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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Smell No Evil

There’s gold in them thar book sales!

So I’m at the Evanston Public Library in their booksale room and lo and behold this beauty jumps out at me.


Putting aside the fact that this is without a doubt the first and only Sesame Street book that repeats the word “evil” in its title, it took me several viewings before I realized that there were three twiddlebugs at the top reenacting the famous three wise monkeys stance.

Now the book is a scratch-and-sniff title circa 1976 (and this is the 4th printing so it must have been popular).  One person on Twitter mentioned the fact that the covers says that this is “A Golden Fragrance Book”.  Were there others?  You BET there were!  On the back I found a listing of other titles.  They were:

  • The Sweet Smell of Christmas
  • The Winnie-the-Pooh Scratch and Sniff Book
  • Bambi’s Fragrant Forest [surely not a good idea]
  • A Nose for Trouble
  • Detective Arthur on the Scent
  • Little Bunny Follows His Nose
  • Max the Nosey Bear

I remember all too well how popular scratch-and-sniff books were when I was a kid.  I loved them.  I had one (the name long since forgotten so it might well be one of the books mentioned here) where you could scratch a chocolate ice cream cone and smell it.

So what is the history of the scratch-and-sniff book?  It occurred to me that there might well be scratch-and-sniff historians out there that have written long papers on this very subject, so I set off to find out.  I did find a Bookriot link called Scratch and Sniff Books for Grownups and an Economist piece on how scratch-and-sniff really works but the actual history appeared in the conflicting reports from Fiction Circus and Wikipedia.  Long story short, it was a novelty that served its time.

Might we see a resurgence in scratch-and-sniff in the future?  After all, tactile objects are all the rage in this, the digital era.  The internet cannot provide smells yet.  But scent is a fickle commodity.  Remember Smell-o-Vision or Moss Man, the pungent He-Man character that smelled like a particularly potent version of that Christmas tree that smoking drivers would hang off their rear view mirrors?  Smelling weird things is okay for a lark but it’s not the kind of thing you build a business on.

Still, I suspect the children’s book world has another scratch-and-sniff era coming.  And who knows?  Perhaps one day a Caldecott winner will be of the scratch-and-sniff variety.  And if you believe that I’ve got the loveliest little bridge over here that I’d like to sell you . . .


About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Never permit a child to own Mossman in the first trimester of your next pregnancy. On the other hand, if he lost it under the couch I could always find it.

  2. Stephanie says:

    I would love a resurgence of scratch-and-sniff books. I just found my childhood copy of this Sesame Street scratch-and-sniff book this past summer. And it’s still scratch-and-sniffable 30 years later!

  3. I’m pretty sure we have The Sweet Smell of Christmas. At least, we have a scratch and sniff Christmas book that belonged to my husband and his sister. When my MIL pulled it out last year, they both swore they could still smell the scents, but I’m pretty sure it was all in their heads (noses?)

  4. The Sweet Smell of Christmas was one of my favorite Christmas books, and it’s still in print! I bought a copy for my nieces and nephew a couple years ago.


  6. Then I’ll do one of those ones with the tinny little sound effect buttons. SNAPPSY THE ALLIGATOR (DID NOT ASK YOU PUSH THAT AWFUL BUTTON) (AND NEITHER DID YOUR PARENTS) (QUIT IT) (SERIOUSLY) (STOP)

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Ooo! See if you can make it so that the sound effect button fails after about 3 months and makes a dying duck sound, but only sporadically so that it drives parents/librarians/teachers crazy looking for the source.

      • Elizabeth Bird says:

        Not that I would know anything about that (I’m looking at you, VERY QUIET CRICKET).

      • My first thought is to make it the five-line hook of a very catchy song. That would be fun, right? OR I’m going to make it like those sound puzzles that make a noise when you put the piece in correctly, and ALSO make the noise when the parents and librarians turn the lights off at the end of the day, and it’s fine, it’s cool, everyone likes it, because there’s nothing like suddenly hearing an elephant when the house is quiet and you’re ready for bed.

      • Elizabeth Bird says:

        I am reminded of Travis Jonker’s recent piece on The Most Annoying Board Book Ever. In that particular book (if it’s the same one I’m thinking of) there was a button that was supposed to be snoring but came off instead as Darth Vadar. So if you could include some aspect where parents feel like they are mere minutes away from being strangled to death by a creepy guy in a cape, I would call that a win.

  7. What is, parenting, really, but being mere minutes away from being strangled to death by a creepy guy in a cape.

  8. I loved The Sweet Smell of Christmas, too. The orange in the bear’s stocking… the piney tree… the mug of hot chocolate. The smells actually smelled like the things they were supposed to smell like!

  9. Scratch and sniff bookmarks are super popular right now. But my favorite is when the students pick one up that isn’t a scratch sniff, like the one we had for Groundhog’s Day, and try to smell it. Really? You want to smell a groundhog? I can’t even begin to think what that would smell like.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Pardon me. I think I may have to now go and pen the title SMELL THE GROUNDHOG. I imagine it would smell something like camphor.

  10. Safranit Molly says:

    Well thank you to all of you. I just had the most delightful series of chuckles over the past few minutes.
    I do think it is possible to use scent artfully in books. It doesn’t have to be the campy, Sesame Street type of book. Scent enhanced books needn’t be about smell but perhaps strengthened by smell. You’re right Betsy–the internet can’t do smell yet. Paper books do have the sensory experience on their side. That sensory element will always be relevant in children’s books. Long live scratch and sniff!