When my third child was a toddler, I let her have a short amount of “crib time” each day while I homeschooled my oldest daughter. I turned on a calming CD, tossed some soft toys and board books in, and slipped off while she was playing. It was a great way for me to get some quick, focused bursts of school in with my oldest, but it did have a cost. Those beloved board books, which had held up remarkably well through my older two children and which I planned to pass on to my grandchildren (hello, over-planner), were practically destroyed, whole covers gnawed through. I’m not exaggerating.
One book was missing a whole first paragraph. Multiple books had a corner of the cardboard cover bitten right off. All of them had teethmarks.
For someone who loves books as much as I do, it was nearly tragic. It was almost worse than breaking the spine of a thick paperback (we’ll come to that later).
But there’s something to be said about having a taste for books.
Have you ever encountered a picture book called The Bee Tree? It’s the story of a grandfather and his granddaughter who follow a series of bees to their tree-top hive. Carefully, they collect the honey, sharing it with friends they’ve met along the way. But when they get home, the grandfather does something unexpected. He places a spoonful of honey on a book and tells the girl to taste….
I have to admit, the first time I read this book, my reaction was horror. That book will be forever sticky and stained, I thought. Why would someone do such a thing?
The things children put in their mouths are things they are interested in, things they love. A beloved pacifier, a thumb, mother’s hair… a book. When we read a book quickly, we often say we devoured it.
When I was writing my picture book, Library’s Most Wanted, I realized I have a natural impulse, like my protagonist Libby, to protect the books. She is deputy librarian for the day. When the other kids don’t treat the books right, she hatches a plan to protect the books by keeping kids out of the library. The kids didn’t mean to mistreat the books. But kids are messy. They are rough. They get caught up in the story and forget about the object in their hands.
But books are made to be read, looked at, poured over, not just look pretty on a shelf.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t teach kids how to handle books properly. We should. But they’ll forget. And that’s ok. The books are meant to serve the reader, not the other way around.
So, do I mind that my toddler loved her books so much that she literally ate them? That my tween is so into a story he doesn’t realize the spine is breaking? That the cover tears off a beloved book from my own childhood now that my daughter is reading it? That my teen gets food stains on a book because she can’t bear to put it down long enough to have a snack?
Not really. After all, books are made to be read and loved. The books in my house aren’t there just to look pretty. They are a feast whose ingredients I’ve deliberately gathered. They are made to be consumed.
NOTE: Library’s Most Wanted is available now!
Image by Freepik