Picture Book Filter
September 17, 2013 1:26 PM   Subscribe

Do children care about old, out-of-date picture books? Should I weed these books?

I need to weed a school library picture book collection. Many of the titles were acquired in the late 1970s and date from that period. There are many "contemporary" picture books (depicting young children and families in realistic situations) that depict 1970s-early 80s clothes, hairstyles, cars and so forth. They also display past fashions in graphic design and in "cute" artwork. The paper, needless to say, has also aged.

These books were clearly acquired to help young children with emotional development, which is one of the school's aims, so I need some advice on whether the datedness of the books would be counter-productive, turning the kids off. Are K-6 children conscious of changes in illustration styles and do they care about them?

(I apologize if this is a dumb question. I don't have any kids of my own and I don't consider my own experience representative. I liked old-fashioned things as a kid, especially pioneer girl stuff such as Little House series. This was before American Girl, or I would have been into that.)

Most of our students who might use the picture book section are a few years older than the designated audience of these books, though their reading level is below grade level. They do not like the older picture books and I have not seen them borrowing or reading them. They prefer recently published items.

I am not weeding classics such as Bread and Jam for Frances, Harry and the Dirty Dog, George & Martha, Miss Nelson is Missing, Lyle Lyle Crocodile, Ira Sleeps Over, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, or anything by James Stevenson. I am keeping those and in general the books with animal characters have not dated so badly.
posted by bad grammar to Education (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I grew up in a house full of children's books, most of them old. (Come from a long line of elementary school teachers.) I *hated* them. I hated the way they smelled, I hated the way the paper felt, I hated the way the binding made a crispy noise when you opened them, I didn't want to take them into bed to read with me because sometimes bits of binding glue or paper crusties flaked off into my sheets, DID NOT LIKE. My mom decided this was because I was horribly spoiled. In reality I was just a fussy kid. I much preferred reading the new books like George & Martha with their relatively brighter colors and the smell of fresh ink.

My brother didn't read any of the old books because he just wasn't a reader.

Just a data point.
posted by phunniemee at 1:34 PM on September 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

As a counterpoint, I loved old books as a kid. I found them incredibly fascinating.
posted by lydhre at 1:39 PM on September 17, 2013 [14 favorites]

Another counterpoint:
I loved the older books in the libraries of my schools and in the homes of my caregivers. They were my favourites. They gave me context for things that might not have made sense, otherwise. They provided a greater variety of illustration and vocabulary. They demonstrated viewpoints that were considered grossly dated by the time I was reading them, but I found it fascinating. Loved, loved, loved the older books. And I wasn't alone - I often had to wait to check out some of those books.

BUT! You specifically say that the intended audience at your school doesn't use these books, so it seems you already have guidance on which way to go.

If you have the leeway to do special projects in the library that spotlight specific books, you could potentially ignite interest or showcase lingering relevance, but only you would know the possibilities.

It seems, though, that you also have to make room, so maybe you're just feeling badly about kicking some books to the curb? Would it be more tolerable if you could find someone or someplace willing to take them?
posted by batmonkey at 1:44 PM on September 17, 2013

We weed based on the CREW method.

Check the circulation stats and see if there are newer picture books that address those subjects.
posted by amapolaroja at 1:44 PM on September 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have worked as a school librarian, and I believe this paragraph is the most telling: Most of our students who might use the picture book section are a few years older than the designated audience of these books, though their reading level is below grade level. They do not like the older picture books and I have not seen them borrowing or reading them. They prefer recently published items.

If you're feeling conflicted about whether to weed a particular title, put it on display, or talk it up if it's one that you feel would be interesting to your students if they give it a chance. If it doesn't attract interest even with that, it probably does not belong in your library's collection.

Your options for disposal could include giving the weeded books to interested students, since sometimes "you can take this to keep!" adds value to otherwise not-as-exciting material.
posted by asperity at 1:44 PM on September 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Look through the older ones for things that may have been totally acceptable when they were written, but are not okay nowadays. "Girls grow up to be nurses and boys grow up to be doctors", things like that. I try to replace the ones that promote outdated and now-offensive ideas.

Of course, there are exceptions. The Little House on the Prairie books will remain in the library regardless of how Ma felt about Indians, etc.
posted by Elly Vortex at 1:52 PM on September 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Here is an article (PDF) that addresses weeding and disposing of weeded materials
posted by amapolaroja at 1:53 PM on September 17, 2013

I was enchanted with older books as a kid. Betsy and Tacy, Little House, etc.

I was a voracious reader and I liked all books, all the time.

posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:54 PM on September 17, 2013

The options aren't necessarily "keep it in the library" and "chuck it out" - if they're books to aid children's emotional development, and they're not getting checked out in the library, they might be better suited to classroom libraries/a professional development collection/the guidance counselor's office. This is only a solution if keeping "emotional development" books around is important to your school, and you don't have the funding for new ones.

Otherwise, I'd err on the side of chucking them. I know people talk about liking old stuff, but these aren't great literature (Betsy & Tacy or Little House have pretty much nothing to do with '80s-era "I Feel Sad" books). There are definitely newer (and probably better) books on these topics. Kids do know when things are old (do they smell?!) and MOST kids are not into old stuff.

I am, admittedly, a person who weeds all the things. The presence of unappealing materials makes your whole collection less appealing. If the kids don't read them, get rid of them. Even if there's a place for these books in your school, it isn't in the library.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 2:14 PM on September 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

As someone who reviews a lot of children's illustrated books (technically "picture books" could be thought of as books without words, but I presume you don't mean they are all books without words), my feeling is that children's illustrated books are generally better now than in the past...better quality illustrations and more interesting stories (more sophisticated, elaborate, creative, imaginative, etc.). Of course there are tons of bad books now, but what I mean is that the small percentage that are excellent are better than most older books that were considered good at their time of first publication. I think it's more than just a matter of many older books feeling "dated". I really feel that the very best authors and illustrators now are better than the ones in the past. I'm sure there may be people who disagree with that, but I'm pretty convinced that's the case (and it makes sense that the art of book-writing and book-illustrating would evolve and improve over time). SO, what I'm saying is I have no doubt many of these books are not worth keeping!
posted by Dansaman at 2:28 PM on September 17, 2013

I think you've answered a good whack of this with "I am not weeding classics" -- there are plenty of books from that era that did hold up, for good reasons, and plenty that did not, for good reasons. If it is still in print, keep; but if it has been widely binned elsewhere, it's likely that's for good reason. The families of Lyle, Harry, Corduroy etc are all in unfashionable clothing, but nobody cares.

Occasionally I turn up a long out of print picture book that I've never heard of that is well-written and engaging, but this isn't common, and there were usually hints that it was going to be good -- published under the Puffin imprint, high-quality illustration, something like that. There are exceptions to the 'if it's good it will stay in print rule,' of course, and you can usually suss this out pretty quickly by the pricing -- examples: the Teddy Bear [Trades]man series and ...and good lord, Ant and Bee is finally being re-printed and my net worth has just tumbled by hundreds of dollars (but you can see what the pricing was like from a few non-reprinted titles) -- bad books don't normally command big prices even if scarce, but if it was good plenty of parents will shell out to read it to their own kids.
posted by kmennie at 2:30 PM on September 17, 2013

I read my old books to my kids and they don't seem to mind the pictures. I do find that I have to either change the explanations or, for my older, reading child, have discussions about the books. So I explain that both men and women work, raise children, work in a variety of professions, etc. I will point out that we say First Nations, not Indian, and so on. And my kids will disagree with the books when they say stuff like it takes a mom and dad to have a family - they know that's not right. But you might want to take a look at the books, since you want to be sure you are supporting current social attitudes.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 3:12 PM on September 17, 2013

Another thought: I'm a parent of a young child and *I* love older books, and since I still control what she reads, so does she. I would love to have a library sale where I could pick some of these up, then you could use the money on new books!
posted by dpx.mfx at 3:36 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the variety of responses.

The "picture books" I am dealing with mostly do have words, but at K-2 level.
As I stated in the OP, the "contemporary" ones are set in the 1970s and so are not "long ago" enough to be of historical interest.
I have decided to offer them to the school teachers and therapists, as the latter may be more interested in the "emotional development" aspect and better at persuading kids to read them for the social and psychological content rather than the overall gestalt.
I'll go through them first for anything that is not acceptable nowadays.

My feeling is that because illustration styles have changed (become more sophisticated, as Dansaman above), these particular books have not held up well. The physical books haven't held up either -- it isn't so much that they are stained or falling apart, but the paper is yellowing, plastic jacket covers have dulled, and covers that were once red or orange have faded.

I have about 80 titles that I want to pull from a total of about 450 K-2 books so that collection will not be decimated.

Overall, I think the teachers and students would be happier having fewer, brighter looking, more recent picture books to sort through when they are looking for a book, though I don't think that CREW's specific method of weeding would work for us (it assumes the high volume circulation of a large school library system or public library).
posted by bad grammar at 4:21 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

You might research each book first to see if it has value as a collectible. I disposed of this book from a small church library and then found out years later that it was quite valuable.
posted by tamitang at 7:08 PM on September 17, 2013

set in the 1970s and so are not "long ago" enough to be of historical interest.

1970 was over 40 years ago. That's pretty old. We tend not to think that way since we can still remember it, but it's old, and if you have things from that era, not too much more time will have to pass before it becomes really old.

I guess I keep thinking about recipe books that are about 100 years old which describe kitchen tools and processes that we have no idea what they are. 100 years is not that long ago, but those common everyday things are lost to us. IANA BookExpertOrHistorian, but I suspect that the series which showed all the emotional development from the 80's and then was abandoned might someday be seen as historical and it could be lost otherwise.

I would be tempted to box up a bunch of the most representative books and just stick the box in a really dark corner for another 50 years.
posted by CathyG at 7:36 PM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

The quality of the writing will probably not be helping your target audience either - they do not have the processes available to parse both the words and the historical elements.

I'm an ex-children's librarian and I was known as a vicious weeder because I threw* stuff like this out all the time. If your child likes old books (not just reprinted, but actual old books) then there are a lot of places to get them. The public/school library is not an archive and if they can be replaced by much more meaningful new texts, then do it.

Occasionally kids didn't care about the book's age, but parents and educators almost always did.

And it's adorable to think that school libraries (or public libraries) could function as archives. We do not (as a rule) have the space, time, money or equipment to effectively archive material in case of historical research in the future - assuming somehow we've indexed it so researchers could find it (I shudder to think of the critters living in the box for the next 50 years as well). Archives are different to libraries and function differently. A library for young children who are having difficulty reading is not served by keeping old and outdated texts when there are newer ones that will address those issues in a more effective way.

*Gave to the Friends to sell, unless it was actually disgusting in which case it got pitched. The nicer but ripped stuff was up for grabs by the crafty contingent, and my own department.
posted by geek anachronism at 7:42 PM on September 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Another option if you only have 80 or so books is to offer them to your art teacher as collage-making material or for book alteration fun. That's a nice big box of materials for a class to cut up and reimagine into cool things!

Double-check if replacements for subject covered are available - I gave away a 1980s anthology of first-person accounts of being adopted (mostly fostercare) by children and young teenagers because I thought oh, I'll be able to replace it or find an updated version, and I never have and truly regret that. It was dated but the oral history style and vividness of the children's voices was wonderful.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:43 PM on September 17, 2013

Please don't throw our "Daddy Makes the Best Spaghetti" if that's one of the 70s titles in your "toss" pile! That one's a keeper, if only for its ahead-of-its-time approach to gender roles.
posted by citygirl at 11:05 AM on September 18, 2013

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