When Wet Bathing Suits Happen to Good Books by Amy Estersohn
Sometimes I wish I had a degree in hazardous materials management. That way, I’d know how to rehabilitate returned books that have received the Wet Bathing Suit Torture.
But it’s not just the wet bathing suits. Books are regularly returned with ripped pages or pages coming out from seams. Sometimes they look like they have experienced a particularly vicious game of dodgeball — and not as a spectator. Sometimes they’re returned smelling like a combination of Hot Cheetos and the New England Patriots’ locker room. Sometimes they’re returned covered in an innocuous yet permanent smudgy substance I have come to call Backpack Grime.
And sometimes they’re not returned at all.
It would be easy to fight this state of affairs. I could do more spot checks of library checkouts and issue consequences to students who take books home without observing our checkout protocol. I could establish due dates and provide incentives for students who return books on time. I could step up my library security around peak vulnerabilities by restricting access to my comic book selection. I could attempt to make students feel guilty for their book misdemeanors by soapboxing repeatedly about the importance of shared responsibility. I could call home when a book is returned to me in less-than-ideal condition.
But all of these interventions go against my goals for building lifelong independent readers.
If I want teens to consider themselves readers in a way that goes beyond my classroom, that means that I want books to become their intimate companions and true friends. That means that I want students to pile up books by their bedsides. I want them to be reading while they’re eating a bowl of popcorn and drinking a glass of chocolate milk. I want them to consider a book a possession. So when books decide to absorb popcorn grease, take an extended vacation under a bed, become friends with that bathing suit, or go on permanent loan to a younger sibling, I have to interpret these behaviors as misguided acts of love instead of careless acts of malice.
Therefore, I have resolved to never, ever, ever deny access or impose consequences on students who want to borrow books from my classroom library, no matter their record for returning books to me. There’s so much more at stake beyond a few lost or damaged books.
If I don’t let students borrow books freely, they’ll grow accustomed to having their rights to free choice reading curtailed. I’m afraid that rather than help them change their habits, it will crush their appetite for books instead. My disorganized Hot Cheetos eaters who carry around wet bathing suits will be reminded that adults don’t trust them with prized possessions and that free choice reading is Not For Them.
Our students who lose or damage books are in need of teachable moments about the magical properties of bookmarks, hand sanitizers, and organized lockers. After all, the best way to keep a book in good condition is to never open it.
Readers, how do you deal with lost, damaged, or missing books? How do you teach students how to be respectful of the books they borrow from you?
Amy Estersohn is a 7th grade English teacher in New York. She has discovered that the biggest fans of damaged books are the authors who wrote them. She reviews graphic novels for No Flying No Tights (noflyingnotights.com) and tweets @HMX_MsE