A few years ago, someone came up with the brilliant idea of All Hallow's Read - giving scary books away either instead of or with Hallowe'en candy. Neil Gaiman either started it or at least has promoted it enthusiastically. I loved the idea, so I started handing out candy + a book to every trick'r'treater who comes to my door, three years ago. But as a retired person with a lot more time than money, I had to be frugal and mindful of how I went about it. (I'll give the link to the All Hallow's Read web site at the end of this Instructable. They have free downloadable posters and book marks you can print to give away, too!)
I wanted to have books for all ages, from little ones in pumpkin-colored diapers, all the way up to 6th graders in witches' costumes. In my town, the Friends of the Library have book sales going on all year. I saved all my pocket change and waited until September to go and scoop up all the Hallowe'en themed, or even just suspenseful or mysterious, books for kids I could find, at 25 cents a book (usually). There were cute ones for toddlers on up to really scary ones for older kids. I even got some non-fiction books about "spooky" subjects, like bats, snakes, spiders, or rats. That first year I didn't know how kids would feel about getting a book. Wow - they loved it!
Step 1: How to Find Good All Hallow's Read Books!
Frugal tip 1: see if your library has book sales where you can find kids' books cheap.
Frugal tip 2: watch Craigslist and your local shopper paper to see if there are people with kids' books to get rid of - especially watch for retired teachers' garage sales or estate sales! (I ran across one put on by several retiring grade school teachers - they had some great books for All Hallow's Read - and when they found out what I was going to do with them they gave them to me for free!)
Used books come in all kinds of conditions, though. Some are barely hanging together - I wouldn't buy one that's in really bad shape, torn up or scribbled on or stained or with fat, wavy pages due to getting soaked in some unknown liquid. Try to pick books that are clean, with few or no torn pages, and few or no marks in them. That will save you a lot of time.
Step 2: Cleaning Up the Books
I do the easy bit first. I go through every page of a book, looking for pencil marks to erase and tears to mend. Sometimes, if there's a previous owner's full name written inside the cover or somewhere, I'll put a blank label over it so the new owner can put her name there.
Then I move to the outside of the book. In the first picture, you can see this book has library stickers on it in the top right corner, and on the lower spine. It also looks a little grubby from all the handling it's had. There are some things you can't remove in and on a book, but quite a bit you can, to deliver a pleasantly clean book to your trick'r'treaters.
You can probably get rid of most of the tape and stickers on the covers. Ink stamps or writing, though will have to stay. And usually labels on the pages inside can't be removed without ruining the page. Occasionally you will find a book with old-school check-out cards and sleeves! Don't worry, though - that kind of stuff makes a book distinctive. Lets the reader know this book has History. The reader can even use them to loan the book to friends.
Step 3: What You'll Need
1 - WD 40 or similar spray solvent
2 - diluted, mild soap, like dish soap or liquid Ivory, in a spray bottle or a small bowl
3 - invisible tape (or shiny, if you prefer)
4 - some kind of knife (may or may not be needed)
5 - razor blade (definitely useful)
6 - soft erasers. I like artist's kneadable erasers, or the white kind that stays "fresh" and won't cause smearing
7 - clean, soft cloths. I use plain white flannel squares
Facial tissues and a hair-dryer are also very useful! (I used freezer paper to cover a big kitchen cutting board to do all this work on. You don't really need freezer paper; newsprint - but not newspaper - would work. Just anything that's clean to contain any little spills or errant drops from the sprays.)
Step 4: Clean It Up!
First I wipe the outside cover really thoroughly with the soapy water on a clean cloth, then I wipe the soapy residue off with a damp cloth.
Next, I use the razor blade to carefully peel the topmost stickers away from the cover. This takes a lot of patience. This project is not going to be a ten-minute thing, if you have a 2 - 3 dozen books like I do. Set aside a good two or three hours to do the job right. It would make a great family project, or something for a neighborhood group of kids to work on together, or a church or youth group activity. Having more than one person helping would make it more fun and faster. But in any case, using the razor blade should be done by an adult. There are plenty of other things for kids to do. Finding pencil marks and erasing them, finding tears and taping them up neatly, and sorting the books into age-relevant categories are just a few.
ETA: Further razor blade safety note: Have a saucer or cup at your work space specifically to put the razor blade when it's not in use. TRAIN yourself to ALWAYS put it there, and TRAIN yourself to ALWAYS LOOK AT IT when you go to pick it up. I didn't bloody myself on this project but I have in the past - this is the voice of experience. Razor blades don't like you when you're careless with handling them!
In the first picture, I'm peeling a circular, paper sticker away from heavy, library-quality, transparent tape underneath it. Sometimes the adhesive in stickers like this is stronger than the paper, and you end up with a mess of paper bits clinging to a mess of adhesive. You can dampen a facial tissue with WD 40 to scrub away the adhesive and paper bits. WD 40 *dissolves* adhesives very nicely, but you don't want to use too much - use it sparingly, just enough to get the job done. It's a petroleum-based, toxic material so use it only in a well-ventilated room and make sure no one breathes it or gets it in their eyes. And after all the tape and adhesives have been cleaned off the cover, you can wipe the whole cover with it to catch any tiny bits - but then you MUST wash the cover with the soapy water, and wipe it dry! You DO NOT WANT to leave WD 40 residue on these books!
More on peeling tape off in the next step!
In the first picture the red arrow is pointing out the actual edge of the tape holding that bar code strip in place. It's quite a ways away from the bar code, so I almost missed it.
Finesse with the razor blade - getting the edge of the blade under the edge of the tape can be tricky, but once you do, don't stop! Evenly and firmly keep pushing the blade under the tape until the edge of the tape reaches the metal trim on the razor blade. Press the tape against the razor blade, then pull firmly and slowly on the whole width of the blade to peel the tape up smoothly. If the tape is really tightly adhered to the cover, you can use the hair-dryer, its mouth an inch from the surface of the tape, to warm up the adhesive and make it easier to release.
Step 6: Finishing Step
In the first picture you can see the adhesive residue left on the book after the tape is gone. Using the WD 40 on a facial tissue you can rub the adhesive away. The second picture shows how well it works, and how shiny the product makes the cover. Very attractive - but NOT how you want to leave the book. Remember, wipe it down completely with warm soapy water on a clean cloth, then wipe the soapy reside away with a damp clean cloth, and then dry it off with facial tissue or a dry cloth. And your book is ready for Hallowe'en!
The last thing I do is sort the books into age groups, so on Hallowe'en night I can quickly find appropriate books for the kids who come to my door.
Step 7: Books & Candy - What Could Be Better?
This sounds like a lot of work, but you try it - the first time a kid's face lights up and she turns around waving her book at her mom calling, "Look! Mom! I got a book!" You will be HOOKED on All Hallow's Read, like I am. And here's the link to their web site: All Hallow's Read. There's a fun video there and the book marks and posters, book recommendations, news items from around the world - enjoy!