The Role of the Book Surgeon

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*WARNING! The books in these photos have been dismembered, meaning the images may appear graphic and disturbing to bibliophiles everywhere.*

This feels like a confession–like, “Hi, my name is Nikki, and my child rips books.”

The death toll at our house has been high this past month.  It seemed like every other day I would walk into the boys’ room to find a new victim lying in pieces on the floor.  One day it was a massacre: two Eric Carle books, The Napping House, and a Mercer Meyer Little Critter had been attacked, two of them with their pages severed from their spines.

dismembered frog

We scolded and did what we could, but at one point the two-year-old laughed maniacally when we discovered his grim handiwork, and I had to lay down the unthinkable punishment:

“No more taking books to bed. No more books for you.”

I banned my kid from books. Only a week or so after Banned Books Week! Oh the irony and the hypocricy of that.

It’s funny how being faced with book mutilation is one of the mom roles you never hear about.  I’ve heard about cleaning up vomit and potty-training accidents, about being chauffeur and cook and housekeeper and laundress, about kissing owies and administering band-aids and hugs.  But I’ve often wondered if I’m the only mom carefully gluing and taping library books back together with surgeon-like precision, and handing them back to a librarian saying, “I’m sorry. I really am. Maybe I shouldn’t let my kids come here. Maybe our library card should be withdrawn. Maybe you should be saying, ‘No more books for you guys.'”

I was actually relieved to see this tweet from a fellow book-loving mom, @mawbooks:

Ugh. My kids somehow made it home with a pop-up book from the library. They should never be trusted w/ pop-ups. One piece gone already. 5:45 PM Oct 12th

I guess other people go through this too!

tape and glue

But I want my kids to have books! I want the library to be as familiar to them as a second home. I want them to take books to bed and stay up late reading. And maybe it’s silly, but I sort of believe you have to start them on that road when they’re babies, and then you have to endure the toddler years with tape and glue stick in hand.

So today I’m counting my blessings.

1.So far, he’s stayed away from the adult books, so none of the wounded have been novels.

2. As long as I’m careful to line up which side the ripe goes on, the pictures generally come back together again, even if they resemble Frankenstein’s monster a bit.

bad line-up

Rips have a right side and a wrong side, if you ever wondered.

good goldfish

Line the rips up just right, and you can hardly tell! (sort of)

3. For the most part, in the cases where we couldn’t find every single ripped piece, the holes have thankfully been on the outer edges or else on unimportant end pages.

outer edge

"I see a mule deer" right through the page! There's its nose!

end page

Almost wonder why I even bothered taping the rest of this page back together.

4. None of the books ripped lately have been library books, so the holes you see above are our problem, nobody else’s.

5. Both boys LOVE going to the library, sitting on a bean bag, and bringing me books to read to them.

Is the well-being and overall appearance of our picture book collection worth the literacy of our boys? For a bibliophile, it’s a tough choice, but I’m going with yes. It’s important to have the books in the house and to give the kids access to the books.

And the two-year-old is no longer grounded. I still find books all over his bed that’s he’s taken for reading during nap time, but thankfully they are still whole after the nap. The number of casualties has dropped for now. Maybe we’re safe again . . . until we have more kids.

Any scary damaged books stories to share? Does your collection of kids’ books look as bad as ours?

Leave a comment!

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12 responses »

  1. I’m one of those weird people who doesn’t bend the spine of the books I own, let alone the ones I borrow. When I’m done reading a book, it looks like it was never opened. My mother in law borrowed a book from me last weekend, and she returned it in a plastic bag, and promised it was not harmed in any way.

    As for the kids books, yeah, they get destroyed pretty quickly around our house. I keep them all in a basket in the corner of our living room, and try to avert my eyes when I walk by. I can’t stand it!

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  2. I love your boys! I feel bad for your books but I’m sitting in the LRC of the BYU library right now trying hard not to laugh out loud like an idiot. Your maniacal two-year-old is definitely one of my two favorite two-year-olds in the whole world. This story is a gem thanks to him. Oh, and your writing’s not half bad either ; ) I’ll buy you new books if necessary; I think it’s a sacrifice that must be made to instill a love of reading. I’ve always been impressed with how diligent you’ve been about that.

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  3. I can appreciate your mindset in this matter, and I fear that I only add to the boys’ aggression by being such a huge promoter of sports. Go team go!

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    • Well, so long as there aren’t any sports about ripping books in half (muscle contests?), we should be okay. Sports are a good outlet for agression anyway, as opposed to causing destruction and wreaking havoc. 🙂

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  4. First, let me just say that every once in a while a WordPress blog makes me green with envy and makes me consider switching from Blogger. Your nested comments feature is so gorgeous, I’m Eric Carle Green at the moment.

    Now back to the surgery.

    I never had this problem until my last child. Blame it on her LD or her CP or her innate evil, but she shredded books. I finally found a solution after one too many reconstructive jobs like the ones you depicted above (bless your heart; I feel your pain). I realized the only way to get her to respect our property was to help her feel what we felt. I threatened to destroy one of her favorite things for every item she destroyed if she continued. She was four, so she continued.

    That’s when I ripped a book apart in front of her. Next was her favorite doll. A cherished doll. So traumatic. Two favorite dolls and a book had to be sacrificed before she stopped. Now the threat of retribution hangs over her head like an executioner’s axe. Orange, her favorite cat doll, is next…

    The thing was that the book I destroyed wasn’t a favorite one. We were all glad to see it go (now there’s a resounding critique!), but the dolls’ destruction was a ruse. I ripped them apart at the seams. After many months had passed and she had finally stopped, we repaired the dolls and returned them to her. Until then, she thought they had been thrown away.

    Four years later and she still remembers, and I still have to threaten to pull out the axe, but only once a year when something inconsequential dies at her hands.

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    • Wow! That is quite the defensive tactic! I’ll have to keep it in mind as a back-up plan. It might not work as well with a two-year-old, since he might decide that if Mom’s destroying stuff, that gives him permission to do so too. But if my four-year-old were doing it, I might just resort to your method!

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  5. A couple of months ago Sadie started doing this. She’s tamed it down a bit recently. I felt so bad the first time though, because Caleb actually got in trouble (it being the first time that we had encountered the girl tearing up a book, so because I wasn’t there I just assumed). Well, he sat in time out so calmly and then when Sadie got in trouble later he apologized again, because he thought he needed to apologize for her. It was heartbreaking. Needless to say, that book was a library book that cost me $25 to replace. Now the toddlers are writing in books, so we try to keep all writing utensils locked up in this house.

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    • Twenty-five bucks? Yikes! So far we haven’t had that problem. We lost one library book, but luckily it was an early reader that only cost $5. The damaged ones I’ve so far been able to salvage enough that the library hasn’t asked me to fork over money. You’re right about writing utensils, though: I keep them locked away, too.

      Poor Caleb, though. I feel bad when oldest siblings get flac for the younger ones’ crimes!

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