Every home suffers book casualties. They are a tragic but not wholly avoidable byproduct of having lots of good books, lots of rowdy toddlers and a mother with imperfect training techniques on “how to treat a book.” I do try very hard to model good book behavior and we immediately correct things like throwing or improper handling… but I am still amazed at the variety of ways my particular family is able to destroy good books (ahem: ripping, cutting, soaking with water, painting in, yanked apart bindings, glued pages, eating, etc.)
Because I acquire books on a regular basis with thrift stores, garage sales, hand-me-downs or the like, I try very hard to just accept the deaths of books as part of life and look at each horror as an opportunity to practice the art of detachment. This is quite the challenge for book lovers; but I truly believe it is the only healthy way to build and maintain a home library… one located right in the middle of where real life happens. At this point in my mothering career, I am no longer trying to “build a library” so much as I am trying to maintain what we own and carefully refine it (rehoming unused titles, replacing softcovers with hardbacks when I find them cheap, etc.). Just the occasional book novelty makes it’s way into our home nowadays, usually as gifts. “Books, like friends, should be few but well chosen…”
This week, we suffered a genocide. I was very distracted in making supper and trusted that the 4 and 6 year olds taking a bath were being fairly responsible because I could hear them splashing and laughing. Little did I know that the two year old had thrown in 5, FIVE beloved board books into the tub and the older children found it a naughty moment of comedy rather than a chance to quickly do the right thing and stop her. (Experience has shown that wet books CAN be salvaged up to a point depending on point and duration of contact… but these were floating about for a good 10 minutes and waterlogged beyond repair.) I was livid and sad all at once. But I will not be intentionally replacing those books. While some great titles were lost that day— ones I value and find to be excellent— none of the lost 5 were the children’s MUST-HAVE books.
I have learned that the books I love most of all, aren’t necessarily the ones the children do and vice versa. While all the titles we own are what I consider to be on the scale of ‘good’ thru ‘excellent’, I am sometimes surprised at which ones gather the most affinity and affection from the children. Of our hundreds of titles, there are only a very few books I allow myself the luxury of INSISTING that we own. Long ago have I reconciled myself to the fact that we simply can’t own every great book ever written and that the library is a suitable thing to utilize. Every other book in the house has to be handled with care and attention but not to the point that it turns into a vain materialism; life with children requires sacrifice…
Anyway, I thought it would be interesting to list out the books that I have purchased deliberately more than once. These are the ones that my kids have loved so much and so hard that life without them resulted in a distinct and noticeable loss for the child. They grieved when these books were lost or ruined. Also, the criteria for a quick repurchase (often I’m able to find it in “like new” condition for a good price) has to be that the book wasn’t destroyed out of deliberate motives or gross negligence (usually it’s accidental water spills or over-eager, teething babies… etc.). Note that this list doesn’t include every one of my children’s favorite books of all time… just the ones that have happened to been ruined/lost and replaced.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? I have bought this book no less than about 4 times now (always the board version) over the past decade. It has been the #1 favorite of two of my children and it is irreplaceable. For some reason, none of the Brown Bear follow-ups held quite so much appeal as the original has but the simple, bright, rhyming pages have been an integral part of every 2-4 year old’s life to come through my family. It is the favorite choice for my pre-readers to “read” (memorize) to younger family members…
Millions of Cats I am happy this one is so well-loved in my home because it is one of the 4-5 titles I distinctly remember my own mother reading to me over and over again. My middle son adores this book and that love has trickled down to the other children. I don’t remember how it was ruined, but it had to be repurchased for my family… this time in hardback.
Fly High, Fly Low. I was surprised at how heavy my son took the loss of this book. I mean, everybody loves Don Freeman, but even Corduroy took a back seat to this book for this particular child. I’m not sure what it is about this story that was able to captivate an 8 year old boy… but something did.
Mossy. Discovered at the library, my then four year old, fell in love with this story. She protested vehemently at having to return the book so we gave it to her for her fifth birthday. When it was inadvertently ruined just months later, we didn’t hear the end of it and her sadness was unbearable. (The emotional sway firstborn girls have over their daddies must not be underestimated!) So we bought it again; now it sits precariously with loose binding after so many readings…
Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks from A to Z. According to amazon.com, I last purchased this in December of 2014; it must be my third time. I’m just thankful it is one of the cheapest board books on the market; replacing it is fairly painless.
Pat the Bunny, Deluxe Edition. This is the very first children’s, picture book I ever owned. (Fun fact, this was the very first picture book I ever PURCHASED) I remember receiving it in the hospital as a gift with my firstborn. I wasn’t particularly impressed at the time and it was only when he was 8 months of so that it’s value became evident to me. This first copy survived three boys who each loved it, which I think is pretty good considering it’s relative fragility. I didn’t repurchase it until child #6 because I wasn’t able to find it in the “Deluxe Edition.” All other editions sadly omit certain activities, and that was unacceptable to me. But my daughter, now two, has loved this book fiercely… emphasis on the fierce. The cover has been ripped off by now and while we are still reading it without it, we are ready for a repurchase. Thankfully, the deluxe edition is now more readily available!
Drummer Hoff. Disclosure: this was a very recent casualty and I have yet to replace it because I want it in the spendier hardback this time, but my four year old has not forgotten… and he keeps begging for it. The fun thing about Drummer Hoff, is that while it’s clearly designed for the younger set, all my big boys (up to 13!) tend to quiet down and gather around whenever I read this book. It was well loved and we will get it again.
King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub. I love this book; the illustrations are such a delight and so is the cadence. So I am only all too happy that my children have grown up loving it too. It has been ruined and replaced twice now but I don’t mind (detachment!!!) because it’s great fun that everyone seems to enjoy…
LOVE this post! Tons and tons of empathy. I finally had to let go of most of our “book hospital” box and just resign myself to the fact that if we really loved it, we could replace it. Some of your “must haves” are new to me, so I will have to add them to “the list.”
It’s taken me a few goes to read this post. I couldn’t handle the genocide truly. But finally brave enough to rush past the intro!
Most interested to read your list of repeatedly replaced. Some I’m familiar with, some I’m not
It seems like the parents I know who are best at teaching their kids how to be careful with books are the parents who either don’t read much themselves or have kids who don’t read unless forced. My kids have destroyed more books than I want to admit to, but they happily read them on their own with no urging from me.
I would’ve cried over the board books in the tub, though. That’s just too sad.
Actually respectfully sharing that I haven’t always found that the case. We are huge book lovers here but we rarely have any books damaged. Two factors I think that contribute are; I cover all books with library book plastic, and it’s a crime unmentionable to harm books in any way. Though suspect Ellie and yourself and others also have the same reaction. So don’t know the answer why it doesn’t happen here, all I know is my kids are still talking about a book crime (3 yr old chopped a book with scissors) that happened 17 years ago, in horrified terms!
However I want to say I have the greatest sympathy for you all. I truly do.
I commend your discipline Erin! Well done…