Recently my six-year-old daughter was complaining tearfully about not being in charge of anything. Keeping her room clean didn't cut it as a suggestion. So I suggested that she could be in charge of organizing her picture books and setting some aside for donation. This suggestion took, and we've been working in small chunks on this rather large project.
First my daughter made a plan. This involved a sketch of one set of bookshelves and some boxes, with a mass of connecting lines. It's not very legible, but the general idea is to sort the books into several categories:
- Books she wants to donate
- Books that are a "maybe" on keeping vs. donating
- Books that she definitely wants to keep
- Favorite books that she super-definitely wants to keep
- Books that she doesn't want in her room, but that we are allowed to keep for when she is older (e.g. books with scary covers)
We agreed that all three of us would have veto power on anything going into category 1. At the end of the process there won't be any books in category 2. The books in category 3 will go back on the shelves, with at least some level of organization as they are shelved. We'll find a special spot for the category 4 books. And the books in category 5 will go in my office. My daughter does the first pass sort, and then I go through and do a second pass. My husband checks the donate box to make sure there isn't anything he wants to keep.
This is a slow process. What makes it time-consuming is that we are unearthing books that we love but haven't seen in a while, so we have to stop and read those. Some of the category 3 books also need to be read, so that we can assess whether or not we want to keep them. And some of the books in category four, well, we can never have those in hand without stopping to read them. In truth, not very many books actually stay in category 1, but there are a few. Here are some benefits of this project:
- My daughter feels empowered from being in charge of something.
- We are reading a lot of books, including long-lost favorites (like The Goodnight Train).
- We are creating some much-needed space on our bookshelves.
- Others will be able to enjoy our donated books when we are ready to drop them off. [There's a nearby Little Free Library that we plan to visit. We've already given away three boxes of board books.]
- When we are finished, it will be easier to find particular books, particularly the super-duper favorites.
I do realize that we are fortunate to have so many books in the first place, and I am working to convey this fact to my daughter. I just read an article about a study that identified "book deserts" in low-income neighborhoods in several US cities. Here's a quote from the article:
"The researchers found stark disparities in access to children's books for families living in high-poverty areas. Borderline communities in all three cities had substantially greater numbers of books - an average of 16 times as many books per child - than did the high-poverty neighborhoods in the same cities.
This disparity was even more pronounced in Washington, D.C. In the high-poverty neighborhood of Anacostia, 830 children would have to share a single age-appropriate book, while only two children would need to share a book in the borderline neighborhood of Capitol Hill."
When I compare the picture painted by this article with the stacks of books in our house, I feel sad. Certainly I feel determined to make sure that our unwanted books eventually find their way to good homes.
But in the meantime, we are enjoying the process of sorting picture books. When we're finished I'll post the list of the super-duper favorites. How do you all organize your picture books?