There’s nothing like a bookshelf to chronicle time passing in a child’s life. First you have the shiny new beige one that goes with the baby furniture set, filled with neatly stacked board books and a few adorably arranged softie stuffed animals. It’s tucked in the corner next to the rocking chair and lamp to create that cozy saying goodnight spot.
(It still looks sweet and perfect because the child can’t actually move yet.)
Soon it becomes littered with toys and you have to buy a bigger shelf. The child goes to school and the Scholastic books start multiplying (though you swear you won’t spend more than $10/month). You scavenge library and garage sales for treasures, older books by the authors you like and surprises that you know your kids will love as soon as you see them. Friends who know you have a day care – and piles of books all over your house – give their castaways to you.
Then one day the boys realize that the new and bigger bookshelf would be fun to climb on. You’re forced to rearrange the collection when the middle shelf collapses and an avalanche of books threatens to crush your ankles.
I’ve actually had to go to the hardware store to buy parts for my bookshelf.
I think being not only a writer, but also a life-long lover of books, makes it harder for me to give them up. I love the stories but I also love sharing them. The books I’ve saved through my whole life are the ones my mother bought me and encouraged me to read. (I think I have three complete sets of The Lord of the Rings.) What remains of my childhood book collection is in a waterproof box in the basement, and I get a laugh when I come across them.
I still have my Nancy Drews in that box, but I had boys, and feared they’d probably never be into those dated stories anyway. However, Younger Son and I just finished reading “The Shore Road Mystery” (my first Hardy Boys read despite the dual crushes I had on Shaun and Parker in the ’70s), so our next book shopping trip will definitely include a new mystery.
The titles on the bookshelf change over the years as well. There was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle phase, long over. Silly SpongeBob books are gone too, though Scholastic made a killing off those. Dinosaur books have been put aside and made a comeback more than once, so they stay. As do sharks, snakes, all topics dangerous or gross. The latest obsessions include Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, Guinness World Records, and anything with and/or about ghosts.
This morning Younger and I spent some time emptying the shelves. Weeding the books is a project we’ve been working on for weeks (because of that little problem of having piles of them all over the house). For the most part I had a good idea of what he’d want to keep but there were a few I was on the fence about. The collection of pop-up books? Keep, because they’re just really cool, even if they are for littler kids. Transformers? We’re only holding onto the make-your-own story one, I think because it’s fun to play with rather than the subject matter. Magic School Bus – out. Magic Tree House – still hanging on.
Because I’m simply overrun, it’s been easier to move three big boxes of books out to the garage (for the tag sale we may or may not have someday, then they’ll sit there for six months and get donated when we give up on the tag sale pipe dream). But I know for sure the classics that will stay. There are some popular books that didn’t work for us (“Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” – meh), and they go.
But here’s what stays: anything by Judith Viorst. Younger’s collection of scary stories for little ones, which got him through his first nightmares (like How to Get Rid of Bad Dreams, Harry and the Terrible Whatzit, and Favorite Tales of Monsters and Trolls). The Teacher from the Black Lagoon series (we have 16 out of 20). Goosebumps – still a little creepy, so I’ll hold onto those and see if the boys get interested or pass them by.
At one point I thought, this is crazy. Just let go and toss them all. There’s no reason to save books for my kids anymore.
And then it dawned on me. Someday, they’ll have kids.