Many of us born before the 21st Century dawned grew up reading books in both hardcover and paperback formats. We READ both, but probably BOUGHT primarily paperbacks due to the reduced cost. This option for owning primarily paperback books can be traced back to the decision that Penguin Books publishers made in 1935 to offer cheaper reprints of popular titles. Since the first of these “paperback” works became available from Penguin on July 30 of that year, this Saturday will mark 81 years that they have been available.
In the mid-1960s, each month our school district in western Iowa had copies of the Scholastic News available to each student from grades 4 – 8. This was a four-page list of new paperbacks available from Scholastic Books, containing title, author, a picture of the cover, and a paragraph to summarize the plot. We were given time during reading class to look these over, and in the next week a time was set to put in our orders, including prepaying the cost. The classroom teachers, bless them, sent in these requests, and it was an exciting day when the box came to each class from Scholastic with new books that we could KEEP. Our community had well-stocked school libraries and a public library, but no bookstore. I still have some of the books ordered from Scholastic that I bought for 35 – 75 cents each (Julie’s Heritage, Snow Treasure, Sea View Secret, Sue Barton, Student Nurse).
By the time that my children were in elementary school in the 1990s, our school district offered Scholastic Book Fairs to interested schools. At that time, Scholastic would bring a truck load of books to an elementary school for three week days, and either the Parent Teacher Organization or a team of interested parents would coordinate having the sale open both during the school days and during the evenings so that entire families could come and purchase paperbacks. Big sellers during those years were books about Clifford the Big Red Dog, the Magic School Bus, and the Goosebumps, American Girl, and Baby-Sitters Club series.
What were your favorite paperbacks when you were in elementary and junior high? What format do you currently prefer for pleasure reading? Hardcover, paperback, and kindle formats are currently available for check out from the Bellevue University Library. Take a moment this week to celebrate the many years that paperbacks have been an option for the reading public.