Would you buy a book at Target or Wal-Mart?

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Have you ever been browsing through the book sections and Wal-Mart or Target?  Did you even know they sold books?

I haven’t looked at either store’s book departments in ages although there was a time that I would always pass by when I was doing my shopping.  And it was hard for me to get out without making a purchase.  But then Amazon and general book browsing on the Internet happened.

This week I visited both stores expressly to shop their books.  First, I went to the Target and Wal-Mart where I most frequently shop, and then I visited a second store of each chain to check for consistency. 

In their stock for adults, Wal-Mart and Target seem to have different customers in mind.  Wal-Mart has a bigger range of titles, including some popular ones, but they also have a greater range of niche markets, which I’m guessing might change quite a bit depending on where the store is located. In my normal store, among other options there was quite a selection of romance novels featuring the Amish and a good military selection (for a good military town).

Target has sections that are similar to Wal-Mart’s, but they also carry a better selection of new books and bestsellers.  One thing that is different significantly different from Wal-Mart is that Target carries a range of titles that are similar to the books you probably know about, such as those for Oprah, Jenna and Reese’s book clubs, but may not have heard of elsewhere.  They always seem to have some interesting options, but they do seem to mostly target middle class women.  In Wal-Mart, I felt like there was a little something for everyone.

When shopping for books, selection and quality are important, but the bottom line to me is value, just like it is for anything else.  Both Target and Wal-Mart are a mixed bag.  Both stores discount just about every title for adults, but not anymore than you can find them online.  If you are picking up something to read right away, say you are on a vacation or it’s your book club read for the month, both stores offer good value. 

The only caveat I would offer is to be mindful of the hardback books.  I noticed both stores have discounted hardback copies of books that are already out in paperback.  Once paperback editions of books are released, the hardback versions are remaindered: they are the books you can find for $1 if you know where to look (such as the Dollar Tree).  A paperback release of a book also tells you that the book is probably fairly easy to get through your public library.  If you don’t know how to go online to put a book on hold at your local branch, now is the time!  A quick way to check if you don’t want to search online is to look at the publication date; paperback releases usually come out about a year after the hardback.

What I’ve written so far is true for the adult books.  Children’s books are a little different.  You might deliberately bring children to the book section of either of these stores to use instant gratification to encourage reading.  I would call that a smart move, especially if you’re spending the $5 (or less) on a book rather than a toy or candy.  In fact, the Wal-Mart I normally shop at kindly places the book section right in the front, where it’s easy to stop on your way out (and far, far away from the toy department in the back of the store).  My usual Target, that has recently been remodeled, puts children’s books by the children’s clothes department: I’m guessing they want to encourage parents who don’t usually visit the book department.

What I like about Target’s children’s section is that the books are easy to find and are all good quality.  Some books were discounted and some aren’t, and in both stores I found a prominent display of classic hardback picture books at full price, obviously placed to be nostalgia purchases or gifts.  I think a book is a great choice for a last-minute gift over a cheap toy if you’re in a bind, but otherwise, the bookstore has more choices, the Internet has better prices, and the public library probably has them all for loan. The nice thing about Target is that their offerings are limited and well curated, so you really can’t go wrong if you’re not sure what you want or if you’re in a hurry.  In addition to the hardbacks, they have a good range of Easy Readers, a selection of popular, good quality general titles, and educational books and games.   

What was a really pleasant surprise to me is the children’s section at Wal-Mart, especially my regular store (the second Wal-Mart I visited had a smaller department and wasn’t quite as good).  The price on every book is discounted; at least a little, and they also have a nice selection of popular, quality books.   

My usual Wal-Mart really does the best job with their selection of easy chapter books, which is ironically not easy.  These are the books that are designed for children around ages 7-8 who are easing into standard children’s chapter books.  It can be difficult to recognize them.  There is probably more quality series fiction for this age than any other, which is a lifesaver, but they can be hard to locate in a large bookstore without knowledgeable help. After this little shopping trip, from now on, I will go straight to Wal-Mart! 

For children at this age, it’s important to make sure the print is fairly large and that there are pictures on almost every page.  Some newer books (such as the Bad Kitties series) mixes full-on print with some pages that look like comics, which are great for giving new readers some visual relief.   

When it comes to children’s books, especially the easy chapter books, I found the second Wal-Mart and Target I went to completely different, so if what you see at Wal-Mart doesn’t match what I found, go to the Target.  In both cases, if you are not in a hurry, though, double check all pricing online.  Through the minimal price checking I’ve done for this article, I’ve the prices of children’s books can vary a lot in unpredictable ways. 

Next time you discover that you need a children’s gift at the last minute, don’t automatically head to the toy department.  For the money, there are better gifts in the book department.  If you’re lucky, it will be right near the greeting card department like it is in my store. The nice thing is, if you misfire, the book can easily be returned, donated, or re-gifted.  The chance that a book will end up in a landfill before its time is very low, and even if it does, well, paper is biodegradable. 

Either way, stop by the book departments the next time you need a break from your next shopping trudge.



This type of nonfiction book, spotted at Wal-Mart, is sure-fire with almost all kids, but I found it for nearly half price on Amazon.

Target’s wall of gift books: you can’t really go wrong with your choice, but you could get a sometimes much better price online.

Several good options for young chapter-book readers are visible on this rack at Wal-Mart.

The fairly new National Geographic beginner readers, spotted at Target, are excellent. It’s hard to find good nonfiction books that have the information young kids need written so they can read it. The Ready-to-Read series here is too commercialized for my taste. I think the Smithsonian books behind are new; I would check them out too.

This is an excellent series, which I spotted at Wal-Mart (Target has them too), It is also fairly new! They are good for kids who want more grown up books but still need pretty easy words and lots of pictures. The consistent format across books helps the kids too, and you can see how interesting the topics are. Don’t we all want to sit down and read about Dolly Parton and Walt Disney right now? These are great for schools because the wide range of topics, low price, readability, and consistency allow students to choose their own topics while teachers make sure they get the key information.

I love the “I Can Read” series…these are quality authors who also write series fiction. “Frog and Toad” (third shelf left) got a Newbury Award! “Biscuit” is great for pre-readers (about ages 3-5) because of the interaction between the text and the pictures.

Hidden picture puzzles are excellent for pre-reading children because finding the pictures helps them focus their eyes on objects on the page, which is good preparation for reading. If I had a 2-3 year old, this would be in my restaurant kit! Big brothers and sisters can join in too, which you know the little ones would love. These are at Wal-Mart, but Target also has them. Remember Highlights magazine? Great quality.

An oldie but a goodie…this is the best game ever for helping kids review the parts of speech. Just number the blank spots in the story and follow the directions. If you have younger kids and older kids, divide up the hard ones (adverbs) and the easy ones (colors). You end up with a funny story…great car game if you have a thing about the family interacting with each other instead of screens…and you have someone who can read without getting car sick. Spotted at Wal-Mart.

This find at Wal-Mart scared me a little: it is a board book with an accompanying play set. The warning for children under 3 is visible…for a book that would easily appeal to under 3’s! Skip this one, please!