Shelf Life

We have been a bit underwater lately, making
changes to our house that were embarked upon in order to create many calm and pleasing
spaces, but as they were happening created only chaos, mayhem, and

But now, two readers have their very own rooms, and their
very own bookshelves.

Which has brought to the forefront of my mind
(which heretofore was apparently empty) where the heck do you shelve
those tricky books that you don't know where to shelve?

To wit:

have posted about my struggles with this very intense and amazing book before, and what I decided to do then was to just leave on my shelf and not think about it anymore. Denial,
as we all know, is an extremely pleasant refuge.

But then
we had to move about 1 million books, and there I was with it in my
hand again, and I had to think it through all over again. Diana will be 11 on
Friday—should this book be on her shelf? No doubt she's read about rape
a whole bunch of times, but this is a powerful, visceral book; if I put
it on her shelf, she will read it. Do I want to be pushing something
like this on her right now? But if I don't, then I am keeping it from
her, which also feels wrong. What to do?

And then there's this:

This book scared
the pants off me when I read it as a kid. I mean, absolute terror. A girl finds a ragged
little cat, and soon after begins to hear a voice in her head urging
her to do bad things. Is the cat evil? Possessed? Is the girl
possessed? What is right and wrong, and how do we know it? What do we
do with all the rage that is locked inside us?

Add to this that my child is very cat-focused. And that, did I adequately convey this?—this book
really REALLY scared me. I found it at my childhood home a few years
ago, grabbed it, and stashed it away in the top of my closet (see?
Denial! It's the greatest!).

But now I have emptied my closet, and there I was holding the book in my hand. Where do I put it? Again, if I put it on her shelf, she will read it. And be terrified. But
if I keep it from her, I am being an overprotective jerk who is denying
my child a book that would fascinate her, and that is really made for
someone of just her age and interests? What to do?

And then, there are Hop on Pop! And One Fish, Two Fish! And more that I will talk about when I can get it together to write about it next!

OK, the Seuss books are great works of art, I think. But SOME people think they are
too mature for these books. And I feel vaguely pathetic, and as though
I am wistfully holding on to a time that is now passed if I put them
on my bookshelf. But they are so beat up no one will love them! And
everyone has a copy!

Oh what to do? What to do? What to do?

15 thoughts on “Shelf Life

  1. Nothing wrong with holding on to (some) Seuss and other of that ilk for smaller visitors (cousins, etc.). There’s your reason/excuse for that. Also, we find our kids like to go back to “easy” books sometimes, almost as nostalgia/relief from the “harder” books they are mostly reading now.
    As to the scary ones–I’d hold them just a little longer if i were you. She’ll be exposed to this stuff plenty later and if you can shield her from some now–I honestly don’t see the harm. But maybe I’m overprotective too.


  2. Shelving is indeed a challenge. I would keep a shelf in your room of temporary orphans, knowing that one day they will live in the appropriate place but perhaps not yet. I have one bookcase that contains “books that I know I can give away once read.” They aren’t allowed to live with the permanent books (although occasionally after I read one, I decide I can’t part with it and it does migrate to the others…). This is part of an ongoing effort to scale down.


  3. I’m definitely overprotective but I think 11 is too young for Speak. I read it as an adult, loved it, but it was very intense. The main character is a high school freshman, so, what? 13? 14 years old? I probably wouldn’t give it to my daughter until at least then.
    Of course if I had my way my daughter would never know about rape and bullying and teenage angst. Did I mention that I’m overprotective?


  4. Re the Seuss–keep those for your GRANDKIDS. Half my kids’ books were mine as a child……Dr. Seuss, Little Bear, Caps for Sale, etc. I haven’t read the other 2 so not sure….


  5. I read The Witches of Worm when I was 11/12 and it scared the crap out of me, too. And I STILL remember it (along with House of Stairs by William Sleator, which also freaked me) though I wouldn’t say fondly. I’d wait a bit on it, and let her find it at the library for herself, if it grabs her interest.


  6. I’d give her the cat book. First of all, what scares our kids is rarely what scares us. Secondly, I just don’t believe in trying to hold back those things. Of course, I was 11 when I read my first Stephen King, so what do I know?
    On the rape book, I haven’t read it, but I would encourage you to let her read it (with lots of discussion from you) BEFORE high school. As someone who was very naive in high school and watched friends get hurt and never had any words for it, I think she needs to have this info and have processed it before it becomes important. (I’m also writing it down, so I know where to start with my 5 year old when she’s a few years older.)
    And keep the Seuss. Make a book basket and tuck away somewhere and pull it out when you have little company.


  7. I am on the over-protective side of the fence. Kids run into things that scare them all by themselves, they don’t need any help with that. It’s not like they brought the books home and you took them away from them. There are many books that I have read that I won’t hand over to my kids. If they bring them home themselves? Well. We will cross that bridge when we come to it.


  8. I agree with most everyone else. Overprotective. Check!
    Small shelf of little gems I can’t give up “for when we have younger visitors.” Check!
    Though I can see Jessi’s point that being aware of the dangers before you get to high school could be helpful.


  9. I’m with Jessi on The Witches. Of course, you know your daughter and we don’t and you may know full well that it’ll scare her too. But I found that, though my daughter and I had similar tastes, we weren’t affected the same way by books at all. So I’d maybe hand Witches to your daughter and tell her that it scared you a lot but if she’s in the mood for a scary book, she might want to try it.
    And I agree that 11 is a little young yet for Speak…though again, you know your daughter best.
    Could you have a bookcase (or shelf) somewhere in the house for books-you-may-or-may-not-be-ready-for-but-might-like-to-check-out-when-you’re-wanting-something-new-to-read? My daughter knew she could try anything from any shelf…only once did I ask her not to read something she wanted to read because (and I told her this) there was one very graphic scene in it that I wished wasn’t in my head and that I didn’t want in her head…certainly not at age 12. (It was a science-fiction novel by an author we both liked.) Otherwise, she was pretty good at self-selecting.
    I’d be tempted to dump the Seuss…but then I never really cared for him. I’ve certainly held on to plenty of books for sentimental reasons. I’ve got shelves of old picture books!


  10. You’re not keeping books from your daughters just because you don’t hand them over and tell them to read them. If you’re not sure, don’t leave them out right now. If they find them elsewhere (library, friends) and are interested, well then they’re interested and you’ll deal.


  11. Hello Diamond, thanks for your blog, which I’ve only discovered in the last few months. I haven’t read Speak, but judging by your own reluctance, I’d say keep the book up high another couple of years. It’s not a question of subject matter, it’s a question of treatment. The more gifted and imaginative the reader, the more intensely felt is the experience of the book. Reading for these children is entering into a world and living the life of the character. Given that she’s read about rape before, and she’ll be entering high school soon, perhaps it’s better to discuss it with her, in this instance, than have her “experience” it.


  12. Keep your most precious picture books! I have a box that will never be allowed to grow past a single box. MOST precious. 😉 The girls will be delighted to revisit them as adults, maybe even as parents.
    Add a sweet/silly inscription and date inside the cover of the ones you keep and they will be a treasure beyond their 25cent yard sale value when they come back out.
    love love love your blog. Thanks!


  13. When it comes to the bigger picture of what to do with books you’re concerned are too old (or scary or mature or whatever the word is) for your kids, I don’t know quite what to say. As yet, my only independent reader is 6. So though there are certainly books in our house that I think are too mature for him, I’m not really concerned about him reading them. The same with the “outgrown” titles; I don’t know exactly how you decide when someone is too old for a certain book. But in purely practical terms, my parents had a book system that worked wonderfully for our family and is working well for us now. Essentially, we had both private and public bookshelves in our house. Each of us kids had a bookshelf or other book storage in our room, and our parents had the same. That was where we kept our books. And they got swapped and shared, but you knew they were yours, and if you wanted to borrow someone else’s, you had to get permission. But then there were all these shelves full of books–adult books, kids’ book, and in between–that weren’t claimed by anyone in particular. That’s how I could go reread books I had officially outgrown, how I discovered “The Catcher in the Rye” and “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” They weren’t officially suggested or labeled inappropriate, and I think that gave us a lot of freedom to just look and see what appealed, then to read it in our own time.


  14. I think Speak is an amazing book that should be read by every teenage girl. It practically saved my life when I read it–I was the same age as the protagonist, with a similar set of experience–so I do feel strongly about its brilliance and necessity. That said, it is pretty rough. I’d said 12-13 is the right age for it… I’m not sure if it has its full impact for readers who are not yet in high school. Because, yeah, it’s about rape, but it’s also about bullying and ostracization and the living hell of high school and I just don’t know if its ability to inspire empathy in those cruelest of years would come through for younger readers.


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