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kids books: keep or cull?

May 17, 2012

Every six months or so I pack up a batch of clothes and toys that the kids have outgrown. I’m pretty tough-hearted about it. I recently put our rocking chair—the one I nursed someone or other in for a total of 6 years—on Freecycle. My heart clenched for a brief moment but mostly I like the feeling of passing on what is no longer needed.

But books! I’m sure we’re over our holding capacity. Dan and I long ago realized that we only had enough space for reference books and a few can’tpartwith others. (We share a dresser, but each have our own bookshelf, which explains why I look the way I do). But the kids! Each book they own represents some precious strata on the geological timeline of their childhood. Like, The Snowy Day, which we read everyday when Rose was 22 months just to hear her say “snow. fall. plop. Peter (pee-tah). head.”

Puppet show, Rose at 22 months and Col in his winged-hair stage.

Somehow the three books we read over and over to Col in the NICU contain the particular weight of a 2-pound baby in my arms and all the attendant emotions.

Make way for ducklings – such a classic! Mr. Brown Can Moo – I remember when Col would recite this book! On the night you were born – so I can cry on every birthday until they’re 70!

There are some books we haven’t read for 3 years but fingering their pages is like time-traveling.

How do you manage your children’s book collection? How do you decide what to keep, what to cull?

Whew – such deep questions for a Monday.



* use your words giveaway open until Wednesday morning. Thanks for your essays, brave Mamas!

25 Comments leave one →
  1. Nana Judy permalink
    May 21, 2012 7:16 am

    Parting with books is really hard! I have even gone out and re-bought a book that I loved reading with my kids – Col & Rose’s dad Dan & Uncle Cory. I couldn’t be without HANSI, Ludwig Bemelmans’ first children’s book – i.e. pre-Madeleine. HANSI is about a little boy who goes by himself to visit his uncle, aunt, cousin & animals in the high Alps. Among their adventures: the children put skis on a dachshund and send him down the mountain. You have to go read it to see the pictures and find out what happens. The book was out-of-print and quite expensive, but I couldn’t NOT get it! Recently, Bemelmans’ grandson – also an author/artist – came to town and I showed him HANSI. The grandson said that when he was growing up it was his favorite of his grandfather’s books & he didn’t have it any more and would have to go buy one for his 3-yr old daughter. I told him, yes, he had to do that!

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      May 21, 2012 10:32 am


      That is so great that you were able to connect with the grandson of such a beloved author!

  2. May 21, 2012 9:07 am

    Ugg.I am the same way as you. I have saved most all of our books, except for the ones that have gotten too mangled or ones that were not very nice in the first place. Even when I think a book is way too babyish for Finn (now 4), he will suddenly pull it out and want me to read it over and over again. So many memories, I agree!

  3. May 21, 2012 9:54 am

    you’ll get no help from me. i have the same affliction. i think i will read all the comments and see if i can learn how to cull. i’ve got no plans for future babies, so it should be relatively easy, but even if i got past the sentimental stuff, sometimes quinn will pick up a younger book and then i think oh, duh. really big print and really few words- beginning reader stuff. so i feel the need to keep some around just for that. ok maybe once he IS reading i will get over it. love the shared dresser. don’t worry, you’re hot in your shared wardrobe.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      May 21, 2012 10:34 am

      True, true. We have just discovered that the kids’ old books are now great practice reading books for Col, (and soon, Rose) which is pretty crazy and exhilarating to hear your kid reading the very books you read to him over and over.

  4. teresa permalink
    May 21, 2012 10:10 am

    oh yes… to join in with the crew here. i am awful with getting rid of books! (equally awful with saying no to getting books at library/garage sales). books are such good medicine! i am a full on book addict myself, so why would my daughter’s book shelves be any less bulging than my own? ha ha.

    the only ones that i can bare getting rid of are SOME old board books, when they are totally chewed and loved to bits. (honestly though, i keep some of those ones too. in the big box of certain baby/kid clothes that i just cannot part with and i am determined to turn into a quilt).

    can’t really help you i suppose, but if the biggest collection that you or your children have is books… you are in a very good place. a place filled with knowledge and adventure and memories!

    so glad to know that i am not alone in this one…


    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      May 21, 2012 10:36 am

      Yes, books are indeed good medicine; my insurance against other not so good addictions.

  5. Rachel permalink
    May 21, 2012 10:11 am

    I only ever feel good about giving beloved books that we don’t frequent anymore to new humans… my friend’s children…. otherwise, I am a library. =)

  6. Melissa permalink
    May 21, 2012 10:23 am

    we are overflowing with both children’s and adult books and i imagine the collection will only grow, not diminish. books, records and movies are dear to my husband and he loves collecting books for the kids, too. as we move forward in our increasingly digital age, there’s a part of me that doesn’t mind the piles of books . . . the toys, they can go, but the books can stay.

  7. Jamie permalink
    May 21, 2012 11:59 am

    Hey Rachel,
    As a kid-lit professional, I can offer you entirely unsentimental, practical advice: Keep the obscure books you love. You will always, always be able to find Make Way for Ducklings or the Snowy Day, but most picture books go out of print really fast. If you adore it and it’s not a super-big-deal classic, that’s what you should keep.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      May 21, 2012 12:18 pm

      unsentimental, practical advice very much appreciated.

  8. May 21, 2012 2:06 pm

    Everything we love is at the library. We check them out repeatedly, sometimes according to season and sometimes not, and discover new things as we grow. I keep lists of our favorites so we don’t forget them in the stacks and to have something to pass on for posterity. We have a very small collection at home, but honestly those ones just don’t get read as often as if they made a big appearance once every couple of months. Also, they are the ones the library doesn’t have. Cull, baby, cull.

  9. May 21, 2012 3:07 pm

    This is such a good question. I will toss even a sentimental book if the binding has been chewed irrepairibly (thanks to my second child when he was teething, most of our books have been marked in this way). But the one inscribed to my daughter by my recently deceased Grandmother? Even if it’s chewed binding is falling apart, I will never part with it. I love how a child’s book or an article of clothing (or even a baby blanket or toy) can instantly transport you back to a developmental time. Kudos to you for passing on the rocking chair, which I don’t know if I could have done (not just yet anyway). I love the part about how you and Dan share a dresser but not a bookshelf!!! My parents solution to the book problem was to keep ALL of my childhood books, unbenounced to me, and then give them to me to deal with after I had my kids. Alas, now I have even MORE books to sort through!

  10. May 21, 2012 3:14 pm

    Keep the classics and your favorites . They will be a great gift for eventual grandkids and Col and Rose will enjoy telling about their memories of the books. I am a new grandmother and my children were thrilled to see their old favorites again and surprised that I had kept them. Rest of the books donate or give away….. Then make regular trips to the library for their great collections!! I created a library form for each kid (and me, too) to list their books and due dates which helped with ontime returns. (helps writing skills, too) Libraries are a great place to store books!

    • Emily permalink
      May 22, 2012 3:20 pm

      “libraries are a great place to store books” I need to tattoo that onto the back of my hand.

      I agree with Jamie, to keep the hard to find stuff, b/c the classics can always be found. I also keep a shelf (or maybe two…) of early readers for my beginning readers. Sadly, I have been know to buy a book we already own and love from the thrift store b/c I find it heart wrenching to leave it there, unloved.

  11. katy permalink
    May 21, 2012 3:46 pm

    Good for you on the rocking chair. I can’t even get rid of any item of clothing that I’ve taken her picture in. Kid books? Keeping them all….mostly on the half-excuse that maaaybe we’ll have another one? That’ll keep me going for ten years, and by that time we’ll have two storage units and be too old and grumpy to clean them out.

  12. May 21, 2012 6:07 pm

    That’s a hard one. We’ve been blessed with so many books Jonathan had as a child. We can’t part with those. But, I do cull our other books often. If they’re not read and loved or heirloom quality, then they have to go!

  13. May 21, 2012 6:49 pm

    As I get older, and head towards a stage where kids may be on the agenda, I find myself remembering the books I loved as a kid. Some I have stored away, but others I know my mum would have long since passed on to one of my many cousins, which makes me a little sad (because I know some would be hard to find). I was hoping this would leave into an answer to your question but it hasn’t…oh well, this is what I was thinking as I read this.

  14. May 21, 2012 11:15 pm

    Ohhh….I’m so the wrong person to ask about this. Our bookshelves downstairs with adult books have maybe 100 linear feet of books. Theo has his own bookcase crammed full; Miranda has her bookshelves crammed full of board books that she won’t let go of (now that she’s starting to read on her own) and I also have a whole other bookcase in my room full of children’s chapter books. A combination of my books from when I was young, plus those that I’ve collected since then. There’s nothing like the joy of your child loving a book you loved at their age.

    OTOH there are some books I wish I could just trash without my kids noticing- I’ve really had enough of _Dora the Explorer’s Halloween Fun_ (luckily Miranda has shredded that one) and _The Princess and the Pea_. Yes, I know it’s a classic. I still hate it.

    I agree with Jamie’s advice, though- if you have an obscure book you love, try to keep it. I recently tracked down a hardcover copy of Joan Aiken’s _A Necklace of Raindrops_. One of my very favorite books as a child, and Theo loves it just as wholeheartedly. My 35-year-old paperback copy is now loved to pieces. I’m happy to have a hardcover copy, but disappointed that the illustrations are not the same.

  15. May 21, 2012 11:33 pm

    I’m keeping them. I already know a few that I’ll hold on to. Those ripped, taped, worn pages instantly transport me back to a stage of my kid’s childhood. That’s hard to find. I’ll choose carefully, I don’t want to water-down the sentimentality with too many, but I’m keeping some. And I agree with someone up there, they would make good first-readers.

  16. May 22, 2012 12:26 pm

    I’ve hardly given away any of my girl’s books. But I know the day will come. Soon. As an adult, I’ve found old copies of a few of my childhood favorites online, which has been a joy, and presumably Lucinda could do the same – if she can remember their names (my biggest challenge). I won’t have a hard time getting rid of Dora books or Scooby Doo’s. But the Rhoald Dahl’s… I don’t know. When I cull my own books, I use my iPod camera to scan the bar code and get it documented in Goodreads, before I get rid of it, so I have someplace to look if I’m ever trying to think what book that was. If there’s not a bar code, it doesn’t take long to document it there. So maybe if there’s no room for even Lucinda’s well written and illustrated books, I’ll start a Goodreads account for my girl, and print the list out every few years to tuck into her photo albums so she can remember a little more easily if she wants to find them someday. Or I’ll just drive them over to your house and leave them on the curb in the dark of night.

  17. rose permalink
    May 22, 2012 12:30 pm

    ha! i too let go of the beloved rocking chair whose cushion was formed to the shape of my butt and wondered, how will anyone else sit in this thing? and now here i am with another baby and no rocking chair! lesson enough to never get rid of anything, ever. okay, maybe not. as for books, oy. that’s tough. we really don’t buy a lot of books. we are regulars at the library and i only buy the ones we really love and have already paid for in late fees. right now i don’t intend to get rid of any, but given a couple more years that may change. so, apparently i’m no help at all, but thought i would chime in just the same. feeling chatty i guess. ;)

  18. May 23, 2012 6:58 am

    My husband is convinced we’re all going to die in a crushing avalanche of books. I’ve gotten rid of some over the years, but I have boxes of them in the attic, under beds, they are stacked in corners, under tables and sofas. I still have books that were my favorites when I was a girl that I have passed along, so he knows this is a losing battle he is fighting.

    I have thinned the collection over the years – I get rid of duplicates, books that aren’t good or books that were given to my daughter when she had already passed that reading level. She was given a whole set of the “Fancy Nancy” books when she was in second grade and had started reading “Little Women”. I don’t think she opened them more than once.

  19. altaredspaces permalink
    May 23, 2012 10:10 am

    I’m amazed at the brave people here who can let go of books. This has been my most difficult “let go.” I’ve been through our books probably 8 times now, letting go of a few more each time.


    I was proven at some level how profound a book from childhood can be when my sister-in-law visited last summer. I scooped the newborn baby out of her arms and began to read the stash of board books I’d read to my children. I am a VERY animated reader of board books.

    My sister-in-law was transfixed! This was reading? This is something to DO with a baby?? I didn’t realize it was something I did, I’d just done it. Then my daughter began to name all the books from her childhood. I actually teared. Am tearing now. To quote Meg Ryan, “When you read a book in your childhood it becomes a part of you like at no other time in your life.”

    We bonded over those books, my children and me. Those books are our hugs. Our trail of intimacy.

    Get a box or two, Rachel. It’ll be OK to save a few. The world can have your rocking chair.

  20. Ania permalink
    May 24, 2012 10:46 am

    The only thing that worked for me – but will be of no use to you, as you are well settled where you are – was moving here across the ocean. Books are too heavy to take with you when you’re allowed just one suitcase! Now, having only the essential furniture, sharing one of those original suitcases with my husband as our dresser, we do have 3 bookshelves of mostly children books I picked up at thrift stores and library nooks here. They are lovely, they open up all new world for me, and I’m not getting rid of them unless I really have to!

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