The World Book Encyclopedia is very important to Patti Smith in "Off the Shelf." So much so, in fact, that she's prepared to steal a copy from the store, where the first volume of the encyclopedia is on sale as part of a promotional offer: only ninety-nine cents with every ten-dollar purchase.
Patti would dearly love her mom to buy her a copy, but unfortunately, she can't afford it. Patti's father is on strike, so money's tight in her household. That means no encyclopedia for poor little Patti.
The Smiths' financial struggles are intimately related to Patti's desire to get her hands on an encyclopedia. Indeed, they may well provide the catalyst for her wanting it so badly. This huge, cream-colored tome with its forest-green spine stamped with gold will provide her with a means of escape from her mundane, impoverished existence.
It will give her an entrée into an exciting, endlessly fascinating world that, if only briefly, will take her out of her everyday life with all its many challenges and obstacles and allow her to gain a new perspective on things.
Patti seems to realize this instinctively, which is why she goes to the extreme lengths of trying to steal a copy of the encyclopedia from the store. However, things don't go according to plan when she's caught by a store detective. In the end, though, Patti gets her coveted encyclopedia after all, and she can finally enter into a whole different world.