How Children Ought to Treat Books

One of the earliest and strictest lessons to the children of the house being how to turn the pages of their own literary possessions lightly and deliberately, with no chance of tearing or dog’s ears.

Ruskin, preface to Sesames and Lilies

And my ambition now is (is it a vain one?) to be read by Children aged from Nought to Five. To be read? Nay, not so! Say rather to be thumbed, to be cooed over, to be dogs’-eared, to be rumpled, to be kissed, by the illiterate, ungrammatical, dimpled Darlings, that fill your Nursery with merry uproar, and your inmost heart of hearts with a restful gladness!

Lewis Carroll, preface to The Nursery Alice

Child! do not throw this book about;
Refrain from the unholy pleasure
of cutting all the pictures out!
Preserve it as your chiefest treasure.

Hilaire Belloc, dedication of A Bad Child’s Book of Beasts

The first two quotes are from this article. The last I found in my copy of Barlett’s Familiar Quotations.

Until recently, I’ve sided with Ruskin and Belloc, but I’m starting to see the wisdom of Carroll’s ambition.

1 Comment

  1. mdow says:

    It seems to me (and I don’t have kids of my own, maybe I’m making an untenable distinction) that there’s a difference between the well-loved and therefore well-used condition of a book that has been handled by even somewhat careful children and the mangled state of a book that has been shredded by impatient and immature hands. Like, there’s a reason board books exist for small people whose fine motor skills are underdeveloped.

    But I’m also firmly on the side that good things should be *used* and eventually *used up*. I kept my beautiful russian-imperial-pattern teacup in the back of the cupboard for a long time because I was “saving” it, but all I was really doing was wasting it. Someday an accident will happen to it. It will get bumped and go skittering across the counter in slow-motion before crashing to the floor. Or somebody will set a pot on the dish drainer and chip the rim. Or something. But at least I will have *used* it.


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