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Book on the Head

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Glasses on books are optional.

"I don't get it. Do polite people not have bookshelves in your country?"
Candace, Phineas and Ferb

The main exercise in just about every poise class: learning to walk with a book on your head without letting it fall. It helps with standing up straight, the basis to earn respect in high class society. Rich men are expected to not slouch, either; but curiously, it's mostly women who are shown training with books in fiction.

Maybe because of the association with beauty pageants, whose contestants always work their walking and general attitude before arriving on the podium. It's also common in finishing schools.

The other context where the book-on-head training is seen, is when a Fish out of Water has to learn high society manners, whether she just legally won her entry in or she is working undercover, impersonating a rich protagonist.

The main character will either do it perfectly, confirming she is where she's meant to be, by managing to carry more than one book, or curtsying and descending stairs while still having it on the head. Or else, her rival will manage to do so while the heroine will fail miserably, confirming she doesn't fit in.

A common variant consists of using another object, like a vase, or, adding difficulty, by putting a fragile thing (such as the aforementioned vase) on the book, or increasing the number of the objects carried on the head.

Compare Throw the Book at Them for the other meaning of "book on head".


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Kilala Princess. When Kilala is in Cinderella's world, they are training together to have perfect manners; Cinderella and Kilala are once both seen with several books on the head.
  • Magical Idol Pastel Yumi. Mrs. Fukurokoji once bet her aunt that she could teach ladylike manners to Yumi. Lessons included the walk with books, and at first, Yumi was not able to curtsy without make them fall.
  • In Sailor Moon, Usagi attempted to do this, but ended up tripping since she couldn't look down to see what was at her feet.

    Comic Books 
  • Archie Comics had Veronica practicing balancing a book with a glass of water on her head, and when Betty arrives, she is urged to try it herself. After Veronica goes inside, Betty tries it again and again, drenching herself every time. Archie and Reggie show up to laugh at her predicament, only to get soaked themselves when they try it. After they declare it impossible, Betty picks up the book Veronica used, only to find that it had a fake glass of water glued to it, as well as a hole cut to fit on top of her head. Veronica, laughing at her prank, steps back out only to find her friends brandishing buckets of water, ready for revenge.
  • When Daphne is entered in a beauty contest in one Scooby-Doo comic book, the walking-with-a-book-on-her-head is part of the preparation that Velma has her do.

    Comic Strips 
  • In one Nancy comic, Aunt Fritzi chides Nancy for her poor posture, and recalls how when she was a little girl, she used to practice good posture by balancing a book on her head. Nancy decides to use a VHS cassette to be more modern. This was back in The '90s.

    Fan Works 
  • A.A. Pessimal's tale of murder in Ankh-Morpork, Murder Most 'Orrible features the Assassins' Guild School. Here, Joan Sanderson-Reeves ratchets things up for her student Assassins when she tries to teach them how to move gracefully and elegantly and not to jolly well slouch! With the aid of Poisons master Mr Mericet, she demonstrates that it is possible to balance a saucer of nitric acid on your head — and not to spill a single drop. "Well, you have a jolly good incentive not to, do you not?"note . But Joan displays mercy and tells her class they'd better do it with books on their heads, for now.
  • Past Sins: Chapter 2 has Rarity teaching Nyx some refinement, such as by balancing a book on her head:
    Rarity was balancing a stack of three books on her head while Nyx had a single fairly thin book on hers.
  • Quizzical: A Little Fixer-Upper:
    "Show me you can walk around the room with poise."
    Quiz had no difficulty completing a lap of the library's front room, so Scootaloo added a book.
    "This would be more stable if the smallest book was on the top," Quiz pointed out.
    "I know," said Scootaloo, adding a third, even larger book. "Walk around again. And this time explain the difference between a noun, a proper noun, and a pronoun."

    Film — Animated 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The Brady Bunch Movie. Inverted when Marcia tries to land a job as a teen model, but before she can start, the photographer/agent tells Marcia she'll need some "work", which she assumes includes walking with books on her head.
  • Cinderella (1997): The Stepmother has her two daughters balance books on their heads as part of their constant training to snare a good husband, preferably the Prince.
  • A League of Their Own. The female baseball players, additionally to the sportive training, also have to follow etiquette lessons, which include this exercise.
  • The Marvels (2023): During a montage of Carol, Monica and Kamala figuring out newfound connective-teleporting powers, they walk while balancing books on their heads with the added exercise of keeping them put as they spontaneously swap positions.
  • In The Music Man, the ladies practice dancing with books on their heads, and succeed until one move has them intentionally leaning backwards, and the books all fall in unison.
  • My Fair Lady. In the song "I Could Have Danced All Night", Eliza briefly put a book on her head while going to bed; servants put it back on a table when they notice her zeal.
  • The Princess Diaries. Averted during Mia's training, but still, Queen Clarisse shows her how to walk without slouching and dragging herself along, even without a book.
  • Princess Protection Program. Princess Rosalinda want to prove to her new friend Carter that being royalty isn't just showing off. Carter learns how to act with royal aplomb, including walking with a book. When she states she just can't believe princesses are compelled to do this, Rosalinda burst into laughter and admits she actually never had to do so; she was just pulling Carter's leg.
  • In Sam, Blondell trains Samantha to walk with a book on her head to improve her posture as part of her Girliness Upgrade. Blondell himself demonstrates this for her, and is much better at than her (at first).
  • In the adaptation of Sapphire Blue, Gwendoline is seen with a book on head while Charlotte gaves her Lessons in Sophistication.


    Live-Action TV 
  • Inverted in an episode of 30 Rock. To get an endorsement deal with the Southern Tourism Bureau, Jenna has to un-learn everything she's learned from her pageant days and regress to her Florida upbringing. Her training includes walking with a book on her head and making sure it falls off.
  • The Beverly Hillbillies: In "Pygmalion and Elly", Sonny Drysdale demonstrates book-balancing to Elly May. Jed and Jethro, spying from behind the "fancy courtin' parlor" curtains, think he's nuts.
  • Seems to be the only thing the strict nanny is concerned with in The Bleak Old Shop Of Stuff. "POSTURE!"
  • The Brady Bunch. When Marcia takes a friend under her wing to make her over, one of the lessons in a Training Montage is book-walking. Marcia can do it, but her trainee is terrible until the end of the montage.
  • Seen in the opening montage of the last season of Charlie's Angels featuring Tanya Roberts.
  • Sha Na Na. In an episode where Jocko is trying to make himself less uncouth to impress a girl, he sits with a book on his head while passing the potatoes at a practice dinner. He keeps the book steady but fails at saying "here you go" without saying "youse."

  • The Upper Crust mentioned this as one of the activities they were forced to do in the song "We're Finished With Finishing School".

    Western Animation 
  • American Dad! In the episode Steven and Snot's Test-Tubular Adventure Steven and Snot send their clones to Roger's finishing school.
    Backs straight, girls. And remember, these books are for posture only. A literate girl is a lonely girl.
  • Angela Anaconda: The books Nanette uses for correcting her posture tend to get hair gel stains. The school librarian bans her from borrowing books because of that.
  • Arthur. This is one of the training exercizes Ladonna gives Francine in, "Speak Up, Francine!" to help her overcome stage fright of public speaking — balancing books on her head is to teach Francine to keep from looking down, and keep looking forward to the people she's addressing.
  • When Babar is learning proper etiquie from Madame, this test is one part of his training.
  • Courage the Cowardly Dog. In the final episode, a teacher appears from out of nowhere to give Courage perfection lessons, since he apparently can't do anything right. One of the first exercises she gives him is walking up the stairs with a tall stack of ridiculously heavy books (and an apple) on his head; every single book falls off his head — one by one, with each step — for which she fails him for not being the least bit perfect.
  • Danny Phantom. Used in the episode "Beauty Marked". A Beauty Contest is organized at Casper High to elect a local princess, and Sam compete just to protest against the principle. During the walking-with-a-book exercise, she reads hers instead of having it on her head — and soon provokes a general stumbling.
  • The Flintstones had Wilma do this in an episode with a slab of stone on her head (since books had not been invented in the Stone Age yet) for acting lessons for a hand commercial while saying "The ants in France stay mainly on the plants". She soon quit before she was due to go on camera.
  • The eight episode of Mia and Me ends with, the students have to do this during a manners class, and as a variant it's the Alpha Bitch who trip on the carpet and fall along with her book.
  • Monster High: The vase variant was used on Operetta, in the episode where Cleo teaches her royal manners. Operetta improved over the course of one night, after several broken vases.
  • Phineas and Ferb: In "My Fair Goalie", Eliza Fletcher tries to teach Candace how to behave like a proper British Lady, and she includes balancing books on the head in her lessons. Candace thinks polite people carry books on their heads because they don't have bookshelves.
  • Sofia the First
    • The exercise was part of the "Princess test" in the episode of the same name. All the female students of the Royal prep succeed to do it. So, the fairies teachers complicate the test by throwing enchanted cushions into the princess’ legs.
    • Sofia herself wasn't present but can be seen doing so in the merchandising.
  • In the short "Debutante Devil" from the Tiny Toon Adventures episode "You Asked For It", Babs makes Dizzy Devil do this. She then puts a bunch of heavy objects on top of it, including more books, a refrigerator, a safe, a car, a steamroller, a tugboat, a space shuttle, several boxes, and the White House. It all crashes down on Dizzy when she adds a piece of tissue paper.
  • Total Drama: In "A Blast from the Past", Topher mentions he has training balancing books on his head from his on-camera poise class.
  • Winx Club: In the episode The company of light, Bloom is invited by Eraklyon royal family, but was not teach proper manners from birth. So Aisha and Stella teach her how to curtsy or carry a book on her head. Unlike her friends, Bloom has initially difficulties to do it.

    Real Life 
  • According to 19th-century manners guides, ladies did not only train with books, but also had to do exercises such as eating with fresh eggs stuck under their armpits.
  • In the Princess Prep, a princesses summer boot camp in London, little girls had such an exercise as seen here.
  • It's also a given subject in butlers schools.
  • The same principle is sometimes used in pistol training by laying a quarter (or any similarly-sized coin) over the front sight of the gun to practice trigger technique. If the quarter falls off when you dry-fire, you're doing it wrong.
  • Similarly, an old-school method used by some piano teachers has the student lay coins on the backs of their hands. Playing with the correct wrist position will keep the coins from falling.


Video Example(s):


Flower Scouts

The Flower Scouts walk on a balance beam over a vat of acid dodging spiked pendulums, all while balancing a stack of books on their heads.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / BookOnTheHead

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