Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Bookcrossing with Children: A Literary Adventure

Bookcrossing is a social and literary phenomenon, one of a new breed of hobbies, like geocaching, where new online technologies facilitate old-fashioned connections between people in real space. Have you ever found a book on a park bench, or in a used bookstore, and wondered who had left it there, who had read it before you did, what they thought of the book, what it meant to them? Now, with, you can find the answers to those question, and also register and release your own books so you can track their journeys.

The web site is free to join. Members register each book to receive a unique tracking number, which gets written inside the front cover with a note explaining about Bookcrossing, asking the finder to log on and journal his/her find. Then the Bookcrosser "releases" the book, either to a friend, or in an official Bookcrossing zone (in a coffee shop or bookstore typically) or in a wild release -- out in the world somewhere random. Each subsequent finder/reader can log on using the tracking number, to journal where he found the book, what he thought of it, and what he plans to do with it next. So, that's Bookcrossing.

So why do Bookcrossing with children?

1. It's fun.

Bookcrossing is an adventure. Let me give you an example. Yesterday we went out for a walk with the kids on their scooters and me with my bag of Bookcrossing books on my shoulder. We left books in trees, on people's yard ornaments, on newspaper boxes. The kids love to speculate on what places are best to leave books, who will find them, and when. It's like playing Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, without all the accompanying holiday commercialism. ;)

2. Books = Treasure

By treating a book as an exciting treat, like a pot of gold or a hidden jewel, you're drawing a connection between books and treasure, communicating to your child the value of literature, the joy of reading, without articulating it in words. Bookcrossing with your child telegraphs the belief that books are important and the idea that others out there in the world share that belief.

3. Rescuing Books

We get a lot of our Bookcrossing books by visiting local thrift stores, where paperbacks can be had for 25 or 50 cents, and children's books are often even cheaper. When they find a copy of a book that they love, we buy it and Bookcrossing it, and I also usually find copies of classics -- The Mayor of Casterbridge, Angela's Ashes, The Golden Bowl, Mrs. Dalloway -- I've found these all at thrift stores in very good shape. I love the vocabulary the Bookcrossing founder uses: "releasing" a book into the world implies that the story wants to live, stretch out, expand, find new readers. This is a concept the children can understand.

4. Copies are Copies

By registering and releasing copies of a book that you have in your permanent collection, you're showing your child that there are different editions, different versions, different copies of every story, and illuminating the fact that the story itself, the characters, plot, language, and idea, does not reside in any particular physical object. This is something that I found myself really grasping only when I had been Bookcrossing for a while. All my boxes, all my shelves of books do not really contain those beloved novels. They're just copies. They're all just copies. You can have your favorite copy, but there is a fluidity to any great text which has been reproduced many times, which lives simultaneously in all these versions. There's also a better appreciation for the rarity of limited editions, because you can put that limitation on the context of the larger world of books. Only 1500 copies of a small press run makes more sense when you realize how many "Age of Innocence"s there are floating around out there.

4. Connect with Community

Our local "Bookcrossing Zone" is located in a free book exchange shelf in an independent coffee shop down the street. Bookcrossing gives us a reason to go. We eat their ice cream, drink their Nutellla Lattes, switch out Bookcrossing books, and chat with other locals. Beyond this, Bookcrossing solidifies that strange, anonymous, but very visceral connection that you feel, reading someone's margin notes in a book you're enjoying. It's a way of reaching out, touching minds with the person who's going to pull that book out of the fork in the tree. Of course, when you're out Bookcrossing, there are also lots of chances to talk to other people about what you're doing, and meet their dogs.

5. It's Educational!

When you register a book on Bookcrossing, there's a space to include a review, which your child can write for the books he/she chooses to release. It's a book review with a purpose, because you're actually giving your opinion about the book to someone who may read it in the future. You can talk about not giving away the ending, you can talk about plot summary, you can talk about how to be critical without being harsh.

Another aspect of Bookcrossing, besides leaving books around, is finding books that others have left. If you want to go "hunting," you can check the web site (or receive email alerts) for books that have been released near you, and then you can go and look for them -- in parks, in malls, in hair salons, bookstores, coffee shops, and of course our favorite: trees.

Bookcrossing, like Geocaching, makes you look at the world in a different way, like you are able to see a secret map laid over the familiar landscape of your neighborhood. Kids who love adventure, who love books, who love treasure hunts, will love Bookcrossing. And if you sign up on the web site, send me a message! I'm "lostcheerio" and I'd love to connect.

Read and Release at


  1. Anonymous12:17 PM

    Thanks for sharing your bookcrossing books with me prior to re-release. Today I read Michael Moore's "Stupid White People." Laughed up a lung.

  2. Saw your entry through my google alerts, and just had to come look. This is a GREAT blog entry!

    I wonder if you'd want to make it into an article for the BC Newsletter?

    My favorite pic is the shot of your son up close, on the scooter, with the book under his arm. It's just darling!


  3. Thanks Ant! :)

    I like that picture of Benny too. Given his tendency to spawn superhero identities, I wouldn't be surprised if some sort of cape were involved next time we go out on a mission like this. :)

    I visited your blog -- my fave was your watchdog post on LA Ink's awful grammar errors. *cackle* Yes, "The Learning Channel" indeed. ;)

  4. ohhhh ... a cape! Yes, I definitely see that in his future :)

    re: LA Ink -- it was like that for 3 weeks, I think, and then finally on the next TiVo'd episode, they'd fixed it. I must say that it provided hours of entertainment while it lasted!

  5. LOVED your article and it highlights why our fastest growing segment of BookCrossers are ages 7-17! Great piece.
    my best,
    CEO BookCrossing

  6. What a neat idea. We do postcrossing, but until now have never heard of bookcrossing. I'm off to check it out~

  7. Thanks for the tip. Today we released a book into the wild.

  8. I picked up one of these not too long ago...a German book I have to finish reading so I can re-release it!