Our Reading Lives

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let My Toddler Destroy His Board Books

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A.J. O'Connell

Staff Writer

A.J. O’Connell is the author of two published novellas: Beware the Hawk and The Eagle & The Arrow. All she’s ever wanted to do in life is read and write books, and so, is constantly writing at least one novel. She holds an MFA in creative fiction, but despite the best efforts of her teachers at Fairfield University's low-residency program, remains a huge dork for sci-fi, fantasy and comic books. She is a journalist and has taught journalism to college students. She blogs about feminism, the writing life, and whatever else comes into her head at www.ajoconnell.com. Blog: A.J. O'Connell Twitter: @ann_oconnell

The first time my son destroyed a book in front of me, he was eight months old, and I think I yelped out loud.

Just a few of my son's destroyed books. (We keep the the pieces for him to play with.)

Just a few of my son’s destroyed books. (We keep the the pieces for him to play with.)

“No, no! We do nice! We treat books with respect,” is what I started to say when he ripped that board book apart like Captain America splitting a log.

And then I heard myself, and made myself stop talking.

My son loves books. He loves them hard, and his love destroys them just like his love destroys the soft toys he drags around the house.

His list of casualties is long and varied:


Now he’s two, and I have bought more duplicates of books in the last year than I have in three decades of lending out novels and not getting them back.

As a book lover, I’ve been conditioned to see any damage of books as bad. Book burning is a symbol of willful ignorance, after all. I have a hard time getting my mind around the idea of making art from old books, or even writing notes in the margins of books. (Don’t even get me started on the ancient, brittle, now-unreadable books that I refuse to throw out. I tell myself I’ll donate them, even though I know that would mean some poor volunteer would have to throw them out.)

I like to think that this is a mostly-harmless psychosis, and that it comes from a good place, but you know? Maybe not so much.

I’ve been realizing that that inflicting the way I love books (“we respect literature, young man”) on the way my toddler loves books (“I want to love this book and squeeze it and call it George”) would totally suck.

There is plenty of time to learn to respect books, just as there is plenty of time for children to learn how to respect their toys without destroying them. Until then. there is room in our house for both kinds of book love.