Tuesday, September 13, 2011

How Much Does a Children's Book Weigh?

The Elephant Book by Ed Powers
image courtesy Eric Sturdevant
How much does a children's book weigh?

I know, I know--you're thinking, "What a stupid question." Because books come in many sizes and even shapes. Because different books have different numbers of pages. Because some have hard covers and others are paperbacks.

And if you read a children's book on a Kindle or a Nook, well--hey, then any book of any size weighs virtually nothing if you don't count the hardware that supports it, right?

But somebody out in the web-wide world found my little old blog by typing in that very question. Sometimes when I am putting off tasks, I look in the "statistics" area of the blog to amuse myself, and that is how I found out that somebody needed to know this.

One easy way to find out how much a children's book weighs, of course, is to put one on a food scale.

Another is to look up books on Amazon and see how much they weigh. That's how I learned that a typical paperback copy of The Black Stallion by Walter Farley weighs 5.6 ounces.

Which is about as much as a small pocket camera, some Blackberries, a mourning dove, a cricket ball, or a plastic two-person wedding-cake topper.

I think the question about the weight of a children's book gets way cooler if you decide to find out "How much does the biggest children's book weigh" instead.

So I Googled to find out what the world's largest children's book would be, because I don't have a copy of a current Guinness book of records on hand.

The record-holder, as far as I can tell, would be this book:

It's called The Dream-Plucker of Perrysport. It was published by the Carnival cruise-ship company. It measures 15 feet, 6 inches by 20 feet. Definitely too big to put in your backpack--it's large enough to be a nice parking spot for a car.

A kind person at Carnival answered my question about its weight: the big book weighs about 125 pounds. That's about as much as a female St. Bernard dog, though it won't come when called or lick you. So this book is definitely not light reading. However, Carnival did sell smaller copies of the book on its ships to help raise money for a hospital called St. Jude's.

Unless somewhere there's a children's book made of solid lead, this book is probably the heaviest children's book in the world. Which leads to the question, what's the lightest one?

"Lightest" leads to "smallest," and one of the smallest is a little puff of dust currently held in the Library of Congress, which reports that its smallest book is a copy of "Old King Cole" that measures just 1 square millimeter (.04 inches). That's about the size of the period in this sentence.     < --- Yes, that one.

Not this one:

You need to use a needle to turn its pages while looking at it through a magnifying glass. Its weight is not provided. At right is a picture of a copy held by a Welsh library (borrowed from the library's website).

Another source suggests, however, that this gnat-sized book is enormous compared to The World's Smallest Book, a tiny leather-bound book published in Germany that rests inside a wooden box. It is a mere 2.4 mm by 2.9 mm.

Now, I am not a math whiz, but I am pretty sure that 1 mm is smaller than 2.4 mm. I know that sounds wacky, but there you go.

At left is that tiny tome perched on a matchstick, because it is often described by comparing it to a matchhead instead of a period. You can buy it on Amazon for less than a thousand dollars (normal-sized ones). The shipping weight is given as 6.6 ounces, but much of that consists of the mahogany box and enclosed magnifying glass.

At any rate, apparently a gold-and-silk-bound copy of Chekhov's Chameleon, measuring .9 mm square, has them both beat. It's described as being about the size of a grain of salt. But it's not a children's book.

However, weight becomes immaterial in the case of the lightest book, since as of 2007 there exists a book so small you need an electron microscope to read it. Physicists at Simon Fraser University "published" the .07 mm x .10 mm book Teeny Ted from Turnip Town by focusing a "gallium-ion beam" on tiny "pages" made of crystalline silicon.

Well, if you go off into outer space, any book you read will instantly be a contender for the (out of this) world's lightest book, since you'd be reading it in the weightlessness of near-zero gravity.

I don't have room in my house for the heaviest book, and the lightest/smallest ones would get lost in all the clutter, so this is all moot, anyway. But thanks to the question discovered in my stats while procrastinating, I have managed to procrastinate even longer by trying to answer it.