Saturday, February 14, 2009

Please Don't Eat the Books

Sitting on my desk right now to be repaired (the front cover and next page have been ripped off) is a copy of Robert McCloskey’s wonderful Blueberries For Sal. I bought the book in a used book store years ago for my kids, and I saved it for years before giving it to my grandson (3 ½) a few months ago. This book is an all time treasure. I loved it as a child; my kids loved it. And Maddox will love it also as he begins to move beyond being careless with fragile books to appreciating the story and illustrations.

However, this book, and the remaining seven boxes (file drawer size) of my kids’ children’s books that our well-over-60 moving crew lugged to our new home last month, is now illegal. At least it is illegal of me to give one to a child or read one to a child because of the possibility or even likelihood that the inks with which it was printed contained lead. This is despite the fact that no one can point to any child who has ever been injured by lead paint in ink used in children’s books (Walter Olson, “The New Book Burning, City Journal,

This abominaton is the result of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act passed by Congress last summer in hasty response to panic over lead paint contained in toys from China. It shares this panic feature with the recent stimulus package, but it is demonstrably pernicious from the start. Walter Oleson may not be literally correct about “book burning,” but he quotes a commentator on the “handicraft and vintage goods-site Etsy,”

"I just came back from my local thrift store with tears in my eyes! I watched as boxes and boxes of children’s books were thrown into the garbage!...Every book they had on the shelves prior to 1985 was destroyed! I managed to grab a 1967 edition of The Outsiders from the top of the box, but so many!"

Besides generations of children, this congressional edict will hurt second-hand bookstores, thrift shops…and those wanting to make a few books selling their old children’s books at a yard sale. Although it may be that the long arm of the law won’t extend that far, it could also be that a neighborhood nanny will snitch, and booksellers have reason to fear that the new administration, delighting in regulation, will not be lax in enforcement. Oleson points to an unknown consequence: the cost of replacing, if possible, the number of children’s books published before 1985 that reside in public libraries. It will be astronomical and, therefore, beyond the reach of many.

Just for a guess, I looked up Blueberries for Sal on Amazon. There are a few used copes available (still listed anyway) beginning at $25. I suspect I paid 25 cents for the copy on my desk (copyright 1948, The Viking Press). I will repair it for my gandson and talk with him about how important it is to treasure old books.

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