The big book clear-out

Today I filled two bags full of books, got rid of them, and I’m sitting here clutching a third. This is our first big clear-out of children’s books, but their bookshelves have spilled out onto the carpet so it’s time. I took three bags…

The bin bag

What do you do with the dinosaur encyclopedia whose pages are a single papier-maché brick (milk spill)? Or the lift-the-no-flaps-left board books? They served us well but they’re now mostly sellotape and fungal spores. Bin, sigh.

A few books I was happy to hurl; mostly bad rewrites, gimmicky books, and self-published horrors.

Bad rewrites insult the original author, and take the history of literature just one more step away. Why would Peter Pan or Grimm’s fairy tales need translating into banal, easy-speak summaries? Or worse, collections of excerpts? Children have accessible reads already — in contemporary stories, school books, and letters from grandparents or friends. The world is not going to break if we give them literature that contains old fashioned words and phrases that they can’t understand; instead they’ll learn how to ask for help, how to use a dictionary, or how to use their imagination to fill in the gaps. Let them chew on what their grandparents grew up on, verily and thus. It is OK to make children work as readers; they will still come back for more if the reward, the story, is worth it. Meanwhile if we want to enjoy modern, accessible kids’ literature, let’s have new stories? How about some nice, new, diverse stories from all over the world?

(I’m aware there’s a counterargument for keeping the old tales alive, and that we only understand them at all via modernisation and translation from their Greek/Celtic/Arabic etc origins… so yes! We should keep reinventing them so they stay alive, hurray! But if we’re going to rewrite them to keep them alive, they should not be bland excerpts or oversimplified summaries for younger children, they should be retellings of equivalent complexity, tone and detail.)

Also I threw out some gimmicky books. Giving a book scratch-and-sniff patches can be brilliant; little kids love these things — but the words still need to earn their space. Googly eyes or pop out sock-puppets can’t make up for lack of narrative or tortured rhymes. And adverts that pretend to be books go in the bin for my own sanity, Disney (cough). And Lego (double cough), you make great little brick toys and we love you, but enough with the expensive hardback adverts (unless you want to bring that £300 Hogwarts castle down to £50? Because then I’d let you off.)

I also threw out a handful of self-published monsters picked up at author talks. State schools int he UK have very limited budgets and if self-published authors are (and they sometimes are) cheaper speakers, the schools have to consider inviting them instead of more expensive colleagues. This is not an excuse for self-published authors to provide the schools with second-rate product. Noblesse oblige – authors at schools have a captive audience; the children in the audience will want the book because they are children. So when my kid comes home clutching a book bought for £7, I’m expecting it to be professionally edited and well-bound. If my child comes home with a floppy paperback with no text margins, dodgy line spacing, and poor writing, I will feel like the author has taken advantage of children. Rule: if you want to take money from a child audience, you have to use a professional editing and production team. Bin. Clang.

The bag for life

This bag’s way more fun — duplicate books.

Fat Cat, The Cat in the Hat, Where’s Wally, a few dinosaur books, a Percy Jackson… and on and on; all great books, all off to new homes. Next week they’ll be shared out, for free, and I hope enjoyed by other children.

On all levels this feels good but right now, completely selfishly, I’m mostly glad to have pain-free space clearance.

The third bag

Nothing to see.

OK, I have… they’re not even really books any more; they’re 50% Sellotape, 10% dried spit, 10% food residue, and there’s not much ink left. I have duplicates of most of them. They’ve almost been thrown away several times. They’re not really here.

Each Peach Pear Plum.

Goodnight Moon.

I have newer copies, but these are the ones where you can no longer read the words. They have gum marks on the corners, and they remind me of a million cuddles. Aside from my own children, I don’t let people pick them up because they will fall to bits. Again.

Diving for Numbers (or Colours) in Hawaii.

The little books on Hawaii came from a favourite auntie, the one who sends cards full of bubbly writing with hearts and kisses. You have to hold them with two hands now.

Daisy duck visits Granny. Used to read it when we were about to see Granny. Pax tecum.

They’re in a little cloth bag. It’s soft and warm. Once the big book clear out is over, they’ll go back up on the shelves, with the little bag tucked behind them.

Safely. Because they started everything.


    • TU says:

      Aw thanks, yeah, we’re one step away from the white cotton gloves for some of these. I still have some from my own childhood (my parents are the same).


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