In theory, I agree with Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Yet I can’t seem to quit hoarding—er, saving—children’s books.
So how many of them live in our house? Certainly well over a thousand, though I’ve never counted them (and actually don’t want to know). And no, they’re not organized alphabetically or by subject matter.
Recently I panicked when I couldn’t find To the Top! Climbing the World’s Highest Mountain, about Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s Everest quest, which had enthralled our daughters (both now in college). I ordered a new copy, just in case.
So which kids’ books can I prune?
Certainly nothing that made us laugh a lot. So keepers include everything ever written by Sandra Boynton, P.D. Eastman (Go, Dog. Go! = Stay, Dog. Stay!), Kevin Henkes, Robert Munsch, Barbara Park (Junie B. Jones, we love you, your haircut, and your smelly bus!), and Bill Peet.
Would it be OK to discard books that are unlikely to go out of print? Clifford the Big Red Dog? The Harry Potter series? Corduroy? Caps for Sale? Flat Stanley? Angelina Ballerina? Curious George? No. They’re still sparking joy.
Yikes. Then what can I tidy up (aka KonMari)? I soured on Theodor Geisel when I found out he cheated on his first wife, Helen Palmer, author of Fish Out of Water, a family favorite. Still, I can’t bear to purge any Dr. Seuss stories. Too many memories. My husband feels especially nostalgic about The Cat in the Hat. “It’s perfect—the tension with the mom coming and that bad cat,” he says. “I can remember our girls on pins and needles. What will the mother say when she gets home and sees this house?!”
Could I part with Stop, Drop and Roll? No, I keep thinking about how it helped the girls learn about fire safety. I can’t just thank it for its service yet.
Kondo might grimace because I haven’t come close to finishing the job. Still, I have tried to weed out at least a few titles. I gave our local library all ofour American Girl books—even the most spellbinding one, Meet Kit, about a Depression-era girl whose dad loses his car-dealership job and whose mom takes on boarders to make ends meet. Sad to say, I have giver’s remorse. The book prompted discussions about people coping during hard times.
The girls also learned about history (the highs and the lows) from So You Want to Be President?, 5,000 Miles to Freedom, Hitler Youth, and George Washington’s Teeth. Sorry, Marie. Those titles get to stay, too.
With the girls snuggled next to me, I also read stories from my childhood and even my parents’ childhoods. So Katy No-Pocket, about a kangaroo missing a pouch, keeps her position on the living room bookshelf. Same for my still-bright-yellow Nancy Drews.
Children’s books carry more emotional weight than the old Turkey Trot 10K T-shirts that I was able to thank for their service, as Kondo would say, and pass along years ago. I look at Amazing Rescues and remember the girls sitting in my lap, wondering whether someone whose parachute didn’t open would survive. When they were listening to Roald Dahl tales like The Enormous Crocodile and The Minpins, our daughters could also sit still for hours. They always liked unusual stories with a little suspense—think William Steig’s Doctor De Soto, about a mouse-dentist who outsmarts a hungry fox patient. All these page-turners earn protected status.
So how does my husband feel about my failure to Kondo-ize the children’s collection? Surprisingly, to me at least, he’s all right with it. He knows these stories mean something to me (and to him). In fact, when I thought I’d mistakenly given away Roger Hargreaves’s Mr. and Miss books, I told my husband, who frowned. “Not the Mr. books!” he said. “No more Little Miss Fun?”
He thinks it would be better for me to say goodbye to the old magazines and other “pure clutter” in our bedroom. “I will wager that nothing under the bed sparks joy,” he says. He also gently suggests that I bid adieu to some old book-group selections. “You don’t have any real emotional attachment to them,” he said. “Certainly compared to Little Miss Fun.”
A final confession: I’m holding onto the children’s titles in part (okay, in large part!) because I hope to share our most prized stories with grandchildren. (No pressure, girls!) I’d love to be blessed with a book-driven trip down memory lane, starting with pop-ups like Alpha Bugs and touch-and-feels like Pat the Bunny, and eventually getting to Harry Potter.
Some families treasure old clocks or antique tables and chairs. Our heirlooms are children’s books. Marie Kondo, I’m sorry. But it’s Ramona Forever—and truthfully, just about every kids' title forever—around here.