You know what I’m talking about. Glossy over-sized activity books for kids with pages of colorful stickers that they can take from one place and put anywhere they want – in scenes in the book, on lunch boxes and notebooks, on the walls of your home…
What have I got against them? Plenty, but here are my top five peeves.
Fit the First: They aren’t books
Lulling a child into compliance with the promise of a book is not a new form of parenting, but I’ve seen it descend into a compromise to accept a sticker book as a reward. Letting them pick a sticker book legitimizes a play activity as a reading activity. Also, as most sticker books are linked to commercial merchandising, their sole purpose is to build brand awareness toward a particular commodity. In other words, they are designed to build consumers, not readers. I say, if you promise a book, deliver a book.
Fit the Second: They have no story
True, kids can make up whatever story they want – this would be the proposed “activity” portion of their generic categorization – but then why are the sticker books all centered around well-defined characters where the kids can imitate what they know and not invent something new? Star Wars sticker books. Marvel Comics sticker books. Disney princesses. Lego adventure. SpongeBob. Pinkalicious (a word so heinous I had to take an antacid just to type it). Kids know the stories behind these stickers, they won’t be too creative in this play as a result because they cannot imprint their own character onto them.
Fit the Third: They’re killing the environment
Seriously, what’s in that adhesive? What chemicals are in that coated, glossy paper to make it slick? Sure, it’s non-toxic, but that doesn’t mean its processing wasn’t harmful. There are plenty of books and publishers using recycled paper and soy-based inks, acid-free paper and environmentally friendly glues, but I have yet to see a sticker book that claimed to use any of these.
Fit the Fourth: They take up valuable space
Those paper-thin books are taking up valuable space? By clogging shelf space in stores that could be used for other, better books. By taking space in landfills and recycling centers as they are quickly discarded. Trees died for this?
Fit the Fifth: They might actually be harmful
In the same way that coloring books teach and reinforce conformity – stay in the lines, keep the sky blue and the grass green – sticker books reinforce the idea of moving a sticker from one place to another as a true activity. In many of these books there are outlines “suggesting” where kids should place the appropriate sticker, but in no way does this “activity” reinforce anything but following directions and keeping mindlessly active. It’s busywork of the lowest order and the time spent moving meaningless pieces of sticky paper around would be better spent outdoor, if not reading a proper book. Is it any wonder we have a child obesity epidemic?
Why this invective against sticker books? Recently I discovered a section of a bookstore set aside for “children’s nonfiction” that had nearly 9 linear shelf feet of space full of sticker activity books but didn’t have a single book on snakes. Also, no books on wolves. Or spiders. No Seymour Simon, no Nic Bishop, no DK Eyewitness, only a handful of biographies… but there were literally hundreds of television and movie and cartoon characters spilling off the shelves. How are these nonfiction, is it because they have no traditional narrative? It was a shame, and I had to assume the reason there were so many was either because publishers are pushing them or parents are buying them. Or both, sadly.
Stop. Just stop. Stop making them and stop buying them. And for gosh sakes, don’t let them take up valuable space in the nonfiction section!