This week when I was shelving, I watched a toddler gather several copies of Sandra Boynton’s Eek! Halloween! band solemnly carry them across the children’s department to the round table, where her mother was waiting.
“We can read these–Oh, I see you got the same book twice,” she said. (If you’re this customer, by the way–your baby is great.)
This happens a lot in our department. Especially three and unders find great satisfaction in picking up huge fistfuls of the same title. Sometimes they will walk away with one copy and then go back for more, one after the next. (Sometimes they are lost in transit and make a small trail on the floor. They may not all make it to the same location, but the intent is obvious: HAVE EVERYTHING.)
The loving adults of these babies always patiently explain that it’s all the same book, and more than one copy isn’t strictly an improvement over only one copy. The adult tries to explain that taking out the same book over and over (one we have at home!) is a mess, or an inefficient use of bookstore time. This fact is, invariably, not even a tiny bit interesting to the babies. So it’s one book over and over? AWESOME. GREAT. IT IS ONE BOOK, OVER AND OVER. If that is the book they want, they want the ULTIMATE AMOUNT OF THAT BOOK.
Watching Eek! Halloween!be lovingly gathered, I had a thought: I, too, shop for books like this.
I have on a lot more than one occasion seen a book that I love, and definitely own, on the shelves of a bookstore or library and become momentarily obsessed by the thought that THIS is the book I MUST BRING HOME. I do not need it, because I have it already, but there is this buzzer going off in my head: YOU FOUND THE CORRECT BOOK, NO OTHER BOOK WILL DO. Practicality is irrelevant. The heart wants the book it already owns because all of a beloved book is simply not enough. And that, basically, is what babies teach me is an okay way to feel.
It’s easy for us to get tired of hearing the same thing over and over. I am sure that plenty of parents out there can give me the world’s longest stare because they, not I, have read Little Blue Truck two hundred times this week. I’m kidless. I don’t get to comment on the exhaustion–and it makes perfect sense that when a family comes to the bookstore, the parents are the ones who please, please, please want to read something that they don’t have at home. (Please.)
And in part, this is I think because adults read differently. It’s not uncommon, among our returns and used book buybacks, to receive books from customers because the (adult) customer has read it once before. Sometimes the book was a gift, but sometimes a person has simply read a book, mostly forgotten it, and then accidentally bought the same book again. And they don’t want it twice.
That’s a fine way to read, but kids don’t generally read that way. They latch onto specific stories, sometimes inexplicably, sometimes to the chagrin of their adults. They read these books over and over, until the pages are covered in grime and start to fall out. If you want to meet an expert, talk to a Wings of Fire fan about dragon clans and Animus magic. If you want to know what devotion looks like, watch a thousand teen and preteen fans deliver hand-made presents to their idol when they come to pick up Joey Graceffa’s new book.
I quite frequently hear negotiations between family members: you can get one book, but haven’t you read that one before? Find something you haven’t read before. And again, I get it–adults want to be efficient. They want to make the most of their money and their reading time. They want new experiences and expanded horizons. Rereading doesn’t on the face of it seem like a great use of either time or money. It doesn’t seem to expand anything.
But kids know how to do that. It’s just that they also like to reread. Kids want to trace the familiar lines of color and story. They want to sink into characters who are their comrades and their other halves. It makes kid reading special. Their obsessive rereading is special. Their desire to gather every single Snowy Day is–well, it has to get picked up afterwards, but it’s special. It’s important. Because reading a lot of good stuff is a wonderful way to read–but loving a book so much you lose your indoor voice and ignore everything else on the shelf and wreck your copy and stand for hours to get the next one and know more than the author even does–wanting a book so much that all is not enough is an incredibly powerful kind of reading.
I, too, am an adult, and my way of reading has changed from when I was a kid. But I get to see a lot of young readers. I get to watch them adore books. And I have to tell you–I’d happily ignore a hundred award-plastered, lauded, bestselling, exquisitely crafted good books just to find one pretty good book that makes me read like that. Again and again. With my whole heart. Every copy.