Work-in-progress: The Ultimate Children’s Book Nameplate

I have three beliefs about children’s books to share. They are not open to rational argument or counter examples or people pointing out exceptions to the rule. They are my deeply held feelings.

For months now I’ve been contemplating a new type of book nameplate – the area on the front page of some books where a parent writes his child’s name.

Even if you disagree with my beliefs, you may still embrace aspects of my nameplate. I am interested in your suggestions for improvement.

Statement of faith: Books are for sharing.

“As a child, we didn’t have that many books. Most of my reading was from the library, which had limited choices. There were no used book sales, let alone yard sales. So, every book was precious and most of my books had my name carefully written inside as a very proud
possession.” –My aunt.

I don’t begrudge a girl growing up in the 1940s writing her name in her books with great pride, nor today if her circumstances make books scarce. I don’t expect parents to have thousands of books in their personal library. They could exclusively use a public library and that would be great.

But if more people today believed books are for sharing, maybe scarcity wouldn’t be as much an issue. Maybe we could see pride in ownership disappear. Own a book? Huh? Yes, I mean that as a good thing.

I want my kids to have a degree of selflessness. I want them to have the ability to let go of something they love because they want others to love it as much as they do.

When I say “share” I don’t mean with strings attached. When you share food, do you ask for it to be returned? So by “sharing” I mean “giving.”

Selflessness is something I personally struggle with. Like every other adult living in a society where we work to obtain money in order to buy things, I am attached to the idea of ownership. I want my kids to be better than me.

Statement of faith: All books die, so make their lives extraordinary.

I don’t begrudge a parent who saves a handful of books to pass on to grandchildren. My daughter has my copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and it’s neat to point to my name on the cover and tell her I read this book when I was her age.

That classic book sat in a box in my mother’s closet for some 30 years. I’m happy to have it, but I wonder how many other children might have enjoyed reading my book before time began to take its toll.

Today’s books aren’t like Bible parchment that survives 1,000 years. They are printed cheaply and bound cheaply with cheap paper. After a few decades, bindings start to go and paper, especially if exposed to light, begins to yellow and turn brittle.

Books are living things. They come to life when we read them. They die when we stop, and time is eating away at them every moment of every day.

So when I see my childhood books, I see senior citizens who have survived to tell stories to my children, but who will not be around for my grandchildren. These books have not lived a full life. They were not read by enough children.

Having my childhood books to read to my kids is neat, but not neat enough to justify their long incarceration. I could have bought new copies for my kids, or simply made do with some of the tens of thousands of new stories that have been written since.

Statement of faith: A measure of a good book is how many people have read it.

This idea is an extension of the “books die” philosophy. If I were to look at two books – one that has remained in a family to be read by several generations of children, and a second book that has been set free by its first owner, I view the free book as the better life.

The free book had the chance to find a new family as frequently as every 2 or 3 years. That’s the resharing rate I’ve witnessed for inscribed, dated books entering the used market.

There’s no guarantee a book will be shared again and again — not every toy canoe placed in the river makes its way to the sea — but I believe in making the attempt.

Nameplate problems as I see them:

1. Nameplates establish ownership, sometimes even using the phrase “This book is owned by.” As previously stated, I oppose pride in ownership.

2. Nameplates establish the mindset of a single owner. If a poor child who owns preciously few books can be selfless enough to part with a cherished book once he or she has fully enjoyed it, that’s a beautiful thing and an example to live by.

3. Nameplates do not reveal the true chain-of-ownership. Among the thousands of names-in-books I’ve seen, only a handful of books contained more than one child’s name, and in all of those cases there was only a second name. The first child’s name was scribbled out.

4. Nameplates do not teach respect for books. What is your responsibility as the book’s owner, aside from writing your name in the book?

The nameplate solution:

Image of a nameplate consisting of a boxed vertical rectangle with six lines for children to write their names. The box is titled Book Caretakers. A footer in the nameplate reads: This book is for sharing. Enjoy, take good care, then pass it on.1. The title ‘Book Caretakers’ assigns a position of honor and responsibility to the child.

2. Multiple signature lines imply the book’s intrinsic need to be shared. If used as intended, a true chain-of-ownership comes to light.

3. The footer statement spells out what has already been implied – as the owner of this book you should take good care of it and share it when you are done.

Help with the design

Maybe I’m the only one who wants this nameplate, but I’d appreciate your suggestions.

It’s a bare bones design at this point, a 3 1/3″ x 4″ shipping label turned on its side. You can find these labels at any office supply store, six to a sheet. The idea is to make a PDF that people can print at home.

It needs the touch of a graphic designer, but there’s not a lot of space to work with given the number of signature lines that must to be included.

Kids write big, so only six lines fit at this size. More lines can be squeezed in if we assume parents will be writing the child’s name. That is the case 90% of the time in the hundreds of nameplates I’ve seen.

An alternative is to use a larger half-sheet 8.5″x5.5″ label, but that increases the cost. The smaller labels come 150 to a box while half-sheet labels are 50 to a box.

Perhaps the lines should be numbered to clarify that the extra lines aren’t for your address and phone number.

The title of the nameplate is also undecided. What word should identify the book owner and with what phrase, if any?

  • This book’s caretaker:
  • Book stewards:
  • Booksitters:
  • Guardians of this book:
  • Keeper of the book:
  • ?

After I get a nameplate designed for my personal use, I’ll be smacking it on top of names already in my kids’ books. I’ll record the first child’s name, then my daughter’s name.

Next, I’ll be designing a rubber stamp for my daughter’s school. Our Parent Teacher Organization gives away hundreds of new books every year, and individual teachers give books as gifts.

That strikes me as something of a marketing opportunity. We can spread the books-are-for-sharing philosophy and piggyback a message about our school. In a few short years our name will spread far and wide in our community – if families embrace sharing.

I am excited by the idea of opening a book cover and seeing a long list of children’s names, a recording of the true continuum of sharing that books engender as they are enjoyed family-to-family.

Whatcha think? My froofy philosophical meanderings aside, what verbiage and ideas do you have for the nameplate?


16 Responses to “Work-in-progress: The Ultimate Children’s Book Nameplate”

  1. Jeanne says:


    June 29th, 2009 at 3:21 am

  2. Christy says:

    I’m partial to “If found, please return to…”

    June 29th, 2009 at 4:10 am

  3. The Meanest Momma says:

    Okay, while not really seeing eye to eye with you on the whole “it’s sacrilege to claim ownership of a book”, I do think your idea is a great one and I support the concept you came up with.

    I have to say, I chuckled at your statements of faith. Reminded me of our church’s statement of faith – affirming the doctrine was essential to church membership.

    As far as practical suggestions – what you have isn’t bad. I think I like CareTakers better than stewards or your other suggestions. I’ll keep thinking about it…


    June 29th, 2009 at 5:01 am

  4. Jennifer says:

    I’m with Kendra on this. While I don’t see eye to eye with you on the ownership of books, I do like the idea of a Book Caretaker booktag.

    I think it would be great to see some books travel through different hands.

    On the other hand, I have over 1,000 children’s books alone that I share with others by reading with them or allowing them to borrow; but I do expect them back. I’m like a library that way.

    June 29th, 2009 at 6:33 am

  5. Tiffany says:

    Love the idea- whether you share within the family or share with the world, books are meant to be read. I’ve actually been reclaiming some of my old, old books from my mother’s classroom, where they’ve been well-loved (or loved to death) by her students for the last 20 years. Fortunately, some are still intact and can be passed on to my son now. For some reason I like Keeper of the Book. Books are knowledge, after all!

    June 29th, 2009 at 6:51 am

  6. anjii says:

    I like it as is, but with numbered lines, to make the point clearer. I also think it’s a GREAT idea, and while I will continue to keep our favorites, the classics and sentimental ones, I would definitely use this for all of the books that we don’t love enough to keep once the kids outgrow them.

    June 29th, 2009 at 10:38 am

  7. holly says:

    You’re bookplate idea reminds me of grade school. We would write our names in the back of our textbooks, below the name of who used that book the previous years. Also, just like the old check out cards that were inserted in the backs of library books (that are now illegal due to privacy isssues). It was fun to see who else checked out that copy of “Green Eggs and Ham”.

    You could make the plates look like library cards. I like Book Caretakers. Or what about “This book read by…”?

    June 29th, 2009 at 12:48 pm

  8. gertie says:

    How about “This book was enjoyed and shared by…”

    June 29th, 2009 at 3:07 pm

  9. adrienne says:

    Books die? Not on my watch, mister.

    Just kidding.

    Your bookplate reminds me of a book I received from one of my mom’s friends after a half dozen other people had enjoyed it.

    This very funny book was still in beautiful condition, it kept circulating through my friends. Somewhere along the way people started writing their names in it and their brief impressions.

    Periodically it would find it way back to my house, and I loved seeing what people had written.

    The idea compelled me to join, but the response rate was so much lower than the inscription method. I often pick up that title at book sales to see if the book has found it way back to my life again.

    Since then, a few of my favorite pass-around books have similar reader logs. I’m sure they wouldn’t please you, but some people find the comments and signatures quite charming.

    Shipping labels aren’t great for books, so I prefer your stamp idea.

    June 29th, 2009 at 3:09 pm

  10. RookieMom Whitney says:

    I like your thinking here. I bought my husband a copy of PostSecret a few years ago, knowing that it’s a little silly to spend money on a coffee table book that he would look at for one day and then store underneath a stack of books, underneath the coffee table. So, I wrote inside that the book was FIRST given to him by me. Then I wrote that it was NEXT given to {blank} by him, so that it was clear that it was meant to be passed along. He regifted it with my full endorsement a month later. I hope it has been regifted multiple times.

    June 29th, 2009 at 8:55 pm

  11. Amber says:

    adrienne makes an excellent point.

    Whatever you decide to use for your label, make sure you use acid-free and not the cheap shipping labels that use the cheapest adhesive available. Especially if you want it to last through many owners.

    June 29th, 2009 at 9:07 pm

  12. Andrew says:

    looks like a good idea.

    While I was reading this article, I also thought of a possible alternative. In books that have the “This belongs to:” field, one could cut a post-it note down to just the sticky part and place it on like a temporary sticker. That way, it could easily be removed when the time comes.

    In the “Read-Aloud-Handbook,” by Jim Trelease, parents are actually encouraged to write the name of their child their books. It is meant to connect the child with the books or something.

    In any case, your idea is good because it makes the child feel connected with the book but also encourages sharing.

    June 30th, 2009 at 9:18 am

  13. Lori says:

    I like the idea behind what you’re going for here (sharing the enjoyment of the book), but in my opinion putting this nameplate in a book is no different from the 10 ways to deface a children’s book you posted about earlier. It’s just defacing it in a different way.

    Like you mentioned, the whole name in the kid’s book thing seems to be more for the parents than the actual kid, so how is this going to be any different? I’m sure it all depends on the age of the kid, but for the most part I think it’s still something more for the parents to fill out and enjoy.

    July 1st, 2009 at 7:39 pm

  14. AJ says:

    Good point Lori. That’s why I’ll only be attaching the nameplate in those books of mine that have already been ‘defaced’ by previous owners.

    As for nameplates in donated books, well, that’s the prerogative of the organization that bought the books to give away free.

    July 1st, 2009 at 9:22 pm

  15. MIdge says:

    LOVE this idea. I think your label looks great as is.

    July 2nd, 2009 at 5:18 pm

  16. Noreen says:

    Kind of like the concept of Book Crossing. I love releasing books into the wild for other to find. Though I must say I have not been that active lately. I have just been donating our books to the library

    July 3rd, 2009 at 10:55 pm