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New ways to keep a kid in books without going broke

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

By Beth Pinsker

NEW YORK (Reuters) - In the middle of my last vacation, I found myself calling the beach town library in a panic, looking for books two and three of Trenton Lee Stewart's popular "Mysterious Benedict Society" series. I thought it would take my daughter a week to finish the first one. But she was so entranced, she finished it in two days.

Yes, that's a humblebrag, but it's also a budget-minded parent's nightmare: If those books weren't on the shelf at the library, I was probably going to end up buying them at full price - about $14 - because how can we not encourage our little readers? They make us proud, but they chew through so many books so quickly they could drive us to bankruptcy.

Having already gone through Harry Potter (seven used copies cost me $28), my daughter has set her sights on the five Percy Jackson books ($5 each new) and 13 Lemony Snickets ($6). I'm secretly hoping she never discovers Nancy Drew (64 books in the original series).

While this is hardly a new dilemma - my parents had to deal with my own "Encyclopedia Brown" addiction - there are modern tricks that make it easier than ever to manage the costs, and not all of them require handing a kid an electronic device.

LIBRARY DILEMMA

My free borrowing options would seem to abound - I live in Brooklyn and work in Manhattan - but big isn't always enough. None of the 61 copies of the "Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey" owned by the dual library systems were on shelves anywhere near me. The two boroughs have a handful of e-books, but they are almost always checked out.

The answer is to plan in advance - a simple phone call or a few clicks on a library website can get you exactly what you want.

"You can be sitting talking to your daughter's teacher, and if she suggests a book, you can pick up your phone, reserve it and have it sent to your local library," says Michele McGraw, a coordinating librarian for the Hennepin County Libraries in Minneapolis. "Technology has made this much easier over time, and people are more adept at using the tools."

A BOOK IS A CLICK AWAY

In the past, borrowing a book on an ereader was a multi-step process that involved plugging the device into a computer. But new options from Overdrive, which provides lending technologies to libraries, allow a book to be wirelessly transmitted to many devices.

On a laptop, you can just click on your selection from your library's website, put in your card number, and the book automatically pops up in its own reader. On a mobile device, you first download an Overdrive app, then click through to your library's Web catalog.

"All you need is a connection and a library card," says Steve Potash, the chief executive officer of Overdrive.

The number of copies is still limited, though, because publishers treat library ebooks the same as physical books, meaning only one person can check out a copy at a time. But at the New York Public Library, the staff assesses data every day, even on weekends, and can buy copies when there are too many holds on one book.

Nationally, more money than ever is going toward juvenile books as demand grows. In New York, downloads of juvenile books jumped from 5 percent of all digital circulation in 2011 to 17 percent in 2012.

"I understand when you really just want to read that title, and there's a long hold list, it can be frustrating," says Michael Santangelo, electronic resources coordinator for the NYPL and the Brooklyn Public Library.

More school libraries will be coming online this fall, says Overdrive's Potash. The company is working with more than 4,000 U.S. schools now, and by the time school starts he says that 25 percent of students will have access to digital reading material.

COMMUNITY SWAPPING

In some communities, you can find innovative used book stores like John Martosella's trio of Book Swap Cafes in the New Jersey towns of Haddonfield, Medford and Ship Bottom. His customers don't just browse, they come in with a couple of titles and get credits for each one they swap. He says 75 percent of his business consists of parents looking for children's books, and he has many families he counts as regulars.

Schools and parent organizations may sponsor books swaps. And there are online sites that allow trading, like Bookmooch.com, paperbackswap.com and Titletrader.com, though selection and availability are limited. You can rent books from booksfree.com, but that might not save much, as the regularly monthly subscription fee is $14.99 for a two-books-at-a-time plan.

Ebooks are more difficult, and sometimes impossible, to trade. None of the "Mysterious Benedict" books are lendable, for instance. For titles that are, you can try out a site like eBookFling or Booklending.com.

As for me and my fast-reading daughter, our luck was good: The vacation library had the Benedict books. While my daughter raced through volumes two and three, I picked up the first one - and it took me the rest of my vacation to finish it.

(Follow us @ReutersMoney or at http://www.reuters.com/finance/personal-finance. Editing by Linda Stern and Leslie Adler)

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