Why You Should Definitely NOT Own All of Your Kids’ Favorite Books

by Tom B.

Building a Library

Some of my daughter’s favorite books do not appear on these shelves…

I realize that this is going to sound like complete BS coming from a guy who keeps a running tally of how many books his kid has at the top of his website (a tally that the guy is terrible at updating, if you haven’t already noticed), BUT this is something I really do believe in. PARENTSYou definitely, absolutely should NOT own all of your child’s favorite books.

I get that this sounds counter-intuitive. “Why would I deny my kid something he or she loves? My child loves BOOK A. Shouldn’t I encourage my child to read in any way that I can? And wouldn’t owning BOOK A encourage them to read it at home again and again?”

Vanellope von Schweetz

Sage advice from the voice of Vanellope von Schweetz

Those are valid points and I’m not saying that your kid shouldn’t own ANY books that they love. But they definitely shouldn’t own all of them. To better explain what I mean, I’m going to lift a passage from comedian Sarah Silverman‘s totally charming (and hysterical) autobiography, The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee. In one section, Silverman introduces a maxim that she lives her life by. That maxim is “to encourage everyone, in all things, to ‘Make It a Treat.'” As she describes it:

“Make It a Treat” is similar in spirit to “everything in moderation,” but still very distinct. “Moderation” suggests a regular, low-level intake of something. MIAT asks for more austerity; it encourages you to keep the special things in life special.

The Big Elephant in the Room

My daughter loves this book…

I absolutely LOVE that philosophy and I think it’s a particularly important philosophy to re-enforce in kids. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about – Two years ago, we checked a copy of Lane Smith‘s The Big Elephant in the Room out from the library. We read it at home that night and my daughter went berserk. She went crazy for it. I have NEVER seen her laugh like that. We’re talking howls of laughter. The book KILLED her. She couldn’t have loved it more. We read it multiple times every day during the check-out period and, after we returned it, my daughter begged me to buy her a copy to keep at home.

And I said no.

Why? Because this was obviously a special book. This book was a TREAT. If she was able to read it at home every day, if it was just another book on her shelf, it wouldn’t have been as special or exciting to read. And the fact that we didn’t own The Big Elephant in the Room then became a reason why my daughter was excited to go to the library. Maybe it would be there, maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe I’d let her check it out, maybe I wouldn’t. Not having constant, immediate access to The Big Elephant in the Room kept the book special.

To this day, we don’t own a copy of The Big Elephant in the Room. We’ve given it as gifts a few times (which drives my daughter crazy), but it’s still one of our most special library books and I think, after a while, even my daughter was happy to leave it that way. But, none of this is to say that I don’t occasionally break my rule and eventually buy her one of our treat books.

I’ve mentioned this before, but she fell in love with a graphic novel called Nursery Rhyme Comics early in 2012 and, after we returned it to the library, she asked if Santa would bring her a copy for Christmas. IMMEDIATELY, I knew this was a treat book and, at the end of the year, Santa rewarded her by leaving it under the Christmas tree. You can see how she reacted here. (Spoiler alert: She was over the moon.)

“Making It a Treat” is a fantastic way to keep certain books special in your child’s extended library. But you don’t just have to rely on your local library. Maybe you buy a copy of one of their favorite books and you leave it at a relative or grandparents’ house, so it becomes a special reading experience whenever your kid visits. Maybe reserve certain books for special times or places – the book only comes out in the car, on the potty, at a restaurant, etc. Maybe you buy a copy, but you don’t keep it with the rest of your child’s books. Keep it in YOUR book collection and you’re the gatekeeper who decides when it comes out and when it doesn’t.

Delayed gratification can be a good thing for your child at times. And limiting their access to a book that they really, really love can make sure that reading said book remains a special experience.

So, when you’re building your home library, even though I know you’ll want to stack the shelves with everything and anything your kid loves, just keep in mind the philosophy of “Make It a Treat” and consider the benefits. Who knows? Maybe only reading Where the Wild Things Are a few times a year will help ensure that it remains your child’s favorite book for years to come. Stranger things have happened.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary R. February 28, 2013 at 8:12 pm

Also- when kids have too many books, it’s hard to find them! Too many choices makes anything overwhelming. And owning everything you want to read means you miss one of my favorite parts of being a reader: getting to borrow from fellow readers!

My favorite thing this week: My son wanted the next book in the Origami Yoda series. (3rd grader. I would say a great book for 5th grade… But I digress.) It’s checked out at the library until March 20th…when he falls in love with a series, he wants it now. I did an all call on Facebook- and another mother brought their family copies to dismissal, wrapped in plastic bags, in a Michigan rain-to-snowstorm. Snow Day Reading Crisis averted…

I love that we live within a community of readers!


Richa Jha February 21, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Totally love the philosophy and the post, Tom! Something which is equally true for toys, items, things, everything. I keep feeling all the time that there is just far too much of everything in our children’s lives these days that nothing any longer is special. And the special stops being special in a matter of hours. Great post! Will share it on my page soon.


Kathleen Quiring February 21, 2013 at 2:02 pm

I think this is brilliant advice. My daughter’s only 18 months old, so she hasn’t reached the point of being able to appreciate “specialness”, I don’t think [her favourite book changes every week or so], but I think it’s important to remember as I build her library.

I’ve already decided that my magnificent Narnia pop-up book will only come out on Christmas Eve — in part to protect it from getting torn up [there’s no way that fragile thing is going to be within reach of little ones], but also for the reason you describe: to keep it special.

Great post. Thanks!


Nicole McIlroy Steeves February 21, 2013 at 11:29 am

I love this, Tom. We do this especially with series, since it is financially impossible to get every single A-to-Z Mystery or Magic Treehouse. It has made Gwen take ownership of her library account – she loves requesting specific titles from a series and knows that she will get them if she makes the effort to think of asking me to get them from the library.


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