Ten minutes on book burning and three year olds

Book burning is a heinous crime in our house. As is book vandalism, book tearing, page ripping, book shredding or book re-cycling. Dog-earing pages, marginalia and sticky notes are acceptable. Creasing spines isn’t something supermum seems to pay attention to but gets filthy looks from me. Which supermum ignores.

The context is little elf who’s developing a bad habit of attacking anything related to a momentary instance of frustration or displeasure. This morning, it was the turn of a Thomas book she wanted to someone to her read now. Now. I didn’t wake up fast enough. A few moments later, I heard the sound of paper tearing from below eye-level at the bottom of our bed. Little elf (who’s three, by the way) was sitting there systematically removing each page with the kind of sullen precision an American Bible-belt schismatic Methodist would have been proud of.

“Naughty! You NEVER hurt books!”

I scooped her up, wailing and suddenly aware she was disapproved of, and dumped her firmly on the Thinking Step. I managed to leave her there for about two minutes before I went back and picked her up feeling like an atrocious bully.

“Are you sorry for hurting the book?”


Little arms flung around my neck. Disintegration of discipline effort. I don’t know what she took in but hopefully her books will be safe for a little while.

Could I have handled it better? Almost certainly. But I’d react the same way to biting and when you attack a book, you’re attacking a living embodiment (living in the sense of all the constructions and sense-makings we read onto, over and into books) of learning and I want my children to grow up knowing that learning is to be accumulated, interrogated, rejected even, but never destroyed or treated with disrespect. Unless…well, the ‘unless’ and all the other caveats can come when she’s a bit older. Meanwhile don’t hurt books.

I know, it’s a lot for a three year old to take on board, let alone a Thomas the Tank Engine Ladybird book. But there you go.


About Dad Who Writes (Gabriel)

Writing, reading, listening, parenting... On Twitter as @dadwhowrites. View all posts by Dad Who Writes (Gabriel)

10 responses to “Ten minutes on book burning and three year olds

  • Selina Kingston

    It’s a lot to take on board because being affected, inspired and in love with books and what they represent is a difficult concept to understand if you don’t share the sentiment. I love my books but I have no issue with turning down the corners of pages, creasing the spine, underlining beautiful examples of writing, leaving greasespots and other evidence of whatever I may have been drinking or eating while reading – it’s all a form of expression of my love for them. But my daughter is very disapproving of that behaviour. She is a voracious reader and she has amassed a huge number of books, all in pristine condition because she has such huge respect for them. She hit at her brother once when he picked one up and then after reading the blurb, threw it down. He felt very unfairly treated especially as I spent more time trying to explain her behaviour to him than telling her it was unacceptable.
    But you’re right! Don’t hurt books is a good way to put it.

  • Ally

    I had the same sort of conversation with Princi when she was that old. But it was my books and her Nan’s books that she’d been ripping to pieces. Now she has almost as many books as me, not all in pristine condition – Charlie and Lola books are particularly battered and food-stained, but when she takes out one of my books, she’s very careful to look after it! Although, the bigger her books get, the more she seems to take care of them. She’s had her first few novels recently and she looks after them very well.

    Speaking of novels, she just back now from her school club and I’ve promised to read the last two chapters of Ghosts and Gadgets to her. So, that’s what I’m going to do.

    But yes – Don’t hurt books!

  • Jane

    My grandfather in law threw on of my books in the bin when we were moving a year ago. I did not react well. Ironically it was The Uses of Literacy by Richard Hoggart. (sp?). I did rescue the book, and apologise to my Granddad in law for shouting at him. But books even bad ones don’t get binned.

  • Pippy

    Just wondering, at what point do the words weaved together for the purposes of making a book become a book?

  • Mwa (Lost in Translation)

    I was struck the other day by how tattered children’s books look in other households and how neat in ours. They get read and used all the time, but they are loved and taken care of, and the children are being taught how. There can be no other way for me.

    Having said that, I now do crease spines because I just couldn’t peer between the pages any more while trying to read in bed and not wake Babes. But they are cracked neatly and at regular intervals.

  • Barbara

    I agree completely. My children know not to hurt books and that if they don’t like them then someone else will.

    I like your thinking step, I think that’s a great idea. I will adopt it for our bottom step, if you don’t mind.

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