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The Latest China-Related Product Recall: Mine

A few weeks ago, I gave a bookstore reading for my new kids’ book, The Boy With Two Belly Buttons. I was sitting on the floor, reading to a bunch of kids, when suddenly something seemed wrong with the story — it didn’t track, didn’t make sense to me at all. Befuddled, I stopped reading. I remember thinking, “Wow, has it been so long since I looked at the story that I’ve forgotten how it goes?” Then I thought maybe I had simply skipped a page. But after flipping the pages back and forth, I saw that wasn’t the case.

Finally, I figured out what had happened: the text on one of the pages of the book was missing. The illustration was fine, and the text on the facing page was fine, but on the page in question, the words were simply missing. It was a misprint — or, more accurately, a non-print. What a drag.

So I thought for a minute about the missing text, paraphrased that section for the kids, and finished the book. That page was the only one missing any text. Afterwards, at the book signing, I handwrote the absent lines for anyone who wanted them. It was only four lines, and they didn’t take more than a minute or so to write.

I remembered the publisher telling me that the book was printed in China, so I assumed the mishap was yet another Chinese quality-control issue concerning children’s merchandise. Fortunately, this is just a kids’ book and not poisoned toothpaste or toys contaminated with a date-rape drug, but still, I was pretty chagrined. There are only about 540 words of text in the whole book, so the missing text represented 3 percent of the total. I would have been pretty distressed if 3 percent of the text in Freakonomics had been missing.

The publisher was suitably horrified to hear what had happened, and hustled to recall all the defective books. As it turned out, they were all part of a second printing. The first printing, which had indeed been done in China, was perfect. The second printing, meanwhile, had been done in … New Jersey.

I can just imagine some nice Chinese couple with young children ordering the book and finding that, all of a sudden, the story doesn’t make sense. “I’ll never buy anything made in New Jersey again!” they tell each other.

For anyone who already owns a defective copy, I would offer to handwrite the missing paragraph for you, but a) that’s not very practical; and b) your handwriting is probably a lot better than mine. So you can do it yourself. On the left-hand page where you see Solomon sitting down and looking across the page at a turtle, here’s what it should say:

Down the road, Solomon saw Victor the turtle.
“Victor, how many belly buttons do you have?”

In the meantime, let’s hope that the printing company in New Jersey isn’t also printing, say, instruction manuals for pacemakers.