It’s a little late for me to read The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read: (And Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did) since it’s been many years since any child was left in the house (let alone a sleep-training baby!) And I suspect that this book may, indeed, be better appreciated after the fact, since it contains very few practical tips and leans more towards a philosophy of parenting, one that I wholly adhere to: the most important part of parenting is to cultivate a healthy relationship with the children that can help everyone grow. So the author suggests that we listen to the feelings our children express rather than move things along, that we look at child play as work (bravo!), and that we plan for who will support us so we can support our children.
The only quibble is her approach to sleep-training, which she thinks we should be very patient with. I think patience is wonderful but a well-rested parent is a better parent. Don’t you agree?
The Girl in the Photograph: The True Story of a Native American Child, Lost and Found in America may be the worst-written book I’ve read this year. Granted, the author is a US senator and not a professional writer, but the issue is not so much the quality of the writing as the vertiginous lack of proper organization of the materials, combined with a desire to throw in any extraneous material that might make people vote for him. (He is retired, but I guess old habits die hard).
Still, the story at the center of the book is gripping: a young girl is beaten at her foster home, then disappears, and when she is found, decades later, it turns out that her life has been shattered. We do a terrible job of protecting Native American children.
I long resisted reading Nothing to See Here because I had serious doubts about a story that featured self-igniting children. How contrived! How silly! Well, I was wrong. Kevin Wilson has the magic touch when it comes to writing about children (see here and here) and the self-igniting children become completely normal, in a way, as well as symptomatic of the crazy family in which they leave. Also normal is the devotion of their unlikely nanny, strangely loyal to someone who betrayed her in the past. Let’s just say that you will never look at politicians the same way after you read the story.
Is it possible to find a heart-warming book that also has some substance? Try Kindness and Wonder: Why Mister Rogers Matters Now More Than Ever, which tells the story of a very unlikely TV host who started his show with no budget but quickly attracted a loyal and ever-growing audience. The author carefully details how Fred Rogers avoided fortune and political entanglement, even as he met great fame. It’s a loverly rememebrance.
The heroine of A Girl Returned is suddenly thrust into a new family, which turns out to be the biological family from which she had been adopted, but she did not even know she was adopted. From one day to the next, she move from a comfortable life to a life scrabble existence, sharing a bed with a younger sister since there is literally no place for her, and scrounging for information about her adoptive mother, who seems to have disappeared entirely, and the reasons why her biological parents allowed her (entirely informal) adoption. The mood of the book reminded me strongly of the Ellena Ferrante series (perhaps because it has the same translator), but I liked it much more in that it focused on the emotions of the two girls (the adopted one and her sister) more than the events of their life.
Beeline: What Spelling Bees Reveal About Generation Z’s New Path to Success attempts to use spelling bees as a mode of inquiry into Generation Z kids, and it does not go well. The description of the bees and participants are told lovingly and were, to me, the most accomplished part of the book.
The rest seemed both repetitive and shallow, somehow. Why is it important to justify spelling bees as a “sport”? It’s not a sport, anymore than chess is a sport, but why should all children participate in sports? And yes, the winners are good at self-direction, and self-promotion, skills that will be useful to them later on. The winners of competitive endeavors are self-motivated. And the author tries so hard to portray the parents as not pushy that it’s a little suspicious. Surely, like in any other field, there are parents who step above the line, right? But I think you will enjoy the descriptions of the bees and the training methods used by the contestants. They certainly know a lot about how the English language came together.
The authors of Love, Money, and Parenting: How Economics Explains the Way We Raise Our Kids are fathers and economists, and they have patiently compiled information on how parents choose to be parents in the first place, and how they decide how much to intervene in the decisions their children make, based on the economic climate, the amount of income inequality, and whether the society rewards education or other goods. It turns out that parents are remarkably rational and for the most part, guide their children to success in the societies where they live–or where they expect their children to live. For Americans, the basic conclusion is that, in a society that is quite unequal and where education can pay off nicely, parents push, hard, but they stop short of dictating junior’s career path, because it will yield the best results.
I particularly liked the anecdotes provided by both (European-born) authors on the various surprises they encountered while raising their children in various countries, showing that cultural differences matter a great deal (and match economic differences very exactly).
The heroine of Everything Under grew up on a houseboat with an unstable and likely mentally ill mother who eventually abandoned her. Decades later, her mother reappears and she revisits her surprisingly hazy memories, including what I found to be a very tiresome retelling of the Oedipus story, drowning in fog and rain.
Rebellious stepdaughter picks the one act sure to infuriate both her hated stepfather and her over-protective mother: she has sex with her stepbrother. Trouble ensues.
Why one would want to read about the barely coherent feelings and decisions of that teenager is unclear. Hence, I do not recommend The Awkward Age.
Note to the author of a novel awash with physicians: there is no school of medicine at MIT. Plenty of others to choose from in Boston, though!
I was a little leery of the precocious Nenny’s voice in Every Other Weekend — plus, can the ordinary life of the daughter of divorced parent be really that interesting? Well, yes! As we follow her to her parochial school, through her wildly devastating nightmares, and along her complex relationships with her silent, though, but secretly sweet stepfather, we fall in love with her world and her vision of it. Even without the eventual tragedy, she takes us into the universe of third graders, and it’s not quite as simple as we might think. Don’t give up before you read at least 100 pages!