One of the problems that faces you when you have books for under-5s is where on earth to store them and how to look after them. Let’s face it, preschool children are not known for their care and attention to things and can be both clumsy and rather too handy with a pencil – or worse, a Sharpie! Unless you want to spend your nights struggling with sellotape and lining up loose pages you need to consider how to look after your children’s picture books.
First consider the books you buy. For children under one (and in the case of the fatally-enthusiastic even older) consider board books wherever possible. These are durable and do not rip. They make attractive teethers, however, so be careful! Offer alternatives to chew on and instil in your children from the get-go a sense that books are not to be messed with. If board books are not available then you can protect standard paper picture books (see below) but if you can avoid hardbacked books with paper pages. These make beautiful books and can become heirlooms, but make them ‘supervision only’. This is because the weight of the cover is too much for the pages and if even the most careful of children picks one up by a single page instead of the cover it will probably rip straight through.
To protect picture books use some thin cardboard and some sticky-back plastic book covering. Cut small triangles from the cardboard and glue them inside the front cover in the corners to reinforce them, then cover with the plastic. You could also use the ready made book covers, but these are both more expensive and less likely to come in the variety of sizes required.
One answer is not to let children have unsupervised access to their books, but it is important that children learn, and they will not do this unless they are allowed to handle books from the outset and see how to treat them. Obviously keep any really precious ones out of harm’s way but otherwise children should be given the opportunity to be responsible for books from an early age. They may surprise you! Have a gentle but firm system of discipline for dealing with book-related misdemeanours and stick to it – they will very soon realise how they are expected to behave. (Whether they choose to do so or not is, unfortunately, down to the individual child!)
As far as storage is concerned then you should consider a specific picture book bookcase. A standard bookcase is not much use for picture books as the spines are generally so slim that you can’t see what you are looking for, and the books are such a variety of shapes and sizes that they always look messy. They also don’t stand up properly. Something like this is ideal:
If you are wondering why a special bookshelf is necessary, consider the relationship you want to build between your child and their books. Books that are out of the way, on a high shelf, hidden, or inaccessible mean that storytime is something that an adult imposes. You choose the book; you offer it. With accessible books it is the child who considers, chooses, and asks you to read whatever it is they have chosen. They are in control, they have ownership of their own library, and that fundamentally changes the dynamic of their relationship with books – for the better. If you can’t afford a bookcase then try putting the books one behind the other in plastic crates so that they can be flicked through for browsing. The important thing is that they are at child-height and that they can look through them easily.
So protect and look after your books, and encourage your child to do the same. But don’t get too precious about it; a well-thumbed book speaks of being much-read and much-loved.