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 Someone took great care to write out the text, however outdated it is.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.
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.