Monday, June 29th, 2009
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:
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:
- 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?