Wednesday, February 25, 2009

You can eat your Harry but not your Hardy

First it was children's toys from China. Then came the melamine milk scare. Now it's children's books. Well, children's books published before 1985 that is. The US government just released a warning saying that the paint used in books published before 1985 used lead-based paint in their prints. And since most books with colorful prints are children's books, the US government is set to ban all pre-1985 children's books in 2010.

You're probably thinking of throwing out all your Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Enid Blyton, and vintage Seuss books. Don't. Lead has to be consumed for your body to experience its toxic properties, and you probably have to eat several old children's books before its concentration in your blood reaches dangerous levels. Besides, who would want to eat moldy old books? Even kids would probably think twice before putting these crusty objects in their mouths. (I chewed pencil erasers when I was in grade school, but only because I like the texture.)

If you think that the repercussions to this ban are few, then you couldn't be more wrong. Come 2010, it will now become technically illegal to donate old children's books. Libraries who thrive on donations will be forced to turn these books away. And what about second-hand bookshops? While they can still sell these books, they can only do so if and only if they subject them to lead tests, which are very expensive. Rare, out-of-print books can only be sold for adult use.

I am practically torn by this piece of news. On the one hand, it's a preventive measure. No one, not even idiots, should be made to suffer after eating the library's Bobbssey Twins collection. On the other hand, this ban means that getting these beautiful and artistically detailed books will be much harder for the book collector. These books are precious artworks in themselves. It's bad enough that we have very few eye candy in our shelves but a lot of headless women.