are usually large, thick trade paperbacks. Many are 8.5" x 11". The covers favor muted colors or bright blue or green, and the artwork often features a slightly fuzzy photo of students in a learning situation.
Some keywords to look for in the title or preface are:
Gifted and Talented
Hands on Science
Learning by Discovery
Special Needs Children
Bullying is a very, very hot topic in education now, and there is not much available at the moment.
Avoid any book with "Whole Language" in the title - this concept is currently passť. Also avoid
Chicken Soup for the Teacher's Soul and any other title in that vein. Books on the topic of education written for the public, such as anything by Jonathan Kozol, are fine if you are a penny book seller, worthless if you aren't.
Publishers to watch for are Heinemann, which is to education as Wiley is to science and technology and these:
Center for Applied Research in Education
Corwin & Stenhouse
Creative Teaching Press