Blemishing vs. Banning — Books And Baby

How do you introduce books to an infant?

I’m having trouble with this. Right now, I’m watching Toby rifle through a National Geographic book on mountains. The pictures are clearly ’70s fare–faded to blues and browns– and I don’t mind whether he bends the corners or steps on it repeatedly. He’s learning how to turn pages: the physicality of it, involving the arm and the fingers and how to move those muscles. Because the book is about as big as he is, it also involves how to move the shoulder and which part of the page to grab, how to shift his balance so he can lay on his belly and use one arm. I want him to learn how to do this.

And yet, it’s a book. A book from a thrift store that I will never read, granted. A book that will be used for a writing surface during family games and coloring times and homework, sure. A book to merely flip through just to look at the pictures. But nevertheless, it’s a book–something I revere because it holds information and it smells divine. The pages and the spine were made with care and precision. The pictures were chosen by several someones who all love the visual art. Someone took great care to write out the text, however outdated it is.

We have lots of books. We have novels, picture books, fluffy books that have only a few words per page and that are tiny. We have cookbooks and board books and cartoon compilations and lots of how-to-write books. We’ve got textbooks and coffee table books. And we also have a baby who will inevitably get into those books.

My parents had one bookshelf in the house in which I did most of my growing up. All the books from their waists down got pulled down and ripped up and drawn in and chewed up. By kids. And I saw my mom get mad at those kids for doing such destruction, but she let it happen. And we turned out happy.

Not This Dramatic, But Sometimes, We Made A Mess Like This

I don’t want to get mad at Toby for opening books and learning how to turn pages. I unpacked this apartment in such a way that Toby could get into all the books from the waist down and I wouldn’t get mad. These books can be replaced.

But then I found that when he was bored and whiny, I started handing him magazines and books saying, “This one’s okay to rip up. You can play with this one.” And that doesn’t feel right.

I know that right now, he perceives anything that opens like a book, whether it be paper, cloth, cardboard, or already-read-and-recyclable glossy, to be a book. So when I took on a totalitarian attitude and didn’t let him touch anything that even resembled a book, I knew that didn’t feel right, either. I don’t want Toby to think that he can’t touch any sort of book. That would deter him from reading eventually.

So letting him touch certain things won’t work, right? He’s nine months old. I don’t think he can discern between a book that is in his room and a book that is in the living room. Between a picture book I don’t care about and a $100 Complete Anthology of Calvin & Hobbes. I have vague ideas of just letting chance reign. Whatever takes his fancy, whatever gets struck by the writing tool he wields, is simply a small victim to innocent childlike exploration. Whatever is within his reach. I don’t think Just’In likes that, though.

Even if we would label such destruction with a date and his name. Not to hold him accountable, but to record his mark on the world. To record his interest in books. Because I would often open up a book and wonder who made this alteration. Who exerted their will here. In this book.

Consider this a muddled plea for your advice and experience. Consider it a statement of “Yeah, this concept needs further thought”. Meanwhile, he will continue exploration, I suppose.


About The Original Kate

Along with artistic tendencies, Kate enjoys unusual people and is constantly striving for some sort of nonconformity. Kate offers a perspective that is thoughtful but well-written and full of images within the words. Other tidbits that might intrigue: she has very long auburn hair, and, you guessed it, her favorite color is orange.

Posted on August 2, 2010, in From Moss-Lined Oregon, Toby Tales and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. When I was growing up, we had a shelf of “special books”–children’s books that Mom and Dad wanted to keep nice. They were put up on a shelf out of reach. The thing about that was they were rarely taken down from there, so the place they have in my memory is not the stories but the fact that they were mysterious, forbidden books, and even now that I own some of them I feel paranoid about keeping them safe. I’ve decided that for my future family, I’d like to have a special shelf, but I want to make a point of taking the books down often and reading them and entrusting them to my kids when they’re old enough to be careful. And I plan to try not to freak out if they get slightly manhandled. We’ll see if I can actually pull this off when the time comes. Like the scriptures, signs of wear are signs of use and love, right?

    • The Original Kate

      What did your parents do about the books that they didn’t care about nearly as much as “the special books”? Did they let those be ripped up and drawn in, folded and thrown, pulled off the shelf time and time again?

      Did your family have novel-type books in reach of wee ones? Books that infants clearly aren’t interested in, content-wise, but still pull off the shelves and rip up pages? Much of the book experience is the physicality of the pages and the cover—do you have any idea of how to introduce that without endangering the books themselves?

      • We had a bookshelf in our bedroom with less expensive books that we could pull down and read when we wanted to. Generally I think Mom and Dad kept the books age-appropriate–those cardboard or cloth ones when we were really small, then gradually working up from there. We drew in some books (but only on the empty pages at the beginning and end) and yeah, some of them weren’t handled very carefully, but over time we learned to respect books from our parents.

        Show Theo what a book is and how to handle it by reading to him (even if you don’t finish all the text before he decides it’s time to turn the page). Get him the cardboard/cloth books to practice on–or let him wreak havoc on old magazines–just whatever you choose to let him play with, be consistent about what can and cannot be taken down and ripped apart.

  2. I love the idea of letting your child make his mark on your books. When I was maybe 6 or 7 I played ‘library’ with my sister & we wrote inside ALL the books that were ours — we wrote the name of our invented library & fine amounts. (This was before barcodes, of course.) My mother saved a lot of those books and gave them to my children. I get a big kick out of seeing my childish handwriting in the books I now read to my kids.

    To answer your question: I had a low shelf specifically for the kids’ books. I let them do whatever they wanted to the books on that shelf, but they weren’t allowed to touch any of the others unless I sat beside them. (They actually weren’t interested in any of my books except the photo albums, and ripping into those is CLEARLY a no-no.) They’re 6 and 8 and we have a gigantic collection of intact children’s books now, so at some point — I don’t remember when — they must have learned the proper way to treat them.

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