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  • Ian McClellan

Week 16: One in, one out.

Updated: Jul 28, 2020


It was World Book Day last week, and I completely forgot about it.


I felt awful, and so the next day at nursery, I dressed Leo in a t-shirt with a picture of a tiger on it, and tried to pass it off as 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'. It does happens to be one of his favourite books, but I don't think it was fooling anyone.


In the end, I think I am destined to be a parent that forgets special days such as this.


Publicity around World-something-day, or National-other-week, somehow go in one ear and out of the other for me. Pancake Day is just about the limit, perhaps because we remember it from our own childhoods. And you don't have to plan to dress up as your favourite type of pancake, and so even if you forget, there are enough convenience stores handy to pick up eggs, or butter, or milk.


Reading up on World Book Day globally and in the UK, I have to also stress that I don't have any opinion about the specifics of how it has evolved over the years, I think overall it is a wonderful thing. The more recent origins have really inspirational beginnings as a way of tackling a perceived crisis of literacy, and as a boy growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, I can definitely remember that reading, and visiting the library, was not considered a very cool thing to do.


Encouraging any kind of reading, is therefore fabulous. The fact that it has evolved, especially for children here in the UK, into expression of a book through fancy dress is understandable. It is entirely my failing that I forget to join in.


It also would appear a dusty old idea if it still encouraged reading as a discipline, or literacy as an academic concept, because right now my perception is that reading is cool, especially for kids and young adults. This should be celebrated. If in some way World Book Day has things moving in the right direction, my view is that you adapt and evolve to keep that stone rolling. Whatever it takes, imagination creates more imagination, fun creates more fun. Yesterday's readers, will be tomorrow's authors. Seeing photos of young people on social media, dressed in costumes of heroes and of the brave and important from history - reminds me that the world is waiting for someone to go out there and change it.


World Book Day however, did get me thinking a little bit about this week's change. Books are predominantly made of paper and card, this is a fact. It is often marked as sustainably sourced, but there is no denying that a new book, has an impact on resources both in its raw materials and in the production process. Therefore it is perhaps an easy target for a permanent change, to either switch to e-readers or find another way to consume the written word.


However, it is a difficult argument to understand and unpick as a small change or habit. Although you are not adding to the resources consumed during physical book production, the e-reader itself has a footprint from production, then also has an ongoing footprint from electricity consumption. It is made also of a complex number of things, that may or may not be more sustainable than responsibly sourced paper and responsible publishing processes. There is a published break even point in usage that varies - a number of books that you do not purchase that create a break even point in carbon use - and that makes an e-reader a better choice for the planet.


But for me right now as an adult, this is roughly ten to twelve years of books, as realistically I only get to read a couple a year. Leo also loves reading, and has upwards of 100 books. I love the time we spend at the breakfast table, choosing and reading books, and I can't see how I can immediate give up that experience in exchange for scrolling through a another device, on top of the devices that are creeping into our lives for other reasons.


In other words, if I tried to make a planetwise change to immediately switch from paper to digital books, then I would very quickly fail or become a something of a hypocrite.


I have therefore approached this from another direction. It was inspired by a trip to grandma and granddad Aitkins in West Yorkshire. This week, I am going to create more circular motion in our book consumption.


I am going to start with our children's books, as the numbers prove that Leo is the most avid reader in our family. Or at least the most avid consumer, as obviously he is nearly-four and so can't read.


To create a one in, one out policy.


The idea developed from our trip to a charity shop in a nearby village. Charity shops for kids books, just like in some ways traditional book shops, have undergone a huge change from what I have observe now versus what I remember. I might be misremembering, but I recall charity shops as jumble sales of disorganisation, and I remember bookshops kids sections not being too much different. I remember standing in front of a bookshop shelf buying a gift for a friend's child some years ago and before Leo was born, and having no idea where to start. I didn't know what the bestsellers were, I didn't know where to look for specific age groups. I also did not pay too much attention, and should have asked, but I didn't and that is my failing.



Our experience with Leo, has been very different. It might be that in my selfish way I have a more vested interest, but I find visiting our local charity stores for books, and visiting bookshops with him, a transformed experience. There is space, organisation, distractions. Perhaps I am also more tuned into what he likes, and so can spot from a cover whether it is going to be a good read, and know the authors we like to read together. I also think I have changed, and become less conceited. I can't say for sure, but I suspect that charity stores and bookshops have always been good experiences, it was me that had my eyes shut and my mind closed. I can't go back in time, but I can encourage and change the future.


One of our local bookshop chains for example, has an entire dinosaur section that I didn't notice before, and one time we spent an additional 20 minutes at a small table doing arts and crafts as well as browsing the books. Our local charity shops, have fixtures set aside for kids books with display areas to give you an idea of the best donations, as well as the excitement of rifling through the spines. One has an entire room at the back stocked floor the ceiling with paperbacks. It feels like as long as you don't need the absolute hot book right now, finding a good book to read is the rule rather than the exception. No longer are people donating just the books they didn't enjoy, they are donating the ones they did enjoy as well.


This made me feel a little embarrassed, as what I realised during our most recent trip to a charity book section to look at the kids books, is that I have taken advantage of charity book sections perhaps three or four times, and bought perhaps ten or fifteen books, since we last donated one of ours in return. Thankfully everyone doesn't do this, but it is not fair for us to take advantage of the charity of others, without giving back ourselves.


One in, one out, means that we will donate back at least one of Leo's old books, for every one that we purchase. Perhaps not exactly and empirically on the day, but on average. We also promise not to just donate the ones that have pages missing, or that we have not enjoyed. We will select carefully the books that Leo has loved, but has outgrown. We will select those that he had loved, but has fallen out of the habit of reading. We might have to do it on his behalf to begin with, because as with many children, if you tell them it is going to be lost, is suddenly becomes their favourite thing ever. But we will include him where we can.


We started this week, and I have a large bag ready to go. It feels cathartic as a start, although I know this will be the easy bit. He is growing up, and we haven't done this before as until now we were building his collection rather than adding to it, and so he does not have the connection with a lot of the books that we will drop off at the weekend. It is when we begin to chip away at his current bookshelves and favourite books, that this change will really test us. I'm excited for that.


Someone, somewhere, will be screaming at their screen right now, that this is simply the way that a library works, and they are absolutely right.


Libraries have their part to play in this circle. Using a library more, when you can, is part of this little change for us, although thanks to Leo's Nanny Susie, we have a good habit established there. Libraries are amazing places, and we have reconnected in so many ways with our local library through Leo. Like many, I spent many hours in the library as a child, and then perhaps some, but not enough during education. But the habit has fallen away personally, perhaps because of the typical reasons and pressures that lead to me not being able to read as much as I used to. We are very lucky to have an excellent library nearby, and is run with care and love which makes it wonderful for Leo. For children, there are reading groups, loyalty schemes, and they let you read as many books as you like before you choose which ones to take home. If you do not already use a library, and there is a way to incorporate this into your life, this is also a planetwise change.


It has motivated me to declutter our own shelves. I have Terry Pratchett books that I've had since I was a teenager that I want to keep for Leo. I have a Harry Potter First Edition - not one of the editions that is worth thousands, but I remember rushing out to get it and feeling the joy when I had it in my hands for the first time, and smelled the fresh pages. I have some books that I have an emotional connection to because of where or when I read them. These I will keep, just like we will never donate some of the books that we have read to Leo, and that we either received or read in special circumstances. Some books are not simply words, they are precious memories and moments that we don't want to pass along, they are personal and owning them transcends the pages, and the ink. I feel justified to omit these from the change.


But we also have a lot of books myself that I have enjoyed, and should pass along to someone else to enjoy. I still have them perhaps out of laziness or selfishness, or just the strange human desire to collect things. Having a full bookshelf, somehow makes me feel more learned, but I'm not going to read them again, and if Leo wants to when he is older then I am sure he'll be able to. There is no reason to keep them, and I should be proud to pass them along.


This feels like a planetwise change that is also a good illustration of how we are all connected not just in acts but in emotion. A little change, that leads to the exchange of joy, and a second or third life to something that has been loved, but is not in any way worn - to me is an almost infinite positive circle. The words will be as fresh as they were to us first time, to someone else, and then to someone else again. Through this, we can contribute to creating a more circular nature to our books, that makes us less reliant on new purchases, and helps us to think about taking care of the books whilst they are in their transitional journey through our hands.

It is a small change that has a direct benefit, and an attitudinal change about how we see our books. If we change our view to believe they are stories that are simply passing through our hands, then we will create the same joy in receiving a pre-loved book, as we have when we receive a new book. And we will also create as much joy in donating or passing on a really good one, that perhaps we were lucky enough to be the first to read.


It also gave ideas for next World Book Day, because the charity shop in question did a great line in dress-up costumes. It reminded me that I need to be better there and embrace important days in the calendar. They have been created for good, and are worked on by people who passionately believe in their cause. They are often organised by people who give up their time for free.

On top of that, and specifically to World Book Day, our children are the future heroes, and books are a way they learn how to imagine and to dream. If dressing up makes them feel ten feet tall, and gives them a glimpse of the future, I need to be better, I need to be all in.

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