Friday, June 26th, 2009
Ten Ways to Ruin Children’s Books
New alternate title: Watch a blogger piss off his entire readership with one article.
The quickest way to sully a children’s book is to write your child’s name in it. Your family only temporarily owns books. In a few years you’ve sold, gifted or donated them to other people or organizations.
New children now have your wonderful books, but when they open the covers they are reminded the books aren’t quite as special. They are used.
Don’t get me wrong. I love used books (I own thousands). I love them so much that I’m tired of seeing people permanently scar books that will have numerous other “owners” for the next 5 to 50 years. Yeah, I own a few titles from the 1960s.
Included below are ten ways people deface children’s books.
1. Plain Jane Name – I included this child’s name inscription because it’s cute. In reality, 99% of the time it’s parents who write a child’s name in a book, usually when the book is being borrowed or taken to school. In some cases a phone number is included too.
I write on masking tape and stick it to the front cover — easily seen and easily removed. Theft is not a concern because a stolen book is immediately usable no matter what or how I write in a book.
2. Stamp It! Hardcore parents buy stamps as a pretext for writing their child’s name in a book. Deep down they know it’s a sin against literature, so they use the stamp to massage their guilt, as if it’s okay now because there’s a space designated for their graffiti. I wonder if such parents systematically scar every book in their child’s library.
3. Mailing Address Label Stamp – Parents sometimes stamp their address label on a book. In this instance, it seems little Johnny was not being supervised. [I blurred parts of the address.]
4. Drawing Pad – By all means, treat your book like scratch paper. I might understand this child if the book was Harold and the Purple Crayon.
Yes, yes, this one isn’t about a child’s name. While we’re at it, let’s also recognize kids who rip pages and smear their boogers around. You know what smeared boogers look like, right? It’s an essential identification skill if you’re going to buy used books.
5. Publisher Nameplates – This is where the book comes with a pre-existing nameplate. Nine times out of ten it never gets used, as seen in the above copy of Magic Matt and the Skunk in the Tub. The label isn’t quite clear. Later editions include check boxes next to the three options.
6. Revisionist History – Some parents wise up before clearing out their library. In this copy of Curious George Makes Pancakes we see a nameplate sticker clumsily removed and young Scott’s name scribbled out on a second page. Hot tip: scribble using the same color ink as the original inscription.
7. I’m So Important – He’s so important that this is the only example of a personally embossed nameplate I’ve seen. The book is Piggy Bank Gonzales. By the way, don’t assume a link is an endorsement. We haven’t read the book yet.
Some googling turned up an obituary for an elderly gentleman with the above name who died this year in Wyoming. Same guy or coincidence? It makes me think about the Where’s George website which tracks the travels of dollar bills. How often do children’s books crisscross the country hopping owners?
8. Thanks Teach! I’m all for teachers spending their personal cash to promote literacy (no, not really), but I wonder if teachers could better spend their money amassing a classroom library. When titles get too worn, give them away. Kids just don’t hold onto these books for long, nor read them more than a few times.
9. We-Paid-For-It Stickers — Organizations that donate books love to slap on an it’s-from-us sticker. I rarely see a child’s name actually on the sticker, and when I do, it’s written by an adult.
Why do I keep saying that? Because evidence suggests nameplates are more important to parents than to kids. We’ve fooled ourselves into thinking a book is more endearing to a kid if he sees his name in it.
Anyhow, the Public Broadcasting System is the largest donor by far, giving away free books every month in US libraries during its storytelling ‘Ready to Learn’ programs. Other donors in my personal library include Kiwanis, Soroptimist International, health clinics, and even a hospice (it donated Bug Cemetery by Frances Hill).
10. With Lots of Love — It’s fascinating, charming, and sometimes bittersweet to read inscriptions from relatives and friends who think little Johnny is going to treasure his book for all eternity. Sorry folks. Books start showing up in the used market in as early as three years.
In this instance, the gift of giving The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein wasn’t priceless. It was 50 cents.
If you must mark a book, do it lightly in pencil. Next week I’ll propose a more robust solution to book defacement.
Bonus Love Inscriptions:
The book is Pancakes for Breakfast, a true picture book without narration.
The book in question is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the full original story with added illustrations. For a third birthday? Really?
Dog butts and human crotches? In their defense, the book is Clifford Follows His Nose.
Update: Whew, lots of people everyone disagrees with me. Catch my additional thoughts from “AJ @ Thingamababy” in the thread below and see my follow-up post where maybe I partially redeem myself.