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We have several bookcases filled with books in our apartment. Our little Tasmanian Devil is not even walking yet, but everytime we put her on the floor, she starts crawling towards a random bookcase and tries to pull out one of the books on the lowest shelf; on occasion she pulls herself up and tries to pull out a book from the second lowest shelf. This will only get worse once she starts walking. We are trying to find a solution for this. As a first step, we have put all of our non-essential books in boxes in a separate storage space. We've also put all the valuable books in the higher shelves, and packed the ones in the lower shelves as tight as they can go, so that they are not so easy to pull out. However, we are aware that this is only a short-term solution: as she gets bigger, she'll become strong enough to pull those books out and start chewing on them, or rip pages out, or go at them with a crayon.

Is there a way to keep her from pulling out our books until she's learned to handle them properly? A friend suggested installing doors on the bookcases, but that would be a last-resort solution (for one, we would have to have the doors custom-fitted to our bookcases, and at that point, we might as well go to Ikea and buy a brand new set of closed bookcases). I'm thinking more like a security gate that stretches the full width of the bookcase. Does this type of product exist, and if so, where can we purchase it from?

  • Just to confirm: you have several bookcases with several shelves of essential books? What is so special about all these books? – Jeff Jan 12 '15 at 19:03
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    @Jeff what's so strange..? People such as lawyers and psychologists usually have a lot of books to consult every once in a while. Not trying to guess anything, though. – Kroltan Jan 12 '15 at 19:46
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    @Jeff, yes, we do have that many books. I am a university professor and my wife is starting her postdoc, and we have decided to work from home once or twice a week, to spend more time with the little one. In my particular case, this means that I have moved many dozen books into our apartment (I can see about 50 of them from where I'm sitting right now). My wife is a historian, so apart from regular books, she has an entire bookcase of old documents she found in various archives. – Koldito Jan 12 '15 at 21:17
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    @Jeff, and let me add that what we have is not even close to what some of our acquaintances have. Our next-door neighbor in our previous apartment said he had lost count of how many books he owned, but he estimated that at least 10,000. His study was literally 100% covered in double-stacked shelves. You could not see the walls. – Koldito Jan 12 '15 at 21:20
  • One thing we found with our toddlers was that once they got a chance to actually handle a book, they realize it just... wasn't... interesting -- at least not compared to THEIR books, which had COLORS and PICTURES. But that's a stage that comes later, after the "chew everything in sight" point, so concentrate on baby-proofing the shelves and redirecting her away from the shelves. – Acire Jan 13 '15 at 13:06
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You are entering the "flood state" of childrearing. At least, that's what we dubbed it at our house: As the child gains more and more "upward mobility", the lower levels of shelves get emptier, valuable items "float upwards".

Rest assured: This too will pass. Meanwhile, the empty shelves make a good place for toddler toys. ^_^ (But if you are considering a second or third child... well, you know the drill.)

There are various types of gates/fences on the marked for child-proofing an apartement. While they are usually used/marketed for fireplaces and similar, they could work in your case, too. I can't give you brand names or similar, because I we most likely live in different parts of the world... They are usually available in different sizes/styles etc. Not cheap, though.

On the other hand, you could also try another approach: Teach your little Tasmanian Devil that your books are not for her - even small children can understand a firm "NO!". She won't like it and she will "test" you occasionally if the rule still is valid. Repeat as needed. Make sure she has her own books and show her how to treat them with respect. Some damage is to be expected, but you set the boundaries. Chew on certain toys, color on paper, rip what you permit to be ripped (newspaper, gift wrap perhaps?). The reason I recommend this is simple: She will learn what is ok and what not - so when you leave out a book, there is less (mind: not "no") chance of her "going at it" as you put it.

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    Good advice. We took the same approach for almost everything : not hiding it from her but teach her what she may and may not do. Of course you can't be 100% sure she won't rip one of your books but hey you can't be sure that you will never spill coffee on it yourself neither... another approach might be to put some toys of better, books, for her on lower shelf; At least that won't stop her interest for books, which is a good thing from where I see it. – Laurent S. Jan 15 '15 at 9:34
  • It's funny how stuff moves up, and up, and up as the kids grow... until one day you can put them back down :) – Ana Feb 2 '15 at 10:50
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    I disapprove of just putting everything away. IME it's much better to teach your children that they cannot have everything they desire, that there are non-physical limits to their explorations which they have to obey just as if they were fences. Yes, this is much harder than just putting things on higher shelves, but it's also something every child will have to learn eventually. Of course, some things (medicine, records, etc.) are better off out of children's reach, but if you just put everything out of their reach, you're wiggling out of your duty of parenting. – sbi Feb 2 '15 at 13:41
  • I wrote "the shelves get emptier" (not empty) and "valuable items float upwards" (not everything). Also I recommended teaching boundaries. So I can't really see where you disagree...? Besides, with a toddler that's not yet walking (= 10-15 months) teaching obedience might be pushing the limits a bit... – Stephie Feb 2 '15 at 13:48
  • @Stephie: IME the limits commonly assumed to be right are mostly wrong. I have found that we mostly could have more confidence in the abilities of our children. I have found this also to be true regarding to my bookshelf. – sbi Feb 2 '15 at 13:52
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First off, you definitely will find that if you're consistent with your child, she will learn to leave things alone, mostly, that aren't that interesting and she's been asked not to touch, in most cases. However, there are a few steps you can take to improve your odds.

  • Move the bookcases away from areas that she primarily spends her time in. This can be done in two ways - one, moving the bookcases, or two, moving where she primarily spends her time. This could be as simple as defining an area with tables, rugs, etc., for her and her toys, and encouraging her to play there by placing the toys out. If she's playing with your books because the living room doesn't have any toys, well, the solution presents itself.
  • Putting her books on the bottom shelves. That way she has something more interesting than your books to go at: her books.
  • Placing furniture in the room in such a way as to encourage her to utilize portions that aren't where the bookcases are. Move couches/chairs/etc. so to create areas of more space (no bookcases) and less space (bookcases). Kids tend to prefer more space areas.

In addition to all of this, you should make sure to affix your bookcases to the wall (using a cable or other mechanism) if you're concerned about her climbing on them, to prevent the bookcase from falling on her.

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    Thank you for mentioning the important safety step of securing the shelf to the wall. The straps are cheap and easy to fix. – DanBeale Jan 12 '15 at 21:24
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    Screwing to the wall becomes even more important if the shelves are now top heavy. – Chris H Jan 13 '15 at 15:43
  • I fully agree to the "be consistent" part of this answer. Never to flunk out of telling your child "no" when it does something it shouldn't do, even when you're tired and worn out, and this one book/whatever isn't really worth the effort. In the long run, applying consequences consistently is the best thing you can do to save you effort. A child which has learned that, if a parent says "you shouldn't do that", then doing it anyway might hurt, won't do something you say it shouldn't do. Believe me, when your children are older, you'd pay any price to gain that in your children. – sbi Feb 2 '15 at 13:48
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Have you considered buying books for her age and putting those in the lower shelves? There are may toddler books water (or dribble) proof, and brightly colored.

When I was growing up, my father's approach was that he wouldn't apply discipline when it came to books for fear that we got wrong associations about them, first we played with them as toys, then as books. Most of his books didn't make it through 5 sons ... but we're all pretty avid readers. I tried the same with my sons and they are pretty avid readers too. I'm in no way saying that you have to necessarily let them play with all your books... I just decided to sacrifice my books to ensure they were familiar with books. Maybe it was a wasteful sacrifice, I'll never know...

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    According to my experience, it's more about setting good examples: We have many (literally hundreds...) books around, but what made our children become readers temselves (starting at 4 and 3 years old) was a) reading to them regularly and often and b) seeing Mom and Dad read for fun. We parents have books on the nightstand, and so do our kids. – Stephie Jan 12 '15 at 21:34
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    Interesting approach, presuming the parents have "sacrificial" books. I wouldn't mind it for many of my novels (which I probably won't ever reread). But when I drop anywhere from 40 to 200 Euro on a nonfiction book, I plan to use it again and again for the next decades. And I notice that my buying habits for paper books are slowly trending towards the expensive, will-need-again books. If their proportion is high enough that they must go into lowish shelves, I understand why the OP is looking for a different solution. – rumtscho Jan 13 '15 at 16:01
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We used 2 different solutions for the bookshelves themselves, although I read about more. The main sources I found were blogs of parents doing DIY (Do It Yourself) modifications to their shelves.

For my small shelf that I displayed collectibles on, I purchased a pane of Plexiglas and Velcro tape from a hardware store and used the tape to make a removable, clear cover for my shelf. I chose this solution to avoid drilling or using nails. This worked until my son became more fascinated with playing the Velcro than any of his toys.

Another solution was to purchase an extendable curtain rod. We used this on our larger (about 4 feet wide) bookshelves. You place the rod right up against the books, about in the middle of the shelf, and extend it as far as possible. This only works with the kinds you can twist to tighten/extend. Simply pull-to-extend types of curtain rods don't provide enough friction to hold themselves, or the books, in place.

If you can't get enough tension on the curtain rod, you may have to fasten something to the inside of the bookshelf to hold it in place, such as those circular rod-mounting brackets used to hold up rods between walls (like in a closet). We never went that far, and gave up keeping him out of the bookshelves once he started circumventing the rod. We put our books in temporary storage in our room, and filled the bookshelves with his toys instead.

We moved when my son was about 18 months old, and didn't want to keep our books in storage after that. We've still had issues with him taking books off the shelf, but we've mostly had success (and had the most success) by:

  • Having a 6-cube shelf that's only his stuff.
  • Leaving the bottom shelf or two of the other bookshelves full of his toys or books.
  • Constantly coaching our son not to pull on books (when the covers or pages are in peril). He likes to remove, stack, and replace the books so we let him.

Some of this success may simply be credited to time, but I prefer that we parents take all the credit we can.


I searched for baby bookshelf proofing solutions for days. I spent hours and hours trying to find a DIY solution that was affordable and wouldn't permanently mar our shelves. I ended up having to make my own solutions.

We also have one of those baby playpens made from 6 interlocking plastic panels. For a long time I had to use that as a fence to keep him away from my shelf and my computer desk. It divided up the living room, so it didn't look the nicest, but it was effective. Eventually, I got tired of backing my computer chair into this "fence", and having to step over it, so my search for shelf solutions started.

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All my kids had the phase when they became mobile enough to wreak havoc in the apartment, but weren't sophisticated enough to not to do things they were told to not to do. In my experience it will help if you see this phase as the one where your child learns to (not to) do what you told it to (not to) do. You invest the necessary energy to help your child to pass that phase, and it comes out having learned something truly important which will help you to get through the next 15 years. :)

One of the dominating features of my apartment is a huge bookshelf in the living room. Of course, that's always been of special interest whenever one of my children came into "that phase". What we did was to clear one section in the bottom shelf and put in some of the child's toys and books. Then, whenever the child went to get at the books, we took it and put it in front of "its own shelf", saying "No, you must not play with our books, but here is your shelf, and you can play with everything in there."

For all my kids, this phase lasted about two weeks, then they had learned to not to touch our books and limit themselves to their own shelf. Well, that is: all of them, except for one child. That one didn't need two weeks, but eight. Eight Months. The boy nearly drove us mad, but in the end he, too, learned it.

Now, almost two decades after my oldest was born, I have lost only a single book from that shelf. (Guess to which child...) So it seems the procedure wasn't all that bad.

We did the same elsewhere in the apartment, BTW. Most of my children loved, at one point, to empty out the part of our cupboard where the pots are kept in, and stack them back in. Of course, they would also be delighted about emptying out anything else in the cupboard, but whenever the child would approach anything else, we'd put it back to the one cupboard door we had cleared of everything that could break, telling it that it could play with everything behind this door, but none of the others. That worked pretty much the same way.

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Chances are good your daughter is acting out you and your spouse's patterns in the home - she sees you two handling books, and so she too wants to handle books.

Typical training will help - stay in the room with her whenever she is in there, and when she approaches the bookcase, redirect her attention to the books she is permitted to handle.

Honestly, that's too difficult for me. We ended up choosing books we did not want damaged, and putting them higher. We want our children to handle books, even if it means the occasional damage. This actually provides opportunities to teach them not to tear, draw, or otherwise harm books. The boundary line, for us, becomes "We want to you have access to books, but you must treat them properly" rather than "We do not want to you have access to most books."

Given that most of our children are voracious readers, this approach has worked well.

Have I been occasionally disappointed by a damaged book? Yes. Of course. But the benefits we are now reaping have been worth much more than a few damaged books.

If you can't put the important books out of reach, installing doors is probably less expensive than you think. You can buy tempered, ground edge glass panes from your local glass shop, then add glass door hardware, drill a few holes and install them easily and inexpensively. Even less expensive if you use standard plywood and hinges, but perhaps not as attractive.

If you are willing to drill holes in your bookcase, though, then another option would be to drill holes in the sides near the front of each opening, and insert a dowel so that it passes in front of the books. Cases that are sized correctly for the books will, with such a dowel, prevent book removal as long as the case is full of books so that the books can't be turned sideways. You can do the same without holes using closet hanger rods and rod holders, or friction fit rods. Or small eyehooks with decorative chains.

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