Of book sales past, present and future

Muchmore Book Sale

by Sarah Dingle

Every spring I watch for the sign–maybe you do too–the enormous blue sign hanging over the red brick school wall that announces the dates of the Mutchmor Book Sale. The very thought of it fills me with anticipation and nostalgia in equal parts. I love the book sale, and I know I’m not alone. So I’ll give you a scoop. This year’s dates are April 19 to 22 and book collection starts on April 3, so mark your calendars!

Parents of First Avenue School students launched the book sale as a fundraiser in 1983. Children were encouraged to ask their families and neighbours for used books and classes with high participation won prizes like a pizza lunch. One volunteer sewed a large canvas sign to advertise the sale. It was a winning formula that lives on in much the same way to this day, albeit in a new location following the move of the local French Immersion program to Mutchmor in the 2015–2016 school year.

It’s remarkable in fact how little has changed over the decades. For example, it is traditional during book collection time for each class’s books to be tallied and the counts to be displayed in the form of an enormous bar graph in the school hallway. I have a distinct memory of being in Grade 1 or 2 at First Avenue School, walking down the corridor toward the gym where book collection was underway and marvelling at the towering height of the bars. Some of the senior classes had collected hundreds of books! Similar graphs are still in use and the towers are equally impressive.

I also remember the mad scramble as my class rushed to the gym when it was finally our turn to go to the sale. Certain titles were in high demand and you had to act quickly to get the quality literature like Archie comics, Sweet Valley High and the Babysitters Club! I understand from my kids that this phenomenon persists.

Another aspect of the book sale that hasn’t changed is the sheer number of volunteer hours needed to pull the event off. Volunteers fill more than 200 two-hour-long shifts to put the sale together each year. Each Mutchmor family is asked to take on two shifts and a steering committee puts in many extra hours throughout the year and during the sale to plan, coordinate and lead the event.

One of the biggest challenges is what to do with leftover books at the end of each sale. Hundreds of books were left unsold last year, some of which were accepted by charities, but not all. The sale now asks for donations of books published within the last 20 years and does not accept categories that typically do not sell such as dictionaries, bibles, encyclopaedias (except children’s), magazines, textbooks and manuals, Harlequins and coffee table books.

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The annual Mutchmor Book Sale (formerly First Avenue Book Sale) will take place this year from April 19 to 22. Mark your calendars! Photos: Elspeth Tory

Challenges aside, the tangible results of this collective effort are impressive. Typically the book sale collects about 25,000 books and raises about $20,000 for the school and the school council. This year the focus of the fundraising is on a replacement to the play structure in the schoolyard between Third and Fourth avenues, which is nearing the end of its lifespan. Each teacher also has the opportunity to select 25 free books for their classroom and a portion of the proceeds ($5,000 last year) are donated to charity.

The intangible results are equally remarkable. Parents can attest to the palpable excitement their children feel about the sale, an excitement that when all is said and done puts a stack of prized books in the hands of each student. The sale gives the students a chance to feel part of something big, important and positive. It also strengthens the connections between the school and community, and within the neighbourhood itself. While I browse at the sale, I love to listen to people greeting their neighbours and catching up after the long winter. My sister, another First Avenue alumna, told me she always loved going back to the sale as a young adult and running into her former teachers.

Scores of children, parents, teachers and neighbours have collected, hauled, counted, sorted, priced, searched, found and enjoyed books together every year for 35 years now. With so many hours of collective Glebe memories tied to one annual community event, no wonder it feels like more than the sum of its parts. Long live the Mutchmor Book Sale!

For more information visit mutchmorbooksale.com/ or follow the sale on Facebook (facebook.com/mutchmorbooksale) or Twitter (@mutchmorbooks).

Sarah Dingle is a Mutchmor parent and member of the book sale steering committee.

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