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It’s Buyback Season

BuybackPileSummer vacation is nearly upon us, which means the school year is almost done. We feel that we can safely assume that the majority of your time is now spent planning and thinking about all of the fun you’re about to have in July and August.

But the end of the school year is also a time to plan for selling your no-longer-needed textbooks back to Alpha Textbooks to recoup some of your schools expenses.

Every year, families spend a lot of money on resources students rely on to succeed in the classroom. Textbooks, novels and e-resources, to name a few, are staples of a student’s educational arsenal.

But what happens when the school year comes to a close and students don’t need those resources anymore?

Without a system in place to collect surplus school supplies, those resources can end up in a closet collecting dust, or even in a landfill. Neither of these outcomes are sustainable practices, nor do they help families stretch their budget for school expenses.

When textbooks go unused, or are thrown away, we are forced to replace them, and we use up more of a natural resource – paper.

Here at Alpha Textbooks, we strive to encourage our customers to help us keep gently-used school resources in circulation by selling their books back to us.

Saving money is a major concern for many people. By helping us operate as a sustainable company, our customers get the opportunity to get back some of the money they spent at the beginning of the school year. Furthermore, they earn credit that can offset the price of their educational materials for the following year.

With the help of our customers, we’ve been able to sustain the life cycle of thousands of educational materials, and in doing so, we’ve helped many families recoup some of their school expenses. And we’re just getting started.


Planting Trees With The TRCA

IMG_0109On Thursday, May 5, Alpha Textbooks, along with its sister company, BookSwap, planted trees in the GTA for the third straight year. Working with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), Alpha and BookSwap employees went to the Claireville Conservation Area in Brampton, Ontario to participate in the TRCA’s annual spring reforestation efforts.

The Claireville Conservation area is 848 acres of natural and forested area that spans the peel region and Toronto. It’s the largest natural setting of its kind, and it is on the threshold of four major GTA cities: Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, and Vaughan. It has been part of the TRCA’s reforestation efforts for many years now.

Our team spent the day planting two types of trees: white spruces and white pines. Along with TRCA staff Luke, Michael, Ali, and Whitney, the group worked hard to get as many trees in the ground as possible.image1

“It was a good day for tree planting,” said Howard Cohen, company president. “The weather was nice, the geese were out, we planted a lot of trees, and we had fun.”

BookSwap has donated trees to the TRCA for their annual spring reforestation efforts for over ten years now. The trees were donated by BookSwap on behalf of the schools and school departments that purchased $250 dollars or more in books with BookSwap the previous year.

For the past few years, Alpha Textbooks and BookSwap has taken its sustainability efforts further by participating in the actual planting.

Congratulations go out to the TRCA, the employees, and the schools that had a tree planted on their behalf. Reforestation is vital to the environment and it’s good for the community. Great work everyone!IMG_0115

2015-16 Short Story Contest Winners Announced

Winners CollageWe are very excited to announce the winners of the 2015-16 Alpha Textbooks Short Story Contest.

The art of writing fiction is a challenge that takes years to master, and everyone who submitted is on their way there. The team at Alpha Textbooks offers BIG congratulations to all the young writers who rose to the challenge and submitted their work. It takes a lot of courage and craftiness to write fiction. You all did a great job.

There was some stiff competition! We received story submissions from 200 students in nine school boards and 14 private schools. Entries came in from as far north as Thunder Bay, right through the province and down into southwestern Ontario, in Hamilton and the Niagara regions.

First place winner in the middle school category is Nathan Nambiar, a grade seven student in Mississauga, for his touching story about a boy who remembers his deceased father through images found on an old smart phone. Nambiar was closely followed by Katrina Lefebvre, “Futuristic Jeopardy,” and Anika Tan, “Red Button.”

First place winner in the high school category was Laura Collie, for her story, “The Wall” – a telling narrative about the complicated and fraught relationship between a mother and daughter in the face of cancer. Collie was followed closely by Kay Wu, “Innocence: A Story,” and Abby Traina, “The City’s Secret Glass.”

Visit the contest website for winner photos and bios.

First place winners will be re-working their stories for publication in the Claremont Review, they also receive four passes to the AGO or Medieval Times (depending on their category), and two ROM passes. Second place winners receive two passes to the ROM, plus two movie passes; third place winners are also going to the ROM.

We want to thank the contest’s generous sponsors including the Claremont Review, the Art Gallery of Ontario, Medieval Times, the Royal Ontario Museum, Pizza Pizza, and a private donor (who wishes to remain anonymous) for the Cineplex passes.

These great sponsors helped make the contest a success. They helped enrich the lives of young people across the province.

We want to offer another big applause to all the schools from where students submitted and/or teachers participated. You are obviously doing a great job.

Congratulations goes out to Bishop Strachan School, Blyth Academy, Brantford Collegiate Institute, Great Lakes Christian High School, Greenwood College, Hagersville Elementary, Hillfield Strathallan College, Hudson College, Lasalle Secondary School, MacLachlan College, Maitland River Elementary School, Marymount Academy, Newton’s Grove School, North Toronto Christian School, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Mercy School, Pretty River Academy, St. Charles Garnier, St. Edmund Campion, St. Elizabeth Seton School, St. Gerard Catholic Separate School, St. Gertrude, St. Joan of Arc Catholic Secondary School, St. Luke Catholic School, St. Mark, St. Mildred’s Lightbourn School, St. Patrick High School, Statford Northwestern Secondary School, Sterling Hall, The Country Day School, University of Toronto Schools, and Westmount Secondary School.

A raffle for four more AGO passes will be held next week, that will include the shortlisted students and the second runners-up.

the Claremont Review’s Annual Writing & Art Contest is on

Last fall, we teamed up with the Claremont Review (tCR) an international magazine for young writers based out of Victoria, BC. tCR generously helped out the 2015-16 Alpha Textbooks Short Story Contest, by offering a space for our winners to be published in the journal. Judging for our contest is in the final stages, but tCR has a great contest of its own.tCR 2016 poster

tCRs Annual Writing & Art Contest is open to teens (13-19) anywhere in the world. Not only are winners published, but they are awarded a handy sum of cash too. Jody Carrow, tCR editor-in-chief, told Alpha Textbooks “just this year [they] doubled the prize money, which makes the amounts very significant[,] $1000 for first” place, and a new $500 prize for visual arts. Second and third place young writers get $600 and $400 respectively. Winners are selected in both poetry and fiction categories.

Carrow mentions that the magazine receives entries from all over the world. Winners have come from Canada and the United States up until now, but she “expects that to change as [they] get more entries from youth around the world (Korea, Vietnam, India, the UK, Columbia, etc.).” The stories are kept anonymous throughout the judging process to keep the contest results free of bias.

When it comes to the volume of contest entries, Carrow says that she finds herself “in awe of how many young people still want to write”:

I am continuously amazed by the range of unique perspectives on age-old topics such as love, loss, identity, what makes a meaningful existence, relationships, the future…

To read so many heartfelt explorations of the human condition gives me hope for our collective future (even when, actually, ESPECIALLY when the writing is dark) because the act of writing means one hasn’t given up; it means that people still care to grapple with this great, messy, glorious event called Life.

What sets tCR apart from other magazines is that it offers feedback or mentorship to all youth who submit to the magazine. Unfortunately, because of the sheer volume of contest entries, the magazine editors cannot offer feedback on contest submissions. However, young writers are invited to rework their stories or poems and resubmit for general publication, or they can try submitting a totally different piece. Even if the works-in-progress aren’t published, the feedback process helps youths become better writers, bringing them one step closer to their goal.

Mentorship and feedback is essential to the longevity and quality of a young writer’s experience not only because when they take the time to read and consider it they become better writers, but the exchange creates a relationship that is always available to them. Our editors are committed to remaining mentors for young writers long after the initial exchange of feedback. Anyone who sends us work will get feedback from us and the writers/artists know they can write to us anytime with questions or concerns they have.

The contest deadline is March 15, 2016. Visit the Claremont Review‘s contest page for more details.

Read Alpha’s full interview with Jody Carrow.


the Claremont Review, along with the generous support of the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Royal Ontario Museum, Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament, and Pizza Pizza, made the Alpha Textbooks 2015-16 Short Story Contest possible. Thank you.

Heartfelt explorations of the human condition… Jody Carrow speaks about youth writing

Claremont cover“… the act of writing means one hasn’t given up; it means that people still care to grapple with this great, messy, glorious event called Life. The fact that so many youth are choosing this method of making sense of the world means that they care deeply about the world they inhabit and want to share their perspectives on it.” ~ Jody Carrow

Nearly a quarter of a century old, the Claremont Review (tCR) is a journal that has come-of-age while publishing writers who are coming-of-age. As an international journal, the Canadian magazine publishes youth writing (ages 13-19) in English from five continents.

What separates the tCR from other journals is that it offers a rare, if not coveted, submission experience – the editors offer feedback: “All submissions accompanied by an email address receive a written comment on their work,” says the magazine’s website.

tCR also runs an annual contest. Not only are winners published in the magazine, but winners are offered generous monetary prizes. The 2016 first place winner is awarded $1000 CAD, second place receives $600, and third receives $400. Winners are selected in both poetry and fiction categories. There’s also one visual art prize of $500.

We spoke to Jody Carrow, Canadian writer and the editor-in-chief of tCR. Carrow offers an insightful understanding of youth writing, and the importance of nurturing and celebrating it.

jody carrowJody Carrow’s work has appeared in several Canadian literary magazines, including Grain and The Malahat Review (under her spy name: Jody Lesiuk). She has been a featured reader at many poetry events in Victoria, B.C., and is a graduate of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Victoria. As editor-in-chief at tCR, she is thrilled to work with skilled young writers and artists from all over the world.

This is what she had to say about youth writing and the contest:


Q: How long have you been volunteering at the Claremont Review as editor-in-chief and overall?

A: I have been with tCR for almost 4 years. I began as editor-in-chief and remain in that role. I am supported by an incredible team – Shannon Horlor, Leah Baade, Erin Renwick and Emily Henderson.


What inspired you to join the tCR?

Susan Stenson, a Victoria poet and co-founder of tCR, asked me if I would consider taking over the magazine as she, along with the other co-founders Terence Young and Bill Stenson, were looking to retire. They had been with the magazine for over 20 years and were looking to move on. I was very interested in the project because I love editing and the chance to be involved with a publication was a challenge I was keen to take on. My mind was virtually made up before I had even read any previous issues, but then when I actually read some back issues, I got really excited about what the pages held. I could not believe the quality of the writing – it far exceeded my expectations for youth literature (I am now humbled to admit). The writers became the inspiration for me.


How long as the Annual Writing Contest been running?

I believe there has always been a contest but just this year we doubled the prize money, which makes the amounts very significant ($1000.00 for 1st!) and added a first prize ($500.00) for visual arts.


What’s the contest vetting process like?

The process is a lengthy one as we get so many submissions and each one has to be read and considered. In the past I have done the shortlisting, but this year some of the editors will assist with that process. There is always a pile of obvious considerations, then a pile of maybes, and a pile of ones that don’t make the cut. The “maybe” pile is always the biggest and I return to it several times before making the final decision on what work goes to the judges. The shortlisting is a blind process, the cover letters are separated from the work before I even take a look at it to ensure no bias affects my decision making. Once there is a collection of work finalised in each category, we then send the work to the judges. We always have 2 judges in each category and have always managed to secure esteemed and successful writers to decide the winners. In the past we have had Melanie Siebert, Garth Martens, Ali Blythe, Jay Ruzesky, Hal Walling, Aaron Shephard, Susan Gee, Beth Copeland…this year’s judges are just being confirmed.


What’s your favourite part of the process (contest)?

My favourite part is the initial read through. Every year I find myself in awe of how many young people still want to write and take the time and effort to send us their work. I am continuously amazed by the range of unique perspectives on age-old topics such as love, loss, identity, what makes a meaningful existence, relationships, the future…

To read so many heartfelt explorations of the human condition gives me hope for our collective future (even when, actually, ESPECIALLY when the writing is dark) because the act of writing means one hasn’t given up; it means that people still care to grapple with this great, messy, glorious event called Life. The fact that so many youth are choosing this method of making sense of the world means that they care deeply about the world they inhabit and want to share their perspectives on it. This subverts the stereotype that youth don’t care about anything, that all that matters to them is the shallow surface of their lives. tCR proves how wrong anyone who assumes this is. The magazine (and others like it) gives us a glimpse into the future by showing us what matters to our youth. Anyone who doesn’t take the time to “check in” with this demographic by valuing and paying attention to their art has no idea what is going on or where the future is headed. Critics should be paying attention, social scientists should be reading us, political and spiritual leaders ought to know what is in our pages. The Canada Council for the Arts has been a huge proponent of what we do because they see the value in investing in a publication that showcases the talent of young writers and artists from Canada and around the world.


Are the winners generally from Canada, or have you had any international winners?

Both. We have winners from Canada in every contest and have had several from America. No one outside North America has won a prize yet, but I expect that to change as we get more and more entries from youth around the world (Korea, Vietnam, India, the UK, Colombia, etc.)


How do you think mentorship and feedback changes a young writer’s experience?

Mentorship and feedback is essential to the longevity and quality of a young writer’s experience not only because when they take the time to read and consider it they become better writers, but the exchange creates a relationship that is always available to them. Our editors are committed to remaining mentors for young writers long after the initial exchange of feedback. Anyone who sends us work will get feedback from us and the writers/artists know they can write to us anytime with questions or concerns they have.

It is very hard to have your work rejected. Adults struggle with it and I think it is especially difficult for young writers because they are that much more vulnerable to public opinion. This is why we give detailed feedback to every submitter (except for the contest entries) – we want them to know what is really great about their writing (and there is always something) and where it needs some work. This is done in the gentlest way possible while still giving them a taste of what the world of trying to publish looks like. We often hear back from youth who have given a piece another go and want us to take another look at it, or who have just even taken the time to write back and thank us for the feedback. We have a lot of repeat submitters, not all of whom have been published, so that gives us assurance that our feedback is useful and respectful. Something that builds writers up rather than tears them down.


In which countries is tCR distributed?

Magazines Canada distributes tCR in Canada and I believe the US. We get subscriptions from all around the world and handle those ourselves.


Have there been any future success stories of writers who were former contest winners or who got their career started at tCR?

Many, many writers who have published in tCR have gone on to become successful writers, filmmakers, poets, editors, etc.


Do you offer any special programs that writers, teachers or schools should know about?

In or around Victoria, BC where we are based, we offer free writing workshops and lectures to any class at the middle and high school level. We will travel to any school outside our region who would be willing to have us at their expense.


Is there anything else you would like to add?

Yes, thank you. I would like to ask parents, teachers, relatives and elders to encourage creative expression in the youth they are privileged to know. Don’t be afraid of what they want to say or show you with their art – see it for what it is: a statement or comment on life from someone who cares deeply about it and an opportunity for you to connect with them in a real way about what may be going on in their lives. Don’t worry about them necessarily because their topic is dark or disturbing. It may be hard to read a poem about rape or a story about mental illness or suicide, or look at a painting depicting a dystopian violent world created by your son/daughter/student. Read it anyway. Look at it no matter what and find some way of celebrating the courage it took them to not only create it, but share it with you. Find a way to talk to them about their work in a way that is supportive. You will lose them if you don’t. The time to worry is when they stop creating, stop opening up, stop wanting to grapple with life, not when they’re messy with it and reaching out!



Alpha Textbooks delivers Audience Choice Award for Inspire Teen Reads 2015

Alpha Textbooks Audience Choice Award winner Alice Cheng and Cris Costa

Audience Choice Award winner, Alice Cheng, and Alpha Textbooks’ Cris Costa

Alpha Textbooks had an exciting Sunday afternoon at Word on the Street Toronto (WOTS), for Inspire Teen Reads on the Youth Launchpad Stage.

Inspire Teen Reads is an innovative competition created and organized by a group of bright young minds who care about literature. The aim of the competition was simple: encourage teens to read for pleasure. Participants presented a pitch aimed at convincing a panel of experts from the publishing industry, accomplished writers and the WOTS audience that they should read the participant’s chosen work of literature.

We were happy to see that like us, speakers believed that leisurely reading and expressive writing inspires creativity. Whether they were pitching Nabokov, Plath, or any of the other great authors that were represented on Sunday, each participant showed passion, belief and a true understanding of the benefits of reading.

In round one, 16 competitors shared their pitches with a jury of editors from HarperCollins Canada, Simon & Schuster, and Penguin Random House. These pitches ranged from poetry and prose to spoken word. Eight shortlisted contestants then presented their pitch in round two, to young-adult authors Kenneth Oppel, Megan Crew and Bill Richardson.

The Inspire Teen Reads audience had a critical role to play as well. They voted for the winner of the Alpha Textbooks Audience Choice Award. We offer huge congratulations to Alice Cheng for winning the Alpha Textbooks Audience Choice Award for her pitch on Wayson Choy’s The Jade Peony, also to Lauren Chang her first place win for her pitch on Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, the runner-up, Martine Duffy, for her pitch on Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, and all those who participated in the competition.

Kudos to the team at Inspire Teen Reads and all the WOTS volunteers for a successful event!

Although Alpha Textbooks primarily deals in educational materials, we strongly support leisure reading. Reading affords all of us a unique insight into the world around us, and more importantly into ourselves. Reading nurtures our identity and imagination, it assists in the development of strong minds and future leaders. In the words of Harry S. Truman, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”

Thank you Inspire Teen Reads for giving us the opportunity to participate. We look forward to the next Inspire Teen Reads competition.

Students, schools and sustainability: great things happen when you put your mind to it



Sustainability is an important cause for most bookstores, and it’s a key cause for us at Alpha Textbooks. Our business relies on the use of a major natural resource – paper. This is why it is important for us to continue to make our business environmentally sustainable, and to give back to the communities that support us.

Howard PlantingOne way that we give back is by participating in an annual tree planting event with our sister company, BookSwap Inc. BookSwap plants a tree on behalf of every school or school department that orders more than $250 dollars in book orders in one year. In 2015, the plant took place on Earth Week in Caledon, and in 2014, we participated in the reforestation of Tommy Thompson Park on Toronto’s waterfront. BookSwap has been donating trees to the TRCA since 2006. On the day-to-day level, we make a conscious effort to reduce paper waste in the office. There is one initiative, however, that is unique to Alpha: new in 2015, we now have a worm farm.

Alpha Textbook president, Howard Cohen, says that this is something he has always wanted to do, “I have a degree in biology, and I’ve always been big on protecting our environment.”

“A worm farm is an incredible example of the cycle of life. The worms consume any fruit or vegetable, as well as shredded paper, and turn it into fertilizer. This in turn will be used in our home and office plants, as well as our gardens. The worms will eat their weight in scraps daily and then turn the compost into soil,” Cohen explains. “It’s stuff that normally gets thrown out anyway. This way, it has a purpose. It’s reusable and sustainable.” And it makes great, nutrient rich, soil. All the staff at Alpha enthusiastically participate in the development of the worm farm, by using appropriate lunch leftovers to contribute to the compost.

What we love as much as the worm farm is seeing schools implement their own sustainability programs. Schools like Rowntree Montessori School and St. Mildred’s-Lightbourn School have noteworthy environmental initiatives.

Rowntree teaches students the importance of sustainability at a young age. Commencing in grade one, students learn how the recycling process works and what happens at the local recycling plant.

St. Mildred's

The playground at St. Mildred’s eco-wing.

St. Mildred’s has created an eco-wing at the school. The wing targets five specific categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, indoor environmental quality, energy and atmosphere, and materials and resources. The eco-wing comes complete with motion censored lights, a daylight harvesting system, and a rainwater cistern.

Rowntree and St. Mildred’s have set a great example for students and teachers who wish to keep their schools sustainable and reduce their carbon footprint.


As many of you already know, the beginning of summer marks the beginning of Alpha’s BuyBack season. Putting books back into circulation is a huge part of how we give back to the environment. It helps reduce production of new books when there are many already printed that can be used again to teach, while offering reconditioned books to students at reduced prices.

This year, to bring home the message, a team at Alpha has been working to connect to the schools we visit and our greater community. We are aiming to remind them about the importance of putting their books back into circulation. It’s not uncommon that high school graduates bring us their books from as far back as grade nine! So this year, we’ve been working on reminding people to bring their books in early – the best time is at the end of June and in July. So, we hope to see you in the store with books to sell. Don’t forget to ask about our worm farm when you visit!


BookSwap Celebrates Earth Week 2015 with Tree Planting

Howard PlantingFor Earth Week 2015, our sister company, BookSwap, braved a cold and windy day to participate in spring tree planting with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) Living City program.

For over a decade, BookSwap has been donating trees for annual spring reforestation by the TRCA. The trees are donated on behalf of the schools and school departments who purchased $250 dollars or more in books with BookSwap for that previous year. That means almost every school and department that orders books from BookSwap has a tree planted on their behalf.

Teens coming to plantIn the last two years, BookSwap participated in the actual planting. This year BookSwap went out to Valleywood Fernbrook Park, along the Etobicoke Creek Trail in Caledon, Ontario. A group of approximately 40 students from a local high school came out for the plant, too. Using the training, guidance and support provided by the TRCA, the trees were planted quickly and well.

“It was really cold out there,” said BookSwap communications manager Cris Costa. “The freezing cold winds surprised most of us. So we got down to business and planted as fast as we could. Then it felt like the trees were planted it no time. It was fun.”

ShovelsWe want to congratulate the TRCA’s Living City program, all the teens in Caledon who helped out, and the schools who had a tree planted on their behalf. You’re doing great work for the environment and our communities. Keep it up!

Congratulations to Kaitlyn Gardiner and Celestial Santiago for their 2014 Alpha Textbooks Short Story Contest win!

Kaitlyn Holding up Prize 2014

Kaitlyn, middle school winner

In September 2014 we launched our inaugural short story contest. The contest was open to all Ontario students in middle school and high school. Two prizes of an iPad mini were up for grabs, one for the middle school category and one for the high school category.

We would like to congratulate Celestial Santiago, grade 12 student at St. Edmund Campion Secondary School in Brampton, and Kaitlyn Gardiner, grade seven student at St. Julia’s CES of Mississauga, who both won the prize. Both students are from the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board – a chance coincidence.

We brought back our short story contest after a long hiatus, and we’re glad we did. Inspired by our history of community building and educational initiatives, we hoped that the contest would promote the importance of literary skills and reading.

Over the summer our team worked day and night, contacting school boards and independent schools to share the contest information. Much to our delight, we received over a hundred submissions, and some really great stories.

Our panel of five volunteer judges, Ontario teachers, read the stories anonymously. From the initial batch of stories they created a shortlist.

The final selections were close; the judges expressed that it was hard to choose between the stories on the shortlist. Winners were selected by the most number of nominations followed by the rank of their nomination.

All runners-up and honourable mentions are available on the contest webpage.

Feedback from the students and parents was great. Students loved the opportunity to try their hand at the art of writing, and many felt inspired to continue to write more.

Since Alpha Textbooks values reading as an important part of learning, we want to encourage our communities to engage with literature in every way possible. The challenge of writing stories is both thrilling and important to cognitive development. We look forward to hosting the contest for many more years.

Alpha Textbooks sponsors Throw the Book at Cancer fundraiser event, donates $550 in funds and goods

Alpha Target during setup.

Alpha Target during setup.

On November 2, Alpha Textbooks attended the Throw the Book at Cancer, a fundraiser held at Toronto’s Granite Club. Organized by a committee of Toronto parents and caring citizens, Throw the Book is in support of gynecologic oncology research at the Odette Cancer Centre, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. Alpha’s donation of funds and in-kind goods totalled $550.


The Alpha Textbooks team created a giant target and distributed hundreds of books, which guests threw at the target. Each guest had two attempts to hit the bull’s-eye. For every bull’s-eye, Alpha Textbooks donated one dollar to the cause. We also matched any additional funds donated by participants.


It was a busy and fun activity. There was a line-up of participants before the main events of music and readings.


Guests ready to throw the book!

Bull’s-eye hit! Guests lining-up to throw the book.

Refreshments were served during the event. Everyone in attendance heard some great writers read and speak on their work, including Steven Galloway (The Confabulist), Wayne Grady (Emancipation Day), Ania Szado (Studio Saint-Ex), and Joshua Max Feldman (The Book of Jonah).


Congratulations to Throw the Book at Cancer for raising close to $40,000.