Book Review — First Bite: How We Learn to Eat

Book Review — First Bite: How We Learn to Eat

March Book Review First BitReviewed by Hilary Levey Friedman

When I think about my childhood home I think about Buddy’s pizza, Leo’s Coney Island Greek salad, and Lelli’s zip sauce. In other words, I conjure up memories of food—tastes, settings, celebrations. According to Bee Wilson, food critic and historian and author of the recent book First Bite: How We Learn to Eat, this is not at all surprising. Wilson writes, “Memory is the single most powerful driving force in how we learn to eat; it shapes all of our yearnings.”

I can confirm that when I was pregnant I indeed had yearnings for comfort food. After my boys arrived though thoughts changed to do things: how best to feed them and how best to lose my “baby weight.” In reading First Bite, I have come to see these desires as interrelated, and almost certainly in ways I still do not fully understand, but which will surely influence my children’s eating habits, and thus those of all my descendants.

Over eight chapters Wilson takes us on a food journey that roughly parallels a child’s development, with detours into disorders (turns out that “eating disorders are as numberless as snowflakes”) and meditations on hunger. After each analytic and reflective chapter, eight specific foods get a mini-essay about themselves, like beets, birthday cake, chocolate, and potato chips.

Two of these food mini-essays—chocolate and potato chips—capture the tone, factual research, and complexity of First Bite. When it comes to chocolate Wilson convincingly explains that, “Female chocolate cravings are an archetypal learned behavior.” As for potato chips, she argues that our love of them may go back to our primate ancestors for whom crunchy insects were an important source of protein.

In a somewhat controversial move, Wilson departs from the worldwide guidelines that infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. But she rationally makes her case for this, explaining that between the ages of four and seven months, “there is a window when humans are extraordinarily receptive to flavor, but by following current guidelines on exclusive breastfeeding, parents tend to miss it.” While Wilson discusses Baby Led Weaning in Chapter 4 on feeding, she generally thinks that picture is not all positive, instead suggesting that parents expose children to a range of whole foods as early as four months, making repeated attempts even if a child first resists by making a face. The trick is persistence. And listening to a few simple “rules” like those listed in the epilogue. Two of my favorites include: 1) Eat soup, and 2) “Sugar is not love. But it can feel like it.”

For parents interested in learning more about how to feed their younger children the focus should be on the first half of the book, especially Chapter 1 on likes and dislikes and Chapter 5 on siblings. But parents should also be thinking about their own relationship with food, as that is essentially the single biggest predictor of how your little ones respond eat. In Chapter 6 on hunger, Wilson explains:

The latest January diets often claim that if only you follow all the steps, you will never feel hungry again. It’s taken me a long time to realize that part of eating well is making friends with hunger. We are not the starving children. To feel mildly hungry two or three times a day—when you are lucky enough to know that another meal is coming soon—is a good thing. All my life—except when I’d been attempting weight—I’d responded to the gentlest of tummy rumbles as something that needed to be urgently canceled out. It is only now that I see you can easily live with an hour or two of slight emptiness. In fact, it makes the next meal taste better (‘Hunger is the best sauce,’ as the proverb goes).

I have certainly become a more varied eater as I have gotten older, moved around, and reconstituted my social experiences from the restaurants of my suburban Detroit youth. But as I now seriously strive to last the last of that baby weight (or, more appropriately now, “toddler weight”), I am having to learn to live with some hunger again, and remind myself that this is not in and of itself a bad thing.

In reading First Bite I also learned why I am one of the few people I know who dislikes both coffee and beer. Wilson explains that I am likely a supertaster, or someone who tastes more, so bitter things (oh, like coffee and beer) aren’t my thing, despite being two of the most popular beverages in the world.

When people find out that I don’t drink any coffee at all they are often shocked, explaining they would be far less productive if they did not drink some brew each day. Somehow I get through each busy day without coffee (though I do consume caffeine through either Diet Coke or tea!), but starting next month I will have one less thing on my full plate as I will be stepping down as Brain, Child’s Book Review Editor. As I wrote in 2014 when I began this position, I hope books suggested by our magazine have helped you find meaning as both readers and parents, and not just in the words, but in the spaces in between them.

Whether it has been sharing books or meals with Brain, Child readers and writers I’ve enjoying our interactions. And, don’t worry, I won’t stop reading, writing, or eating for that matter, and you can continue to follow me through various forms of social media or on my website, linked below. Although I might be able to cut back on the caffeine just a touch…

Hilary Levey Friedman, PhD is the outgoing Book Review Editor Brain, Child and the author of Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture. She teaches in the Department of American Studies at Brown University.

Beyond the Pale: Folklore, Family and the Mystery of our Hidden Genes

Beyond the Pale: Folklore, Family and the Mystery of our Hidden Genes

Reviewed by Hilary Levey Friedman

unnamed-5You know the phenomenon where as soon as you learn a new word, or hear about a new activity or condition, it seems like it is suddenly everywhere? This is what happens to Emily Urquhart when her daughter, Sadie, is born on December 26th in Newfoundland.

Sadie is diagnosed with albinism[i] and Emily begins to notice albinism all around her—in the news, in family photos, and in pop culture. For example, have you ever noticed that the villains in The Da Vinci Code, The Matrix Reloaded, and The Princess Bride have albinism? After making this connection Urquhart observes, “Despite our perceived modernity, much of our faith and knowledge is wrapped up in make-believe.”

Urquhart is uniquely suited to make this observation because not only is she Sadie’s mom, she is also a folklorist. Beyond the Pale is the beautiful product of her merging together two strands of her life. She explains: “I study folklore, the intimate truths we reveal through the stories we tell. Legends, fairy tales, and beliefs are the screens onto which we project our fears, hopes, secrets, and desires. After my daughter was born, I felt that knowing the cultural tales about people with her condition, whether they were frightening or beautiful, would help me understand the shape of her life.”

As you can tell from these lines Urquhart is also a master storyteller, choosing evocative words to describe situations that are both knowable and unknowable to all parents. After officially receiving Sadie’s diagnosis (which is neither terminal nor degenerative, but means a lifetime of limited vision and being careful in the sunshine), which she sees as succumbing to her DNA, Urquhart dives into medical journals and parenting memoirs. It is some time before she can return to fiction but when she does so she hones in on the importance of stories: “Science can tell you how genetic anomalies and birth defects happen, but not why they happened… Here is the value of folklore: it gives shape to the unknowable.”

Over the course of Beyond the Pale Urquhart takes the reader on a few journeys—actual physical ones. In one the family of three goes to St. Louis for a conference on albinism that gives Urquhart confidence in Sadie’s future (like her ability to drive someday and make friends without fear of being bullied). In another she goes to Tanzania to help children with albinism who are being brutally attacked for their limbs, which some believe to have “magical powers.” (I found this to be the weakest entry in Beyond the Pale. While these are atrocities that need to be shared, the travelogue here was not as well integrated with Urquhart’s family story which ultimately is at the heart of the book.) Finally Urquhart goes with her father to Niagara Falls to meet and reconnect with old family members, who it turns out are the children of a number of aunts with albinism.

In Sadie’s young life she intersects with many people due to her relatively rare genetic mutation, some who are family and others who are part of the medical profession. In an observation that will resonate with all parents Urquhart says that one of Sadie’s doctors will, “always be a central character in the story of Sadie’s life.” Most parents will always recall the doctor who delivered their child, or their pediatrician; but that doctor more than likely will not remember.

In the end, in trying to suss out her story, Urquhart discovers that her network and story are less complicated than she once thought. In her own words: “It took a long time to distill out story into those five words: It runs in the family.” In weaving together genetics, folklore, travel, and parenting memoir Urquhart has used her strong voice to create a story that will stay with the reader in many ways for a long time. And she provides a new model for albinism beyond the pale villains in fictional thrillers: her spirited, fair daughter, Sadie.

[i] Urquhart explains that use of the term “albino” is no longer considered polite, so I use the term “albinism” here.

Hilary Levey Friedman, PhD is the Book Review Editor Brain, Child and the author of Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture. She teaches in the Department of American Studies at Brown University.

Modern Families: Stories of Extraordinary Journeys to Kinship: A Book Review

Modern Families: Stories of Extraordinary Journeys to Kinship: A Book Review

Reviewed by Hilary Levey Friedman

Modern Families coverWhere do I come from? Who am I? These are some of the most fundamental questions humans ask themselves. In many cases, the answers have to do with family. But, what, then exactly is a family?

Joshua Gamson tackles these complicated issues in Modern Families, a book about contemporary tales of family creation including adoption, in vitro, surrogacy, and more. Gamson is a sociologist who has previously written books on fame, tabloid talk shows, and sexuality, but this book is far more personal. This is also the story of the creation of his family.

Unlike Mitchell and Cameron on “Modern Family,” the ABC sitcom that inspired the name of the book, Gamson and his husband don’t go through international adoption (though other couples in Modern Families use both domestic and international adoption to create their own modern families). His first daughter, Reba, was conceived using the egg of a friend and the uterus of another friend, what is known as “collaborative reproduction.” His second daughter, Madeleine, was carried by a paid surrogate who liked to refer to herself as a “fetus sitter.” It’s no wonder then that when describing Modern Families Gamson explains, “More broadly, you might read it as an intimate view of the much-remarked-on transformation of family structures, as seen through the experiences of people who have been, out of necessity as much as anything else, making their families up.”

Gamson successfully weaves together the personal and the academic throughout the book. He takes personal stories and situates them in more complicated institutions and social structures. In the Introduction (titled “Impertinent Questions” about the probing questions strangers sometimes ask about how their daughters were “got”) he usefully describes the book as the “love child” of two different types of writing on reproduction.

The first type of writing is what he calls Repro Lit. These personal stories, usually memoirs, double as how-to books and are ultimately celebratory about the process—think Peggy Orenstein’s Waiting for Daisy. Repro Crit on the other hand is more of a buzzkill focusing mainly on institutional structures and the circulation of power within them and how this literally reproduces inequality. Though less well known, a book by the name of Outsourcing the Womb, suggests the tone of this category.

Like Repro Crit Gamson points out forces of inequality throughout (mainly to do with financial issues, but also sometimes social class and cultural knowledge that impacts legal processes), but the narratives are often emotional and triumphant, with some how-to advice thrown in. Gamson details the legal workarounds they used with their surrogates in Kentucky and Massachusetts, and one of the best lines in the book is when he writes that Kentucky had out-liberaled California (where Gamson and his husband live) when they listed “parent” and “parent” on their daughter Madeline’s birth certificate, and not “mother” and “father” like California.

In the end it is the stories we are left with, mainly because there is a little serious research on families like Gamson’s, partly because they are so new. The various stories of family creation told in Modern Families—the struggles and the successes—are quite moving. On multiple occasions while reading I was moved to tears, usually tears of joy. One caution is that while this is a book you can dip into and out of, it can be hard at times to keep all the families and the people who make them up straight (no pun intended) given the multiple families featured.

A lasting theme of Modern Families is: “How extraordinary you are, and yet how ordinary.” While the families profiled here were brought together thanks to various types of technology, often in extraordinary ways, in the end the children and their parents are ordinary. Gamson insightfully writes, “It’s one of the things these family origin stories share with more typical ones: every family story has silences and secrets. More to the point, the farther away you get from the conventional, the less you can fit your story into a familiar script of family creation and the more you’re likely to face disapproval. For those of us who grew up in a culture of disclosure—in which, for instance, coming out is an act of empowerment and Facebook is a verb—becoming parents has posed the jarring challenge of figuring out what not to tell.”

As the extraordinary, yet ordinary, children whose creation stories are relayed here age, they will have the lasting evidence of just how much they were wanted, just how much their parents were willing to tell on social media and beyond to create their own modern families.

Hilary Levey Friedman is the Book Review Editor at Brain, Child and the author of Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture. She loves all modern families, including her own.

A Q & A with Modern Families author Joshua Gamson

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Shakespeare’s Guide to Parenting: A Book Review

Shakespeare’s Guide to Parenting: A Book Review

By Hilary Levey Friedman

61nvr3kwpnL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_It has been said that the Bard’s words can be applied to any human situation. James Andrews, a British humorist, puts that to the test in Shakespeare’s Guide to Parenting, just released in the United States. In a month full of planning and parties, this short book (155 pages) is a great way to wind down, reflect, and chuckle as you head into a new year.

William Shakespeare had three children—first a girl and then twins, a boy and a girl. While he must have been familiar with the demands of children (including but not limited to dirty diapers, sleepless nights, teenage insolence, etc.) none of his works are devoted to the topic. Enter Andrews who organizes quotations from Shakespeare’s oeuvre into timeless and timely comments on parenting.

The book is divided into five acts that are roughly chronological. Act I focuses on newborns, so the issues here are evergreen. There is crying, breastfeeding, and calming. Of the latter Andrews pulls out a quote from The Tempest to apply to a father who tosses his child, with these words in a thought bubble above the baby’s head: “Prithee, do not turn me about. My stomach is not constant.”

And then, of course, there is the biggie, loss of sleep:



Notice that the drawings that accompany the quotes are very basic, which adds to the charm of Shakespeare’s Guide to Parenting. The words are the stars, but the images do add to the sardonic tone that is pervasive throughout the volume.

That tone is evident as Act II begins, with a focus on the toddler years. Sleep remains an issue, as these two pages on “Up In the Night” illustrate with not one, not two, not three, but four lines from different Shakespearean works (both tragedies and comedies):














Act II also begins to take on some of the more modern challenges of parenting, like tantrums in supermarkets. Andrews and Shakespeare advocate for a denial approach, captured in this line from Much Ado About Nothing: “No part of it is mine; this shame derives itself from unknown loins.”

Acts III and IV continue to wind through way through childhood, both perennial and contemporary (car trips, sweets, hobbies, siblings, school refusing, and the list goes on), while the penultimate act, Act V, culminates with teenagers, who present new challenges.


For parents of female teens, there is this about clothing:



And for parents of male teens regarding food consumption:


Modern audiences need to keep a sense of humor when reading about punishments, and remember that Andrews is not advocating physical abuse or food deprivation, but rather cleverly using Shakespeare’s words (and even when taken out of context of a play, remember that disciplinary standards were quite different in the 1500s and 1600s!). For instance, a quote from Titus Andronicus regarding “smacking:” “You shall know, my boys, your mother’s hand shall right your mother’s wrong.” And another from Titus about children who act improperly at the dinner table declares, “There let him stand and rave and cry for food.”

Shakespeare’s Guide to Parenting draws exclusively from the plays, and does not include any lines from sonnets. You can imagine that the tone of the book would change quite substantially if it included lines like, “Thou art more lovely and more temperate…” as opposed to, “My womb, my womb, my womb undoes me.”

The purpose of James Andrews’ illustrations and commentary in the end is to make you smile, and perhaps provide some reassurance for those days when you say to yourself in your head the line from The Tempest: “Good wombs have borne bad sons.”

Hilary Levey Friedman is the Book Review Editor at Brain, Child and the author of Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture. She has two good sons borne from her good womb.

Buy Shakespeare’s Guide to Parenting

Book Review: Are Our Kids Maturing Faster?

Book Review: Are Our Kids Maturing Faster?

The New PubertyBy Hilary Levey Friedman

Louise Greenspan and Julianna Deardorff’s The New Puberty: How to Navigate Early Development in Today’s Girls 

Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley’s It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health 

Joyce T. McFadden’s Your Daughter’s Bedroom: Insights for Raising Confident Women 

Jonathan Zimmerman’s Too Hot to Handle: A Global History of Sex Education

Few things in life fill people—adults and children alike—with as much trepidation as puberty. And while the contours of puberty are unchanged, the age at which it occurs and the implications of that have in fact shifted. So how can we prepare our children, and ourselves, to handle these bodily and life changes with grace?

Four books help show us the way, all with a different focus but in the service of helping adolescents develop a healthy relationship with their own bodies and with others. Jonathan Zimmerman’s academic study of the history of sex education gives us a sweeping big picture view of how we got here, Louise Greenspan and Julianna Deardorff’s The New Puberty not only breaks down what happens biologically but what may or may not have influenced young girls’ biology in more recent times, Joyce McFadden’s Your Daughter’s Bedroom describes the potential long-term implications of not properly addressing puberty with your daughter, and Robie Harris and Michael Emberly’s It’s Perfectly Normal provide a guide you can have your children read so you can have an open discussion together.

It’s Perfectly Normal first appeared in 1994. Since then it has appeared in 35 different languages and in 2014 its 20th anniversary edition appeared with updates on gender identity, sexting, and social media use. Both Your Daughter’s Bedroom and The New Puberty identify It’s Perfectly Normal as one of the best books to use when teaching your children about puberty (boys and girls alike). When you look at the 100-page book it is easy to see why; it tackles sometimes uncomfortable topics with directness and humor thanks to the beautiful watercolor illustrations, especially the Bird and the Bee who appear on every page. While the authors say the book is appropriate for ages 10 and up, it could also be used for children as young as 8, especially because the best time to talk about changes is before they start occurring.

According to Greenspan and Deardorff, pubertal changes are in fact happening earlier than ever before. But not across the board—and it is one of the major strengths of this book that the authors give lots of detail and measured caveats without resorting to attention-grabbing headlines. The New Puberty explains that puberty is a process much more like a long hallway than a single doorway. What hasn’t changed is that puberty in girls typically starts with breast development, then armpit and pubic hair, often acne, followed by a growth spurt, and at last menstruation. The authors explain that, “Girls today tend to experience breast budding at a much earlier age than girls in the 1970s, but they don’t necessarily get their first period that much sooner than their 1970 counterparts.”

Why does this matter? Greenspan and Deardorff explain, “For girls, puberty is unique. It not only foments a complex array of emotional issues but also heralds the development of visual cues of sexuality (e.g. breasts, wider hips) to a degree that boys just don’t experience.” For these reasons the book focuses on females, though advice offered in The New Puberty about how to build emotional closeness and develop healthy habits can be applied equally as well to boys.

Because of changes in the timing of puberty—to which Greenspan and Deardorff carefully show cannot be attributed to any one change but rather a combination of hormone mimickers in the environment, stress, fat, race and ethnicity, and still other factors (one of the best chapters in the book is Chapter 3, “Nature versus Nurture: An In-Depth Look at Puberty Prompters”)—they argue sex education should start earlier than ever. They offer reassurance in The New Puberty that, “Although you may feel like it’s all happening too fast, maturation is actually a slow process, so there’s time to develop this conversation in a way that feels natural to both of you.” But when breast buds begin developing at age 8 for many girls today, should sex ed really wait until middle or even high school?

Jonathan Zimmerman in his new book, Too Hot to Handle, shows how sex ed has been handled differently across the world and in different time periods. When sex education began the United States was one of the leaders, mainly because of its early investment in public education and secondary schools. Though today it lags behind many countries, especially ones like Sweden, which became the first nation in the world to make sex education required in all public schools in 1956.

Venereal disease has been a driving force behind increased sex ed (note it often goes by different names to make it more palatable, such as population education, social hygiene, human relations, or marriage and family education), like during World War II in the 1940s and in the 1990s following the HIV epidemic. But what has always stifled good sexual education remains true across borders and time: parental resistance, religious objections, and poor teacher preparation. Four topics in particular are seen as taboo: abortion, contraception, homosexuality, and masturbation.

Masturbation is one of the more surprising focuses of Joyce McFadden’s Your Daughter’s Bedroom. McFadden, a psychoanalyst, decided to conduct an online survey in 2005 called the Women’s Realities Study. One of the most interesting results of that survey is that the topics women most want to talk about, but don’t always, include masturbation, menstruation, and women’s relationships with their mothers. In fact, McFadden argues, the beginning of menstruation is often the start of distance between mothers and daughters. She wants to enable mothers to feel more comfortable with their own sexuality so that they can pass on that confidence to their daughters. In her own words, “Your Daughter’s Bedroom, is the first book to address the psychological and emotional elements of the sexuality of both mothers and daughters. It offers mothers outward and inward prescriptions for change, because it’s intended to encourage mothers to be introspective and reflect on our own sexuality while learning how to give our daughters the ability to live more comfortably with theirs.”

In talking about It’s Perfectly Normal, McFadden points out that lots of mother’s today give their daughters books about menstruation. However, they just give the books and don’t often have conversations about the contents and answer questions that inevitably arise. So not only does sexual education need to improve in schools, so too does it at home. In order to raise girls, and boys, who are comfortable with their bodies they must receive proper education, support, and guidance from all of the adults in their lives. By being open, honest, and loving about puberty we can raise children who know more about themselves and how to be healthy as they grow and develop over the life course, influencing future generations along the way.

Hilary Levey Friedman is the Book Review Editor at Brain, Child and the author of Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture.


Buy The New Puberty: How to Navigate Early Development in Today’s Girls

Top 10 Books on Discipline and Parenting

Top 10 Books on Discipline and Parenting

Mindful Discipline ARTBy Hilary Levey Friedman

Vanessa Lapointe, a psychologist and author of the forthcoming Discipline without Damage: How to Get Your Kids to Behave Without Messing Them Up [LifeTree Media], writes, “Of all the workshop requests I receive, discipline is by far the most popular topic. Big people everywhere want to know how to discipline. By ‘big people’ I mean parents, grandparents, teachers, neighbors, aunties, uncles, caregivers, and any other adult who plays a significant role in the nurturing and growing up of a child.”

Various philosophies, versions, names, and age-targeted suggestions abound when it comes to discipline, especially for toddlers and teens. But one thing pretty much every book about discipline agrees upon is that discipline is not about punishment and is instead about teaching. Most also agree that a style of parenting that experts call “authoritative parenting” appears to work best for many families. The fourth book on this list, 8 Keys to Old-School Parenting, defines authoritative parents as those who, “Set high expectations and help children live up to those standards; they enforce high moral standards with loving acceptance. They promote self-control with social responsiveness; they teach children to make responsible choices within firmly established limits.”

This group of books about discipline starts with those targeted at the broadest age range, like 8 Keys to Old-School Parenting, then narrows in on the youngest kids, tweens, and teens. At the end a few books focus on targeted populations and how guidance learned in those arenas can help all parents.

The Soul of Discipline: The Simplicity Parenting Approach to Warm, Firm, and Calm Guidance—From Toddlers to Teens by Kim John Payne

Kim John Payne is well-known for his 2010 book Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids. Earlier this year he released The Soul of Discipline to help parents establish a strong foundation in early childhood that will help kids. Payne claims that in 30 years he has never met a truly disobedient child or teen, but he has met a lot of disoriented ones who react by being difficult. He details three phases of parental involvement that build upon one another: the Governor oversees the early years, the Gardener cultivates flowering of teen years, and the Guide oversees the teen years. He also contextualizes everything, like in Chapter 9 where he details the history of discipline, “Avoiding Discipline Fads.” In addition Payne offers concrete advice to parents (I especially loved the tips on pages 83-86 about how to handle serial interrupters!).

Mindful Discipline: A Loving Approach to Setting Limits & Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by Shauna Shapiro and Chris White

Unlike many other books on “discipline,” Mindful Discipline focuses not just on parents and what they can do, but also on what children can do. Shapiro and White emphasize the ways in which self-discipline enables children to learn to guide their own lives, what they call the five essential elements of Mindful Discipline: 1) unconditional love, 2) space, 3) mentorship, 4) healthy boundaries, and 5) mis-takes (this is not a typo, but their term for “missed takes instead of mistakes”). While discipline can help kids learn to be free, Shapiro and White remind is that, “Nature has intended for the parent-child relationship to be a loving hierarchy.” Each chapter ends with a mindfulness awareness practice that will help everyone in a family practice being more mindful.

Elements of Discipline: Nine Principles for Teachers and Parents by Stephen Greenspan

This short, but dense, book written by a Clinical Professor of Psychology near the end of his career is directed at all adult caregivers, so not just kin caregivers but also teachers. One of the strengths of this volume is its clear explanation of the history of discipline philosophies and its description of the three major psychological approaches when it comes to discipline—affective, behavioral, and cognitive. Greenspan places a lot of emphasis on socioemotional development and social competence, so it is no surprise that he thinks the three long-term outcomes of effective discipline include happiness, boldness, and niceness. This can be accomplished through warmth, tolerance, and influence, good advice for other pursuits throughout our lifetimes and not just while parenting growing youngsters.

8 Keys to Old School Parenting: For Modern-Day Families by Michael Mascolo

Mascolo focuses on “old school parenting,” but what exactly is that? To him it’s parenting techniques that have stood the test of time. One thing that has definitely been dropped is violence, but the sense of authority remains. Mascolo, also a psychology professor, begins 9 Keys to Old School Parenting by articulating the parenting attitude that informs the whole book: “I am your parent. I’m not your friend, your playmate, your maid, or your chauffeur. You are not my equal. I am responsible for your safety and development. I am here to teach you how to be successful in the world.” Not surprisingly the first key is to value your parental authority, but others include “cultivate your child’s character,” “solve problems,” and “foster emotional development,” and you definitely can’t go wrong there.

Discipline with Love & Limits: Calm, Practical Solutions to the 43 Most Common Childhood Behavior Problems by Jerry Wyckoff and Barbara Unell

About 30 years ago Wyckoff and Unell published a book called Discipline without Shouting or Spanking. In the intervening years the book’s title and content have gone the way of more positive discipline, so now we focus on love and limits and do not even mention spanking. The authors position the book as one you will pick up when a problem arises, much like many books out there for health issues like rashes or sore throats. You can read the first 30 pages or so to set the scene, but then turn to the “problems” as they arise, like “plane travel stress” or “sibling rivalry.” Each problem section briefly defines the problem, gives advice to try to prevent the problem, and what to do (and what not to do) to solve the problem. The sections close with a case history, which are not always helpful. Overall this is a good little resource to keep on your shelf.

Nelsen, Jane, Cheryl Erwin, and Roslyn Ann Duffy. Positive Discipline: The First Three Years, From Infant to Toddler—Laying the Foundation for Raising a Capable, Confident Child by Jane Nelsen, Cheryl Erwin, and Roslyn Ann Duffy

Back in the Winter 2015 print issue of Brain, Child I wrote about this book in a round-up of how to deal with the emotional storm of toddlerhood. Earlier editions or Nelsen et al’s work helped establish the positive discipline mentioned above that we know today. Different “positive discipline” books exist for different age groups and scenarios, but it’s always good to start at the beginning. Some of my favorite parenting advice that I have found to be so true is in this book: “No parenting tool works all the time. Be sure to have more than just time-out in your toolbox… There is never one tool—or three, or even ten—that is effective for every situation for every child.”

How to Unspoil Your Child Fast: A Speedy, Complete Guide to Contented Children and Happy Parents by Richard Bromfield

In this short book with lots of punchy advice, Bromfield lays out a 7-day plan to unspoil children aged 2-12. While not a discipline book in name, it is about discipline because spoiled children often do not listen or respect their parents. Bromfield focuses on natural consequences and less on concrete activities parents can do themselves or with children to change their behavior. Each chapter starts with an interesting quote that will speak to parents, making the book an easy one to digest in small doses. The advice is more general, but it is worthwhile, like suggesting parents study actions of those who have more control over your child that you do, like teachers.

1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 by Thomas Phelan

Now in its 6th edition with over 1.6 million copies sold, 1-2-3 Magic is certainly doing something right! In February 2016 the newest edition will be released, which continues to focus on what clinical psychologist Phelan denotes are the three jobs of parenthood: controlling obnoxious behavior, encouraging good behavior, and strengthening relationships with children. Previous edition have focused on start and stop behaviors and utilizing timers when raising kids, and presumably the newest edition will suggest using cell phone timers and not just egg timers. Phelan also provides simple, but effective, suggestions to parents, such as: agree to keep your child’s bedroom door closed so you won’t see the mess inside and nag, but in exchange your child has to pick it up once per week. Seems like everyone ends up happier when following advice in 1-2-3 Magic.

10 Days to a Less Defiant Child: The Breakthrough Program for Overcoming Your Child’s Difficult Behavior by Jeffrey Bernstein

Bernstein says that in the past 25 years he has worked with over 2000 families who have defiant children. What is a defiant child? It is one who is quick to anger, overly dramatic, and almost constantly resistant to doing what is asked. A defiant child is different from a disobedient child, but s/he is also different from a child who has conduct disorder, destroying property or physically attacking animals or people (which would require being seen in person by a specialist). Targeted at ages 4-18, Bernstein suggests reading a chapter per day over the ten-day period. First published in 2006 and now in its second edition the book advises parents to think you are on a reality show, someone is always watching, so be careful of what you say and how you say it to model good behavior and emotional processing.

Parenting Children with Health Issues and Special Needs by Foster Cline and Lisa Greene

The first book on this year’s Top Ten Books for Parenting Children with Disabilities, this slim volume provides needed advice for all parents, regardless of their children’s needs. It reminds parents that to effectively communicate and influence their children they should strive to be consultants and not drill sergeants. And the best piece of advice for all of these situations, as Cline and Greene so succinctly state, “I love you too much to argue.”

Hilary Levey Friedman is Brain, Child’s Book Review Editor.




The Happy Kid Handbook: A Book Review

The Happy Kid Handbook: A Book Review

By Hilary Levey Friedman

The Happy Kid Handbook coverAbout a decade before I became a mom I interviewed parents of young children as part of a large research project. We would talk for over an hour, sometimes two, and toward the end of our conversation I always asked, “What are your long-term expectations for your child?” The vast majority of the time most parents gave the same answer—one that I came to dismiss as “pat,” but now that I am a mother I appreciate much more. The answer? “I just want my children to be happy…”

If anyone understands this nearly universal parental instinct it is Katie Hurley, a licensed clinical social worker and the author of the just released The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World. Hurley acknowledges parenting experts are sometimes part of the cause of our stressful world, a group of course to which she belongs, but her goal is to offer as much practical advice as possible.

Hurley draws on her own experience doing play therapy with a variety of children in California; she presents very little other research in the just-under 300 page publication. But her direct tone will appeal to those who like to read a book that sounds like a conversation with a friend. Most of all, her very do-able practical tips will provide parents a wealth of choices for picking the right activities or exercises for kids and families.

The Happy Kid Handbook is divided into two parts; Part I, “Raising Happy,” focuses on building seven specific pro-social skills and Part II, “Lessons in Coping,” looks at how to equip children to deal with the ups and downs of life. The seven skills emphasized in Part I include powerful play, understanding emptions, learning to forgive, building empathy, developing assertiveness, embracing differences, and cultivating passion. The first chapter in this section focuses on introversion/extroversion and I felt a bit concerned that this was the main focus of the book, since so many hone in on this distinction/continuum these days, but that is just a small component of The Happy Kid Handbook (Though it did yield a good quote that I have already been reminding myself of during the busy fall transition time, “Fair isn’t about everyone having exactly the same thing. Fair is about everyone having their needs met… Fair, as it turns out, is increasing your child’s happiness by figuring out who your child really is.”).

In all parts of the book Hurley is pragmatic, offering incremental tips, so you don’t feel overwhelmed, and concrete activity suggestions. For example, at the end of Chapter 1 she reminds us, “While the ultimate goal tends to be to raise independent, HAPPY kids, this is a goal best accomplished in stages.” In Chapter 7 I loved the apple picking exercise, to help children see and appreciate differences. I also loved Hurley’s suggested exercise in Chapter 10 about anxious kids and her straightforward explanation as to why a worry box works, “Kids love concrete strategies. When they can see it, feel it, and keep it nearby, it gives them a sense of control over the situation. A worry box is a great way to help kids put their worries away for the night.” Her practical attitude is reinforced in the suggestion to play lots of Chutes and Ladders as that will help kids build frustration tolerance—and this non-crafty mom was relieved that not every suggestion involves creating something physical from scratch.

The other major strength of The Happy Kid Handbook is in the way it frames stress. Hurley explains, “Many kids get to high school before they even understand the meaning of stress. They might experience it along the way, but because it isn’t talked about frequently in elementary and middle school, they don’t make the connections between what they’re feeling and what’s actually happening in their lives.” She urges parents to talk about all emotions, including stress, and to model self-care for children as a strategy for mitigating our stressful world.

Usually with parenting books like this, where the author is a practitioner-turned-expert with a particular point of view, the audience who reads it is often a receptive one. In other words, parents who might benefit from the advice or tips in a book are the least likely to pick it up and those who read it are already sympathetic to its message. In this case though I think The Happy Kid Handbook might reach those anxious parents and not just preach to the choir both because of the title, the cover art, and the overall tone. Because, after all, we all just want our kids to be happy, right?

Hilary Levey Friedman, PhD is the Book Review Editor Brain, Child and the author of Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture. She teaches in the Department of American Studies at Brown University.

Buy The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World

Top 10 Books for Raising a Reader

Top 10 Books for Raising a Reader

Born Reading coverBy Hilary Levey Friedman

Wendy Griswold, a sociologist and author of the third book on this list explains that, “A reading class is a social formation, while a reading culture is a society where reading is expected, valued, and common. All societies with written language have a reading class but few have a reading culture.” Let’s just say that if you are a Brain, Child reader, you are a member of the reading class. Though you probably also know then that more than raising readers, it would be wonderful to help create a reading culture. That is the ultimate goal of these ten books together, which move from the theoretical to the practical and pragmatic. But of course we must also be concerned about the other iteration of raising readers—from basic literacy to love of a book to love of literature, etc. and each book individually addresses one of these issues in some way. As Jason Boog, author of book #4 on this list, explains, snobbery really has no place in children’s worlds; we should encourage them to read whatever interests them in any form including comics and eBooks in addition to treasured hardcovers and sacred board books. Happy Reading!

  • Enchanted Hunters: The Power of Stories in Childhood by Maria Tatar

Maria Tatar, Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures, teaches about Folklore and Mythology—most famously about fairy tales. This trade book will appeal to anyone who fell in love with any book as a child. Using luminous language Tatar examines the stories we love and how readers think about, and remember, them. She also identifies themes that endure, along with ways of reading. For instance, she describes the “contact zone” created when a parent and child read together, and how bedtime reading was invented (around the time when kids started sleeping separately from their parents). On the creation of good night books, Tatar writes, “Books are our soothing syrup. We depend on them to build a bridge from waking to sleeping, to transform the alert, inquisitive child into an immobile, drowsy creature finally willing to stay in bed.” This book will help you wax nostalgic about your days as a young reader, while treating your own young reader with respect, especially as he or she prepares to delve in the talismanic, Talmudic, and sacred canon of children’s literature.

Becoming a Reader: The Experience of Fiction from Childhood to Adulthood by J.A. Appleyard

This book relies on psychology and literary theory to talk about how we read fiction over our lives (in fact, Appleyard heavily draws on the work of Erik Erikson, whose seminal book Childhood and Society was just reviewed at Brain, Child!). But Becoming a Reader offers us a guidebook for our children’s, and our own, reading journeys. Based on years of research Appleyard concludes that, “Many factors form the sensibility of a particular reader…but underlying these concrete circumstances there seems to be a set of capacities and expectations that develops according to a fairly orderly pattern and influences the way one reads as one grows from childhood to adulthood.” He argues that readers take on five roles over their lives: Player, Hero/ine, Thinker, Interpreter, Pragmatist. We may all long for the days when reading (or, more precisely, being read to) was pure pleasure; but we can also identify with the finding that, “Juvenile and adolescent and college-age readers distinguish between school reading and voluntary reading, but adults distinguish between escape reading and books that are challenging or demanding.” Brain, Child of course is a bit of both for its readers…

Regionalism and the Reading Class by Wendy Griswold

This short book by sociology professor Wendy Griswold is written about the reading class, for the reading class. What is “the reading class?” According to Griswold, “The reading class consists of those people who read for entertainment constantly. These are the folks who always have a book going, who never travel without something to read, who have print materials scattered in every room of their houses. This reading class is and will be modest in size but immense in cultural influence.” What is immensely useful about Griswold’s work is that she situates reading as both a social and historical activity. She points out that readers in most societies have traditionally been a minority (incidentally, mainly an elite activity) and that decline of reading refers not to literacy—as we live in a text-saturated world—but reading for pleasure. What many of us desire for our children then is to raise a member of the reading class and not just a reader.

Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age—From Picture Books to eBooks and Everything in Between by Jason Boog

I’m spoiled his punchline a bit, but I love what Boog wrote on the last page of Born Reading: “This is the only parenting handbook that won’t make your life easier.” Raising a reader takes effort on the part of the parents, but for so many different reasons it is work that has a worthwhile reward. Born Reading is one of the most recent books on this list (released in 2014) and as such it talks a lot about screens in young children’s lives. Boog’s view is moderate; he explains, “This book also acknowledges that reading and learning—even for small children—is happening more and more on screens and online. Whatever your feelings about that, it’s a truth to be embraced, not shunned.” The focus is on interactive reading—asking lots of questions, making the experience kinetic and not just cognitive—which are tips that apply to board books, comic books, eBooks, apps, and the like. Boog provides 15 tips as part of The Born Reading Playbook, each with a “conversation starter.” For example: “Guess what happens next. These questions will reinforce a sense of narrative and enhance reading comprehension…Who do you think will win the race?” Overall Born Reading provides practical tips, suggested books and apps, Common Core suggestions, and the reminder that, “There are very few things a young child can control in this world, but a book is a simple and perfect place to start.”

I’m Ready!: How to Prepare Your Child for Reading Success by Janice Greenberg and Elaine Weitzman

I’ve previously declared my love for I’m Ready! and it hasn’t diminished—of all the books on this list I’m most likely to recommend this one for several reasons. This speech-language pathologist team combine the theory and research behind literacy and turn it into useful, directed, and do-able suggestions for parents. Moreover, this short book (only about 75 pages) is reminiscent of a child’s textbook, which puts you in the right frame of mind; especially because the target audience, parents of toddlers and preschoolers, tend to be a pretty tired lot (of course I couldn’t possibly be speaking from experience). Greenberg and Weitzman themselves have a way with words. For example, when writing about one of the five building blocks of literacy—vocabulary: “On any given day your child hears thousands of words. If you imagine those words as stars in the sky, it’s easy to see why no single star will capture her attention unless it shines and twinkles more brightly than the others.” By reading I’m Ready! you might even get some tips for improving your own story comprehension…

Raising Confident Readers: How to Teach Your Child to Read and Write—from Babe to Age 7 by J. Richard Gentry

Gentry is a former Reading Professor and elementary school-age teacher, so he knows a lot about which he writes. He has very specific ideas about how to raise confident writers—the biggest of which is that he believes reading and writing are linked and that early writers tend to be early readers. He goes so far as to argue that this is the first book/program of its kind to link writing and drawing skills to reading. I confess that my own children are not old enough to make their way through the five phases of the program yet to say how effective it is, and there are some who think that learning to write too early is harmful (especially because many children have not yet developed adequate fine motor skills to grip various writing implements properly). But Gentry’s phases certainly start at the most basic level with no set timeline for progression so parents will feel little pressure to have their 6-month-old writing his or her ABCs.

The Reading Lesson: The intelligent reading program for young child by Michael Levin and Charan Langton

The “the” in the title is no accident. Levin and Charan emphasize lowercase letters in their reading method hence “the Reading Lesson.” Why lowercase letters? They argue that many kids do not know them as well as uppercase, even though 95% of print letters are lowercase. Over 20 lessons this husband-and-wife doctor-master’s of science duo lay out ways parents can help children learn decoding skills (an important distinction because this is not a book about reading comprehension). So many books out there claim to teach kids to read in “x” many lessons and it is important to be cautious. This guide is geared for ages 4-8 and suggests only doing one page per day until the child is five or six, and not more than three per day. It also emphasizes combing phonics and word recognition as most fluent readers employ both.

Seuss’ ABC

At the end of the day, no “planned” program can do better than basics like ABC books. As a child this was my favorite (Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzz anyone?!), and my boys have enjoyed Elmo’s ABCs, Red Sox ABCs (sorry, Yankees fans), and Eating the Alphabet. The key here is repetition and fun interpretations—no matter how bored this may make the adults at times. At the end of the day, kids learn best through play, and that’s true for the ABCs as well.

Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown (illustrated by Clement Hurd)

Maria Tatar refers to this book as the mother of all bedtime stories. It is a book that is mentioned by many who write about children’s literature and theory (for example, check out pages 105-111 of Enchanted Hunters and pages 25-7 of Born Reading). It was written in a single morning and as Tatar puts it, “The work’s spontaneous genesis reminds us that it is as much poetry as prose, a lyrical homage to things as well as an elegiac story about rabbits.” The illustrations also make it unforgettable and Boog points out that the integration of black and white images with bright colors are perfect for brand-new eyes. Speaking from experience here, kids request this again and again and there is always something new to find (even if parts start to seem off, even creepy). Our household is already on our second board book, it was so loved.

Little House on the Prairie Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

At some point you move away from board books, and eventually progress to chapter books (and of course, someday the kids read them on their own). A series, with action and deep relationships, provides a great oral and solitary reading experience. Boys and girls alike appreciate the frontier story of the Ingalls, and with nine volumes the works will keep you reading together for some time. The history adds another layer and could help develop a nonfiction interest for some readers. And this is one of those families parents will be happy to revisit as well…

Hilary Levey Friedman is Brain, Child’s Book Review Editor.

Top 10 Books to Gift at a Baby Shower

Top 10 Books to Gift at a Baby Shower

By Hilary Levey Friedman

004_Zappier_5135 copy (1)

One of the best pieces of advice I received while pregnant for the first time was to not focus on books about being pregnant, but to use the time to learn about the after part since while it may have felt hard to believe at times, you aren’t pregnant forever. And not just the first few weeks with a newborn, but the first few months because you might not have time to read (let alone process) any suggestions that books might offer in that postpartum period. By the time my own baby shower rolled around I read 6-8 weeks ahead in my infant books, and was glad I did. But even now I wish I had known more about introducing solids, or learned more about the different types of gear I would need just a few months down the road. This list is motivated in part by that spirit and also by the knowledge that while it may feel like it at times, you are not alone in this parenting game. Others have traversed this sometimes rocky path and survived and have worked to offer others their hard-fought wisdom. Below you will find books that offer a mix of how-to, tips, knowledge, philosophies, perspectives, and entertainment. Any of these on their own, or in combination, would make an ideal baby shower present, along with those blankets and booties.

The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Newborn Baby Sleep Longer by Harvey Karp

Making a second appearance on a Brain, Child Top 10 List because it is just that good. As I previously wrote, “When people ask me to recommend one book to new and expectant parents, this is my go-to title.” Karp’s tone is informative and entertaining and will help you attain the number one goal of most parents of newborns: sleep, and hence sanity. Because sleep is so all-encompassing for infants, Happiest Baby on the Block also addresses other concerns like feeding, development, and play. While it focuses on the first 90 days of life, you can use suggestions here far beyond this important, but transient, period of life.

Your Baby’s First Year Week by Week by Glade Curtis and Judith Schuler

The point of this book, now in its third edition, is not to overwhelm the reader with information about any one topic. Each weekly entry has a section on what might be new (either to baby or to you) that week and milestones you might expect to see around this time. By the end of the 52 weeks all the other major topics and minor topics will be covered, from what to look for in first shoes to how to prevent frostbite on a baby. As experienced parents know, but new parents have to learn, often as soon as you settle into a pattern your child changes, and Curtis and Schuler provide advice about how to deal with that. I read ahead in this book, and then would read 3-4 week chunks at a time; this book also has a very useful index for looking up the questions that pop up when the Internet sources aren’t as reliable.

Heading Home With Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality by Laura Jana and Jennifer Shu

Sometimes you might wonder if the author of a parenting book is the most qualified source to offer advice. You won’t wonder that if you gift Heading Home With Your Newborn because this book is published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (a third version is forthcoming in June 2015). Pediatrician-mothers Laura Jana and Jennifer Shu offer an informed, but engaging, voice that reassures and entertains—for example, I love section and chapter titles like “Other Unmentionables and Inconveniences” and “All Dressed Up but Now Where To Go?” The strength of this book is Part VI, “Just for the Health of It,” which focuses on the science of a baby’s body, from head to toe, and common childhood illnesses like jaundice and fevers. They discuss sometimes controversial topics, like cloth diapers and vaccines, with a direct and up to date style similar to how they discuss baby books and preserving digital memories.

Bottled Up: How the Way We Feed Babies Has Come to Define Motherhood, and Why It Shouldn’t by Suzanne Barston

Before she gave birth Barston fully expected to breastfeed (so much so that she worried she would be judged if she put any bottle supplies on her baby registry). But it didn’t work out for her and her son for a variety of reasons. Not being able to nurse sent her into a depression, but starting a blog called Fearless Formula Feeder—a place where she tried to share science and facts about the use of formula—helped her. Bottled Up is the outgrowth of the blog and it is a “hybrid of memoir and reporting will speak for the scores of other women who wanted very badly to do the best for their children and found themselves in conflict about what ‘the best’ truly was.” Barston’s short and well-researched book (it is published by a University press and notated) based on two years’ of interviews with pediatricians, researchers, sociologists, statisticians and fellow feminists will either help expectant moms make personal decisions, or potentially reassure them if they find themselves unable to breastfeed when they had wanted to do so.

Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers by Nancy Mohrbacher and Kathleen Kendall-Tackett

While it is true that mothers and babies are hardwired to breastfeed, breastfeeding isn’t as simple as expectant moms often expect it to be. Breastfeeding Made Simple by lactation consultants Mohrbacher and Kendall-Tackett seeks to make the case why breastfeeding can in fact be simple. The “laws” and their application in Part II are clearly explained, along with possible complications, and the tone is less strident than other books on breastfeeding. New parents reading this book along with Barston’s will begin to understand that having children means making a variety of small and large complicated and super-complicated decisions that have to work for you, your child, and your family. These two options provide advice and facts and a dual gift means no judgment of the growing family. Since many mothers no longer live close to their families Breastfeeding Made Simple tries to be the collective female wisdom from the Red Tent of yore.

Baby Bargains by Denise and Alan Fields

Now in its 10th edition, this perennial favorite is a fixture on many mothers’ shelves, especially those looking to save a few dollars (and who doesn’t want that?!). The first edition debuted in 1994 after the married authors had a son. Now in its 11th edition the Fields’ book looks a bit like a doorstop at over 600 pages. But the authors are very comprehensive covering gear with wheels, things with straps, things with music, etc. Even if don’t end up saving a dollar from the book—though that is unlikely—new parents will get a sense of what equipment is useful at every stage, and how much to budget for each new stage of their newborns’ first year and beyond. The only problem is that some shower guests may have wished they had read Baby Bargains before purchasing their own shower gift!

Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman

It has recently become de rigueur for books about particular parenting philosophies to generate headlines, and sometimes amp up parental anxieties. Druckerman’s 2012 book definitely got a lot of press, but in many ways helped lower parental anxiety. Rather than prescribing precisely how parents should act, Bringing Up Bebe instead focuses on a way of life that is meant to enable parents to feel empowered. She writes, “It quickly becomes clear that having a child in France doesn’t require choosing a parenting philosophy. Everyone takes the basic rules for granted. That fact alone makes the mood less anxious.” Just like previous generations of Americans survived without diaper genies, so too did they successfully raise children without “philosophies.” Druckerman puts that into context, and shows us another way.

The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control by Walter Mischel

Walter Mischel’s new title, recently reviewed here at Brain, Child, is based on over fifty years of research on children and self-control. Mischel and a team of researchers have found that delayed gratification is one of the most significant predictors of success later in life on multiple dimensions including health, finances, and education. But instead of assuming that self-regulation is pre-programmed, Mischel offers tips on how parents can inculcate in their children to develop this life skill, starting at even early ages. And because the advice applies to adults as well, it may help during the tumultuous post-partum period. What’s also great about this book is that there is much to learn about parenting here, but it’s not a “parenting” book making it an even more useful baby shower gift because it can live on a bookshelf for years to come.

Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession by Erma Bombeck

Because sometimes the best way to survive (new) motherhood is to laugh. One of the greatest columnists ever, this volume collects Bombeck’s most enduring writings on motherhood. It isn’t long, but it is full of clever observations that will resonate long past the last page—and for years to come as understandings of parenting continue to evolve. Plus, this is your chance to introduce Bombeck to another generation of mothers! While the print version is out of print (but used copies abound online), you can gift an e-copy to your favorite mom-to-be.

The Husband’s Secret by Lianne Moriarty

If laughing doesn’t help, a smart, engaging, page-turning novel might. Sometimes, you need to escape, or find something to engage your mind and be sure it isn’t mush. Any great novel will suffice, but I really loved this one by Australian writer Moriarty (note that I find Moriarty is a sociologist at heart with a reporter’s eye and a thriller’s pen, so any of her novels will do as well). I had been warned in reviews that once you start The Husband’s Secret it is hard to stop, and that was true for me (sometimes I wanted nursing sessions to last even longer!). This is the kind of novel I slowed down to read because I didn’t want the interesting, tangled web to completely unravel. As a mom it made me sad, as a wife angry. I guess then it shouldn’t surprise me that Moriarty is labeled “chick lit,” but I honestly didn’t think of this novel that way at all. I also appreciated the Australian setting as a mental escape from the nursery.

I have to add that I was worried I wouldn’t be able to read as much after giving birth. But I was wrong. I actually read more because for me nursing prompted a switch to reading on the iPad using the Kindle app—turning the page with a flick of the finger made it possible. I still read paper books, but I now love reading electronically as well, even though I too have passed out of the baby phase.


Photo: Megan Dempsey

Child, Please: A Book Review

Child, Please: A Book Review

By Hilary Levey Friedman

Child, Please cover art (1)“Honey, please.”

“Carston, PLEASE.”

“Carston Friedman, PUH-LEASE.”

With a three-year-old in my house I find myself using these three escalating statements fairly often. According to Ylonda Gault Caviness I ought to add “Child, please,” to the repertoire… Though more often than not I should actually be saying those words to myself and not to the children.

Caviness recently released Child, Please: How Mama’s Old-School Lessons Helped Me Check Myself Before I Wrecked Myself. The book could, sadly, not have been more timely. Just before its release Caviness wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times that went viral—”What Black Moms Know“—after the Baltimore riots. The piece describes her reaction to worries about college admissions (when your child is in preschool), the “Mommy Wars,” and Toya Graham, the Baltimore mom who gained nationwide attention after grabbing her rioting son and smacking “him upside his head.” If you liked the Times article you will also enjoy Child, Please, though it does differ from the book.

You might expect Child, Please to offer advice on raising kids today, and while the book does so it comes in a different guise than other parenting books you might know. Caviness has really written a motherhood memoir; stories about raising her own three children and her relationship with her mother form the story’s scaffolding. The major narrative arc traces Caviness’ early experiences as a pregnant woman and takes us through her pregnancies (including miscarriage) and how they affected her relationship with her own mother. The forays into her mother’s past bring up issues of region in America, class, and of course race. Caviness deftly weaves this cross-generational mothering story together with her strong and entertaining voice. It’s her mom’s hard-won pearls of wisdom that form the advice part of Child, Please.

Take for example Chapter 3, “Don’t Start Smelling Yourself,” likely the most evocative chapter in the book. Caviness pulls no punches writing, “White parents are punks.” She goes on:

Before you go and get yourself all offended, I hope you realize I’m sharing this information only out of love. The way I figure, if we want to know the crazy thoughts whites have about black people, all we have to do is watch Fox News. But you poor white people have no way to get the 411. If you tried watching BET, you’ve probably already been led astray, because, honestly, not that many black folks have as much sex as the average hip-hop star….It’s a scientific and well-researched fact that blacks and whites operate under a different set of expectations—a different set of goals—when it comes to parenting. Many black parents believe that obedience and respect for elders are the main measures of a kid raised right—which explains why you’re more likely to see a black child get yoked in public if he acts out. I don’t think most white parents place as high a premium on compliance (duh?). Instead, they rank things like confidence and autonomy high on the scale of ‘good kids.’

Definitely entertaining and assertive with lots of truth. But here, and in other places in Child, Please, I found myself hungering for more about the “scientific and well-researched fact.” Describing those findings and using them to bolster the wisdom and experience of Caviness’ family would have taken the book to another level. Similarly, given that Caviness was a parenting editor for several years I found myself wondering if she thought articles directed at black moms significantly differed from articles targeted at Jewish or Korean moms. Caviness has access to various databases that could have showed just how crazy some white moms might be for peeling a pea (full disclosure, I had never heard of this before reading it in Child, Please!) and it would have made for a different contribution alongside the memoir and folk wisdom.

Nonetheless, the larger cultural message of Caviness work is so important and rings out loud and clear. For instance, also from Chapter 3:

Black people love their kids, for sure. But historically we never had the luxury of thinking them precious. Special? Yes. There is a big difference. We don’t see our kids as anything akin to fine china, not to be disturbed or broken. In fact, given our druthers, most black parents would chose to ‘break’ their kids before someone else does… We fear that if we wait for our kids to simply outgrow such childishness, they might suffer at the hands of authority, especially those men in blue. Authority, with its billy sticks and handcuffs and black robes, has not been kind to us.

Beyond her writings on race the best parenting advice from Caviness, via her mother and mother’s friends, has little to do with children. Instead it has to do with taking care of yourself as a mother and as a person: “They taught me that, first and foremost, you have to love on yourself. And that doing so was not an act of selfishness, but an act of strength and wisdom and fortitude. This modern habit of mothers, almost bragging that they’ve no time to take care of themselves, no time to care for themselves? It’s not cute.”

During the summer we often think we will have more time, even though we often end up with less. So do yourself a favor, go get that pedicure you’ve been putting off, or head to the beach for an hour or to all by yourself. But don’t forget to bring a book when you do—child, please.

Hilary Levey Friedman, PhD is the Book Review Editor Brain, Child and the author of Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture. She teaches in the Department of American Studies at Brown University.

Buy Child, Please: How Mama’s Old-School Lessons Helped Me Check Myself Before I Wrecked Myself

All In: A Book Review

All In: A Book Review

By Hilary Levey Friedman

All In Cover ArtBy now you’ve almost certainly heard of Lean In. Josh Levs is hoping you will see similarities between his recently released All In and Sheryl Sandberg’s bestseller.

The similarities go beyond the titles. Both books deal with changing the challenging culture for working parents. While All In and Lean In emphasize that work/family balance is an issue for both sexes, the former concentrates on men and the latter on women.

Levs writes from experience as a devoted father of three who also covers family and fatherhood for CNN. In 2013, around the birth of his third child, he asked CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, about his benefits. Specifically Levs wanted to take the ten paid weeks new parents have as an option. But he discovered that those ten weeks apply to biological mothers, adoptive mothers, and adoptive fathers—but apparently not to biological fathers. After speaking with Human Resources, and even the CEO, Benefits ultimately denied his appeal of this policy. Levs consulted lawyers and took his fight public, using his own personal media bully pulpit to get the word out. While in the end he went back to work without the ten paid weeks, Levs came to be seen, and see himself, as a leader in the active fathers’ movement of the 21st century.

All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses—And How We Can Fix It Together is the culmination of his research, reporting, and ruminations on this issue. Levs brings together and discusses the most up-to-date research on fatherhood while also proposing practical and policy solutions. In the Introduction he makes it clear that this isn’t “just” a problem for fathers or mothers: “Overall parents in the United States are working hard and doing their best. It’s the era of all-in parenting. And, by and large, neither gender is letting the other down.” Levs believes that poor family leave policies discriminate against both men and women by taking choices away.

All In isn’t only about paid family leave, but it is a big part of the book, and its strongest. In Part I he discusses the legal components of the Family and Medical Leave Act, business implications, and tax policy. For instance, from this I learned that many employers use disability insurance to pay birth moms. While Levs started this project seeking support for paternity leave he didn’t have strong feelings about paid family leave, but after everything he has learned he now believes that paid family-leave law would make a significant difference.

Another strength of All In is its focus on popular culture. Unlike others who write on this issue Levs devotes a whole section of his book to “Fixing Pop Culture,” explaining, “Any time I’ve interviewed fathers over the years, frustration about portrayals of dads in pop culture has gotten them fired up above all else.” The discussion here focuses on advertising snafus by companies like Huggies, the TV show Friday Night Lights, and mom’s-only groups.

Levs also tries to move beyond the upper-middle and middle class parenting experience (incidentally one of the criticisms of Sandberg’s Lean In is the focus on affluent families) to include a variety of families and family structures. He writes about fathers in prison, military dads, widowers, and he strives to include stories of poor fathers and black fathers as well. While his aim is admirable, at times these sections of the book strike a false note, especially in contrast to other portions where Levs is writing more from personal experience so his voice is stronger and more authoritative.

All In is definitely a book with a specific message and every page is meant to remind us of that message—that millions of (working) dads want to spend more time with their kids but in some way society is boxing them in. Levs sometimes present alternative viewpoints or explanations but it’s clear by the length of those sections that they are not the main focus. All In will most definitely appeal to those sympathetic to its argument, but I’m unfortunately not convinced it will change others’ minds (and I say unfortunately because my own husband is an involved father and I know how much that means to our household).

Levs’ goal is to start a movement much like Sheryl Sandberg. While the impact of All In may not be as deep, the book will give you something to think about and some facts to share with others whether you are all in or just leaning in to working parenthood.

Hilary Levey Friedman, PhD is the Book Review Editor at Brain, Child and the author of Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture. She teaches in the Department of American Studies at Brown University.

Buy All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses–And How We Can Fix It Together

Top 15 Birthday Books

Top 15 Birthday Books

By Hilary Levey Friedman

Top 15 Birthday Books in honor of Brain, Child’s 15th!

15logoBooks are the gifts that keep on giving, long past a singular birthday celebration. As we celebrate Brain, Child‘s 15th, this list suggests splendid books to gift to the parents—and the kids—in your life from that first birthday through the fifteenth. From perennial favorites to new classics, you’ll find something for your favorite Brain, Child reader (or future reader!) regardless of their sex or age.

1. Sheep in a Jeep by Nancy Shaw

With fun word play, original illustrations, and an imaginative narrative the first book in Shaw’s popular “Sheep” series will quickly become a bedtime or naptime favorite. Because of the rhymes on each page, the book also lends itself to conversation and language development with your little one. After reading it several (or 100!) times, you can pause at the end of each line and let your growing toddler supply the word, allowing you to really “read” together.


2. Rosie Revere Engineer by Andrea Beaty

This clever, engaging, and creative book helps kids understand that you can always learn from a “failure.” It also draws a connection between the present and a historical figure, so you can begin talking to your kids about World War II and changing opportunities for women. You might be inclined to only gift this to little girls, but you’d be wrong! Boys love this tale about imagination and creation and it’s just as important to tell boys that girls can be engineers as it is to tell girls they can be.


3. Jo Frost’s Toddler Rules: Your 5-Step Guide to Shaping Proper Behavior by Jo Frost

Parents, forget about the “terrible twos” and start preparing yourself for a “threenager.” Frost’s book was spotlighted in the Winter 2014 issue of Brain, Child; I wrote there that I was surprised how effective the advice of a “TV nanny” was, but her clear style and no-nonsense approach makes for a crisp and useful read. Frost’s suggestions will still be helpful for the day that your threenager turns into a teenager, which will happen sooner than you might expect or like!


4. My Royal Birthday Adventure by Jennifer Dewing

What’s better than a birthday book? A personalized birthday book, of course. Dewing’s rhyming tale can be personalized for your recipient (boy, girls, age, etc.) and the book itself—with glossy, colorful pages—is a lovely present. At this age kids are on the cusp of literacy, with most recognizing their own name, so they get a real thrill out of not just seeing themselves as part of a tale, but “reading” it on their own. Plus, it can be added to a memory box someday as a treasured keepsake.


5. Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg

Like Rosie Revere Engineer, Beautiful Oops imparts a life lesson about mistakes and failures. Saltzberg illustrates for kids that sometimes you can turn something bad, or unexpected, into something beautiful, or at the least pretty neat. Beautiful Oops makes use of different materials to make this point, which kids will enjoy exploring. Each page brings a new surprise and the interactive nature of reading the book makes for great back-and-forth opportunities between the reader and newly-minted five-year-old.


6. Oh, the Places You’ll Go! By Dr. Seuss

You’ll usually find this book given as a graduation gift, but it also makes a great “starting grade school” gift. The beginning of an educational journey can be just as exciting as the end of one and parents will enjoy Seuss’ whimsical language even more when it’s not read through bittersweet tears. Few authors and illustrators can rival Seuss’ engaging, yet trenchant, observations about life. And if you want even more Seuss there’s always The Cat in the Hat, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, Green Eggs and Ham, Yertle the Turtle, The Lorax, and the list goes on…


7. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Just because your child may be reading on his or her own there’s no need to stop reading together. Consider gifting a classic like Charlotte’s Web, which you can read aloud, or you can alternate paragraphs or pages with your proud new reader. Part of the enduring appeal of White’s book is its message of friendship, vocabulary, and of course those magical talking animals. Kids this age will still appreciate the illustrations, even if they don’t want to admit it.


8. The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner

Oh, how I wanted to be one of the Boxcar Children when I read this series as a child. The adventure, the siblings, the mysteries, the wealthy grandfather! Warner wrote the first 19 books in the series, beginning in the 1940s and continuing through to her death in the 1970s. Books are still being added (at last count, over 150), which young readers who zip through will appreciate. This is a great age at which to start a series, which will engage budding readers for many entries over time. And like Charlotte’s Web, The Boxcar Children can be appreciated together aloud or read with relish independently. Note that the extravagant birthday gift giver might purchase a boxset…


9. This is Childhood: Those precious first years. 10 mothers. 10 essays. Edited by Marcelle Soviero and Randi Olin.

It’s the last year of having a child who isn’t double-digits. This is a great moment for parents to reflect on their journey thus far and think about what is yet to come. Brain, Child editors Olin and Soviero say it best in introducing the ten essays: “We believe you will see yourself in these pages: in the past if your children are older, in the preset if you’re right in the sweet spot of raising young children, and in the future if you’re planning to start a family, pregnant, or a brand-new mother. There is no doubt that the stories here will resonate: the tutus, the knock-knock jokes, the light-up sneakers.”


10. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Can you think of a sweeter gift than the slightly miraculous miracle of first discovering Harry, Hermione, and Ron? Oh, and Dumbledore and Hagrid and butterbeer? It’s hard to believe now that our own childhoods were Harry Potter-less; thankfully that won’t be true for future generations. While the later books take a darker turn with death and destruction (and, yes, even romance) this is a good age at which to start the series—the later, longer books can be saved for another birthday treat.


11. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Koningsburg

A book filled with possibilities, especially for an eleven-year-old on the verge of independence, while still being dependent. This tale of running away, mystery, sibling love, and true adventure (amidst fine art no less!) will stay with a child for years—trust me I still think about statues with unusual markings on the bottom. If your child still lets you, read it with him or her; better yet, read it at the same time and have your own book club at home.


12. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

When I tell you this is the first book that ever made me cry you might think, “Why should I gift that book?” But it’s a remarkable tale of human-animal friendship that harkens back to another time. The story is so enduring that I can still remember some of the evocative language from when I first read the story in fifth grade (this from a girl who isn’t particularly into the outdoors, hunting, or dogs, so it shows how universal the story is as well). Another great selection to spark conversation with your birthday boy or girl.


13. Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence by Laurence Steinberg

Congratulations, you have a new teenager in your life! While some may dread the teenage years, Steinberg reframes them in a positive way, emphasizing what is to be embraced (like the increased tendency to explore) and how to help teens develop skills during this time to help them throughout life. On second thought, perhaps you should tell your thirteen-year-old to gift you this book on your birthday. In any case, it celebrates 13 and the dawn of adolescence.


14. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

At an age when some might stop thinking reading is “cool,” Collins makes being engrossed in a book just that. Teens who want to explore more “adult” issues will relish the violence, romance, and anti-authoritarianism in the series (oh, and a lot of adults will as well). The best thing about this book is that every member of your household will likely be riveted by this original—though now much duplicated—tale.


15. The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton by Jerome Karabel

Here’s a fifteenth birthday gift from which you can both benefit. Sociologist Karabel’s book can double as a door-stopper (at over 700 pages), but it’s worth it. College is on the minds of many families with children this age. Many books capitalize on this fact, and many recent titles talk about how where you go to college doesn’t necessarily determine your fate. Karabel’s detailed history helps explain why college has evolved the way it has over the past 100 years or so. Not only will this book arm you with context to make sense of current admissions frenzies (which you can evaluate with a more clear perspective, and perhaps a jaded eye, after reading the book), but it will also help prepare your 15-teen-year-old for the type of reading and thinking s/he will be expected to do while in college.

And, soon, congratulations instead of happy birthday to all of you for making it through high school and adolescence! Glad Brain, Child could be part of your parenting journey.

Hilary Levey Friedman is the Book Review Editor at Brain, Child, the author of Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture, and a professor in the Department of American Studies at Brown University.

How to Raise a Wild Child: A Book Review

How to Raise a Wild Child: A Book Review

By Hilary Levey Friedman

WO How to Raise a Wild Child ARTI’d never heard of Scott D. Sampson, but a few weeks ago he changed my parenting after I read his newly released book, How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature. How did this happen? He convinced me that I need to be a nature mentor to my kids.

As it turns out, I actually have heard of Sampson before, because he is “Dr. Scott” on the PBS Kids show “Dinosaur Train.” As he writes in How to Raise a Wild Child, “For preschoolers, the marriage of dinosaurs and trains is like mixing chocolate and peanut butter—almost irresistible.” But this is not a book about a TV show. Not even close. The PBS show is only mentioned in the Preface and for about 10 pages in Chapter 9 when discussing balancing nature and technology. However the tagline Dr. Scott delivers at the end of each episode encapsulates the primary thesis in How to Raise a Wild Child: “Get outside, get into nature, and make your own discoveries!”

I have the “make your own discoveries” part down, but the first two steps to get outside and get into nature are much harder. I could give a lot of different excuses (allergies as a kid, being the child of a single mom who herself isn’t a nature lover, etc.) but the truth is that I just don’t like to get dirty. But as a parent I know kids get dirty. And I know that to understand the natural world, develop independence and safe risk-taking, and appreciate the diversity of our planet and others, outdoor play is important. Moreover, if I ever needed more evidence that outside play burns off energy I only need to recall the multitude of snow days from this past winter’s epic eight feet.

While many have written about the importance of nature in our lives, and especially for children, until How to Raise a Wild Child no one had delved into the nature connection, let alone process changes in this connection as children age from early childhood to adolescence. Given Sampson’s science background (he has a PhD and gave up tenure in order to bring science education to the masses), he is also the first to synthesize academic research on the nature connection across a wide range of disciplines—from psychology to paleontology to education to engineering.

In addition to harvesting a variety of research to make his case that nature connection is vital to the healthy development of individuals, communities, and the world, Sampson devotes the majority of his book to offering practical, no-nonsense, and helpful advice to parents, educators, and anyone else who can serve as a nature mentor to kids. For example, at the end of each of the ten substantive chapters, Sampson summarizes with one “Secret for Raising a Wild Child,” followed by a variety of specific nature mentoring tip, including recommendations for other books to consult. Chapter 2 offers up Secret #2 for Raising a Wild Child as, “Children will tend to value what you value, so start noticing nature yourself, taking a few minutes each day to become more aware of the other-than-human world around you.” And Chapter 3 suggests kids start “sit spotting” nature (a spot to regularly visit several times per week for 30 minutes to record the sounds and sights and smells of nature), offering the book What the Robin Knows as a helpful guide.

In addition to practical tips, Sampson offers practical observation. In How to Be a Wild Child he writes that it is far too simplistic to blame technology for decreased nature connection, also citing parental fear factor of abduction, fear of litigation, overscheduling, and the rise of urban living.

But don’t let his practical insights make you think he’s not offering deep insight. Sampson discusses the three roles a successful nature mentor must take on: teacher, questioner, and trickster. But it’s the last two that really matter. He explains that, “When a child asks a question and you know the answer, it’s natural to want to share it. Providing the answer makes us feel good and we presume that kids really want to know. But this inclination can lead us astray. Often times, our response ends the interaction by cutting off curiosity. Counterintuitively, children are often looking for our engagement more than our answers, hoping that the focus of their attention will become ours too.” He also suggests that when we pose questions to kids about 70% of them should be easy, 25% medium, and 5% hard. Of course this is all helpful advice for most any parenting situation and not just those that have to do with nature….

For such a thoughtful, well-researched, and useful book, my biggest complaint about How to Raise a Wild Child is that the epilogue, an imagined acceptance speech by a young nature lover, was not a worthy end. A much better conclusion to the book begins on page 278, summarizing his findings and advice, while also pointing toward schoolyards and playgrounds as a way to promote thrivability.

This weekend I know we’ll be getting out into nature both days—and I hope to hone my nature mentor skills as we thaw out into glorious spring (and save a Dinosaur Train episode for a snow day next year).

Hilary Levey Friedman is the Book Review Editor at Brain, Child, and the author of Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture.

Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: A Book Review

Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: A Book Review

By Hilary Levey Friedman

Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 11.57.19 AMSibling relationships are some of the most significant ones we have. While their emotional depth and complexity provide fertile ground for fictional explorations, we actually know very little about how we might improve these relationships. In her newest book, Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life, clinical psychologist Laura Markham tackles this important topic by blending her experiences as a mother, parent coach, and researcher.

Many will know Markham from her 2012 book, Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. In that book she details three ways parents can create a peaceful family environment: 1) regulating emotions, 2) staying warmly connected, and 3) coaching instead of controlling to foster emotional intelligence. These three principles continue to lead in Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings, especially as they work together to develop empathy in kids. Markham explains:Empathy helps children develop self-regulation. When a child feels understood, he feels closer to his parents, so he’s more likely to accept limits and cooperate.” The argument is that you could easily swap the word “parents” for “siblings” in the above statement.

At the core of developing this empathy between children is the idea that how parents interact with each child individually—and especially how they discipline each one—shapes the relationships between children. In Chapter 2, one of the best chapters in the book, Markham draws upon research to explain how this works and she then translates this to everyday practice in our often chaotic households. She argues that we should not punish when children mistreat brothers or sisters, but rather set firm limits. The reasoning? From Markham, “As crazy as it sounds, that means they see it as YOUR job to stop them from attacking their sibling when they get angry, rather than as THEIR job to control themselves. When we set limits so the child feels understood, she ends up internalizing our limits—and taking responsibility for herself, even in the absence of authority figures.”

Markham is reassuring that all children will sometimes fight. In fact, this fighting is a good thing because it teaches us how to work out differences with others. This is particularly acute with siblings because, unlike with peers, there is no threat of an exit. For some number of years these little individuals must share a household. This is why, as Markham explains, siblings help kids learn to manage difficult emotions and smooth off the edges of early self-centeredness. In a line I would like to print out and hang in my kitchen, “Our goal as parents isn’t to keep things peaceful by settling our children’s differences. It’s to use the many daily conflicts that arise between our children as opportunities to help them create successful resolutions to their conflicts.”

If you only have a few hours to read, in between sibling fights, I recommend Chapter 5 (along with Chapter 2), which focuses on teaching conflict resolution and the role laughter can play in breaking the tension. In particular Markham discusses ten reasons kids bicker and how to resolve them in this chapter. Also for parents with younger kids looking to nip conflicts in the bud as much as possible early on, focus on Part 3, which contains tips on preparing a sibling for a baby through to the crawling and grabbing phase.

Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings provides lots of concrete suggestions to improve sibling relationships—note that my husband’s favorite is the thumbs-up to roughhousing—but all of these tips are very general. You won’t find passages focused on brotherly or sisterly relationships, the dynamics between multiples, or any other thoughts on complicated birth order patterns or larger families.

This drawback in Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings is precisely what makes sibling research so difficult in general—there are so many different combinations and configurations and often not a very large sample size. A lot of factors come into play including biology, anthropology, psychology, and sociology when we talk about siblings and it’s often hard to disentangle which factor has the most influence and hence which one to target.

In the end what Dr. Laura Markham does in Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life, and what more parenting writers need to do, is succinctly pick out the overarching aims, takeaways, and to-dos to benefit the greatest number of families. For this reason Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings is a solid addition to your parenting library. And I am looking forward to celebrating, thanks to some inspiration for Markham, our families first ever sibling celebration day this year!

Hilary Levey Friedman is the Book Review Editor at Brain, Child, the author of Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture, and a professor in the Department of American Studies at Brown University.

On Siblings

On Siblings

WO On Siblings ARTBy Hilary Levey Friedman

I drove straight to the bookstore after leaving the ultrasound appointment where I learned I was having my second son. Being a book person, my first instinct is to look for a book for any new life experience, always.

I was surprised that the siblings section of the parenting nook was pretty slim pickings. At the checkout I realized I bought more children’s books about welcoming a sibling than books for me. In fact it was children’s literature that turned out to be the most helpful in fostering a good relationship between my two boys.

One of the books I bought that day was Big Brothers are the Best by Fran Manushkin. This sweetly illustrated book was perfect for us because it was about two brothers (she has another version for sisters). I found that it helped us to refer to the baby by masculine pronouns, and it was challenging when a book had a baby sister. My older son, Carston, learned this book thoroughly, though I must warn you that his favorite line, “Big brothers can yell, and kick balls,” always led to an active demonstration of both! My only complaint is that we read this book so often it actually came apart at the seams.

Another book that was very helpful is a personalized book offered by both Pottery Barn Kids and I See Me! (neither option is cheap, but the latter is slightly more affordable than the former). Offered for both brothers and sisters, The Super Incredible Big Brother by Jennifer Dowling, is great because you can put in both children’s names and sex—it is unfortunate it doesn’t accommodate names of multiple older siblings though. We used this book for the “gift” at the hospital (again, books are a central part of every family occasion) from Quenton to Big Brother Carston. I have a particular affinity for children’s books that rhyme, which this one does. Also, it comes with a medal that Carston still occasionally wears, over a year later.

I recently read When Mommy Has Our Baby by Rachel A. Cedar, which I know would have helped our family as well. While this book does have a Big Brother/Little Sister theme, it offers something the others don’t, which is a discussion question every other page to help the older child develop language to talk about new feelings and concerns. It is clearly written by a mom who has been there before. Even if an older child doesn’t want to read this story every night, the prompts will help parents know what to talk about with their kids for times when the book is not open.

I’m not the only one to think that reading books with your older child(ren) to help prepare them for the transition a new sibling will bring is one of the best ways to connect. In her new book Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life, which will be reviewed here this Friday, Dr. Laura Markham suggests reading books with older children, and continuing to do so in the first few months, will help get the sibling relationship off to a good start. More proof that reading really is a miraculous activity for kids, in so many ways!

What books helped ease a sibling transition for your child, either a birth or other later life event?

Hilary Levey Friedman is the Book Review Editor at Brain, Child and the author of Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture.

Top 10 Books on Children and Sleep

Top 10 Books on Children and Sleep

By Hilary Levey Friedman

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I’ve always been jealous of people who seem to be able to exist on five or six hours of sleep each night. I regularly need at least eight and while I know how important sleep is for my brain and my body—two authors on this list refer to it as nutrition for your brain—I can’t help but wonder what I could do with those extra hours of wakefulness. While pregnant, and petrified of what sleep deprivation might do to me, I actually avoided books about infant sleep. Plus, as we know, the advice is often contradictory! The one thing I did do was watch the DVD of The Happiest Baby on the Block (during which my husband fell asleep). Dr. Harvey Karp’s advice made intuitive sense to me so I decided to stop there.

Thankfully I was able to help my children become good sleepers rather quickly, so after the fact I became fascinated by sleep for children, reading books for newborns and beyond. While newborn sleep is a source of desperation and debate for many, and advice is often contradictory, most books agree on several points, like cautioning against co-sleeping in bed at the newborn stage and the importance of consistency and routine. On other points they routinely disagree, like about white noise (super important they say, but then disagree on what type), dream/slumber feeding, etc. While most books on children’s sleep focus on infants, it’s important to remember that while it is the foundation, sleep remains enormously important through childhood and adolescence as the brain continues to develop. The brain and sleep are intimately linked, as the best of the books below explain. I recommend you take a look at these after a good night’s rest…

Snooze… Or Lose! 10 “No-War” Ways to Improve Your Teen’s Sleep Habits by Helene Emsellem

Choosing to start a list like this with the issue of adolescent sleep might surprise you. Most parents usually worry most about infant sleep. But it’s for just this reason that I lead with Snooze… Or Lose! Learning good sleep habits is very important for all of childhood, but once puberty hits bodies change, along with the brain. Emsellem clearly explains that teens don’t stay up late just to defy you or exert their independence; instead, due to the delayed daily release of melatonin it is actually difficult for them to fall asleep before midnight. Combine that with earlier than ever high school start times, 24/7 connectedness, and competitive academic and extracurricular environments, and you have the recipe for tired, grouchy teens. Emsellem’s advice concerns children aged 11-22 and she describes how to determine if your child has a severe sleep issue, what treatments are available (light therapy and melatonin pills), and how you can take action to get school start times later. She describes the work of a group of parents in Wilton, Connecticut to get school start times later (fun fact, this town is the home base for Brain, Child!)

The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Newborn Baby Sleep Longer by Harvey Karp

When people ask me to recommend one book to new and expectant parents, this is my go-to title. The Happiest Baby on the Block specifically addresses the first three months of your child’s life, what Dr. Karp terms the “fourth trimester.” He entertainingly explains why humans have children at nine months rather than at twelve, grounding his argument about brain size in evolutionary and anthropological research. The sentiment and tone of the book is captured here: “The hard work of imitating the uterus was the price our Stone Age relatives accepted in exchange for having safer early deliveries. However, in recent centuries, many parents have tried to wriggle out of this commitment to their babies.” In order to imitate the uterus until an infant becomes less like a fetus and more like a baby, Karp lays out a plan based on the 5 S’s: swaddle, side/stomach, shhh, swing, and suck. You need to get the calming reflex just so for it to work, but when you do it’s like your crying baby has flipped a switch.

Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child by Marc Weissbluth

Dr. Weissbluth of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine is a grandfatherly figure when it comes to infant sleep. Nearly every book on this list recommends his book, originally published in 1987 and most recently updated in 2009. Weissbluth popularized the term “sleep training,” though of course not everyone agrees on when that training should begin (though most exhausted parents agree that at some point it must happen). Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child is the longest book on this list, with nearly 500 pages of advice, so you will want to keep it handy as a reference and not as bedtime reading. The 2009 edition discusses sleep issues past infancy and toddlerhood, but with only 30 pages covering the ages of 3-18 you will want to turn to others for additional advice. [Note that the dearth of good advice on sleep for those aged 6-13 is noticeable across the board.] If you have twins, Dr. Weissbluth’s Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Twins, also published in 2009, is a must read.

Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Richard Ferber

In some circles the real “F” word is “Ferberize.” Despite critics, Dr. Ferber’s 1985 book has become the all-time best-selling book on infant sleep. The most recent 2006 edition continues to focus on newborns and the practice of gradual “extinction” to help children sleep through the night. While the Ferber method has often been boiled down to a few paragraphs, or even three letters if you read many Internet sites (“CIO,” or “Cry It Out”) this hundreds-of-pages book is obviously far more nuanced. My children’s pediatrician, Jeffrey Zaref, astutely says of Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, “Dr. Ferber’s book is often misquoted or misunderstood, but when read in its entirety with parent buy-in, I think it is useful and smart.” A good reminder that no matter what you have heard, it is best to read a book yourself and come to your own conclusions while deciding what is right for your child and family.

The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night by Elizabeth Pantley

Published in 2002 and seen as a response to the Ferber/Weissbluth methods, Pantley’s book is a direct descendant of William Sears’ work on attachment parenting (in fact, he writes the Preface). The title of this book sounds inviting, right?! Of course it’s not so simple, but many swear by Pantley’s suggestions. The main premise is that a baby should not cry alone in a crib; this is easier said than done, as Pantley admits when one of the chapters talks about a ten day plan, or longer. The method requires persistency, which can be difficult in an exhausted phase, so best to read this one before baby arrives.

On Becoming Baby Wise: Giving Your Infant the Gift of Nighttime Sleep by Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam

This is a perennial favorite, especially among many Brain, Child readers. As the authors write, the book isn’t about giving a lists of dos and don’ts, but about preparing our minds for the task of raising a child (the authors even know that our minds change after a child arrives, so in the appendix when they provide a checklist two boxes are listed—one for when you read it before a baby arrives and one for after when you are actually trying to implement the suggestions). Baby Wise’s middle of the road approach which they link to eating and routines, and call Parent-Directed Feeding, is based on a sample of 520 families who have tried their method. Their perspective is captured in this observation, “All babies will experience the same merges, but they do not experience them at the same time.” Their analysis of previous parenting techniques, like behaviorism, will interest parents interested in social science.

The Good Sleeper: The Essential Guide to Sleep for Your Baby (and You) by Janet Krone Kennedy

Several new baby sleep books are forthcoming in 2015. Of the lot I suggest The Good Sleeper for three reasons: 1) It draws on many other books on this list, 2) The science of what we know about baby brain development and scientific sleep is clearly explained, and 3) The author’s writing is clear and concise (though her matter-of-fact tone may not appeal to all readers). Kennedy’s focus on translating science into practical parenting tips is indicative of the way parenting books are moving on a variety of topics. The best summary of the philosophy of this book is captured here, “The point is that there are constant transient stressors in childhood. I consider sleep training to be one of those, but it is a stressor that has a huge positive side. The chronic stress of sleep deprivation—on the child and on the parents—creates a far more disruptive developmental environment both physically and emotionally.”

The Happy Sleeper: The Science-Baked Guide to Helping Your Baby Ge a Good Night’s Sleep—Newborn to School Age by Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright

In many ways, in terms of the topics it covers—napping, nighttime sleep, typical routines, etc.—The Happy Sleeper is like many other baby sleep books. What sets it apart is that it is an up-to-date sleek version without too many words on the page, good illustrations and helpful highlighted boxes, and strategies for integrating technology; it also has a chapter on kids 2-6 making the book useful for longer. Turgeon and Wright try to stay away from controversial terms like “attachment” and “cry it out,” instead using terms like “attunement,” “soothing ladder,” and “sleep wave.” Like Book #9, The Happy Sleeper encourages parents not to interfere with babies too much because they are built to sleep and we should enable that rather than stand in the way. Helpful chapters in this book include chapters on parents’ sleep (trust me, there’s nothing worse than your 6-month-old sleeping through the night when you can’t!) the science of sleep, and tips on daylight savings time and time zone adjustments.

Welcome to Your Child’s Brain: How the Mind Grows from Conception to College by Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang

This book isn’t just about sleep—in fact, only Chapter 7, “Beautiful Dreamer, Ages Birth to Nine Years,” is. But this a very smart book, based in science research and writing, that will help you think about other developmental stages as well (I especially like the chapters on music and sports). Moreover, the authors are one of the few to address sleep during elementary school-aged children as well. As such the focus is on the scientific link between sleep and learning, like this sentence exploring why infants sleep so much, “The intense need for sleep early in life may be related to its importance in facilitating learning.” Although, as with the rest of Welcome to Your Child’s Brain, the message is not to stress too much as your child’s brain will almost always raise itself. You will find words like “suprachiasmatic nucleus” and “corticotropin-releasing hormone” here, but also familiar ones like naps and dreams.

Good Night Books for Kids

Even if none of the above work for you, or you decide to never read a sleep book, you and your family will almost certainly come to have a favorite goodnight book or two. We have consistently loved The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton (I can recite it on command, trust me) and Time for Bed by Mem Fox. Good Night Moon also remains a perennial favorite. Bedtime is a wonderful time to establish family reading habits and rituals—ones that most likely will be passed on to future generations. And if all else fails you can always seek out Adam Mansbach’s new classic, Go the F**k to Sleep…

Hilary Levey Friedman is the Book Review Editor at Brain, Child and the author of Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture. You may also like her review of Where Children Sleep.

Where Children Sleep: A Book Review

Where Children Sleep: A Book Review

By Hilary Levey Friedman

020-20110712-KN-children2020-20110712-KN-children1At the end of the year I am always amazed by how much stuff my kids have. We celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas, and then have two birthdays in January. To say the house is overrun with toys by then is an understatement.

Part of the reason the downstairs is chockfull of playthings is that I limit (or try to) bedroom space to sleep and reading, not playing. Based on bedrooms of twelve American children shown in James Mollison’s haunting Where Children Sleep, I may be in the minority.

Mollison’s coffee table book is one of the more thoughtful books I read in 2014—though in this case the images are sometimes more compelling than the written words. The book, published in 2010, is comprised of 56 diptychs. Mollison took portraits of the children, and then a picture of where they sleep, beginning in 2004 as he travelled the world. He also includes a paragraph on each child that includes their ages, where they live, their circumstances (school, siblings, etc.), their hobbies/how they spend leisure time, and what they want to be when they grow up.

The children in the book range from 4-17 and I have to warn you that the book starts sad (Lay Lay is an orphan in Thailand and all of her positions fit into a drawer) and ends sad (X is in a Brazilian drug gang and he moves around sharing sleeping space with other gang members). But Mollison’s aim is not to make you sad, it’s to make you think. He writes in the Introduction that a bedroom can be thought of as a personal kingdom; seeing it that way enables us to think about the places we sleep as they relate to inequality, along with the power of kids (or lack thereof) relative to adults.

Part of the way Mollison achieves this is by juxtaposing situations. For example, after the austerity of Lay Lay is Jivan, also four, who lives in Brooklyn. Jivan has his own bedroom and bathroom—a gorgeous boy’s room decorated by his interior designer mother. The room is full, but not cluttered, unlike the third child in the book, Kaya, a four-year-old in Japan who has thirty matching dresses and coats, shoes, and wigs. And then there are kids, like an unnamed four-year-old Romanian boy, who don’t even have their own beds, either sharing a mattress with other family members or staying in a dump in Cambodia. If you ever need a reminder, or need a way to show your children, how resources are distributed in vastly different ways across the world, you need only read Where Children Sleep.

I found it striking how many children sleep in communal environments around the world—from orphanages to training centers (a five-year-old in China training in martial arts) to religious instruction (a ten-year-old living in a monastery in Nepal) to a weight loss school (a thirteen-year-old boy in Pennsylvania) to cultural training centers (a fifteen-year-old in Japan learning to become a geisha). Mollison’s attention to alternative living arrangements is one reason why Where Children Sleep is a book you can examine, read, and discuss with your children. Children can be wrapped up in their own homes or rooms, and their friends who have similar experiences, but exposure to different situations can help your child learn more about their own lives and the larger world.

Of course, as Mollison admits, the book isn’t scientific. The children weren’t purposefully selected, they were simply children he found interesting in some way. He argues that the book isn’t part of a campaign, but the implications for inequality are too powerful to be accidental. Just as the pictures and descriptions can serve as a jumping off point for discussion about inequality with children, so can they serve as a jumping off point for reflection on our own goals. I noticed that many international children said they want to be doctors. I wondered what this says about the helping professions and why doctors are held in such high esteem as compared to teachers or police around the world. In what ways will the abundance my children are fortunate to enjoy impact their life goals?

Unfortunately Where Children Sleep is already out of print. While you can purchase a used copy in the usual ways online, it is pricey. Thankfully, Mollison has made many of the diptychs available on his website (though the Introduction and useful map included in the book aren’t available online). But there is a message here too—sometimes you don’t need a lot of new stuff to fill your bookshelves and bedrooms, you can also reuse or visit a library. Even that is a lot more than others have.

Hilary Levey Friedman, PhD is the Book Review Editor at Brain, Child and the author of Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture.

Photo: Kaya, 4, Tokyo, Japan via New York Times/James Mollison

The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self Control – A Book Review

The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self Control – A Book Review

By Hilary Levey Friedman

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 1.55.17 PMI have a favorite kind of parenting book (some of which appear on my recent Top 10 list): It’s a book that doesn’t live in the Parents section of the bookstore. I like the books that help us learn not just about childhood and families, but about how we can all, regardless of our ages, live better. Walter Mischel’s recently released The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control resides in the Psychology section of your bookstore, but it belongs on your parenthood shelf.

You have probably heard of the “marshmallow experiment.” The simplest version is that you take a preschooler into an empty room and present her with a marshmallow. You tell the preschooler that she can choose to eat the one marshmallow now, or earn two marshmallows if she waits while the adult is out of the room for an unspecified amount of time. Preschoolers who can wait at age 4 have higher SAT scores in high school, lower BMI in their 30s, and are generally happier. It’s considered one of the best predictors of future life success among all social science research.

When Mischel started his research on self-control in the 1960s as a professor at Stanford University (at the nursery school his three daughters attended) the experiment didn’t have a catchy title. In fact, it had the cumbersome name “The preschool self-imposed delay of immediate gratification for the sake of delayed but more valued rewards paradigm.” David Brooks popularized the work in a New York Times column, dubbing it the “marshmallow experiment” in 2006. While marshmallows weren’t the only rewards used (kids could select from a number of options including cookies and M&Ms), the name stuck.

In The Marshmallow Test Mischel pulls together the findings from over five decades of research on self-control and delayed gratification while offering practical advice about how we can cultivate self-control in ourselves and in children. According to him, “The ability to delay immediate gratification for the sake of future consequences is an acquirable cognitive skill.”

Mischel and other researchers have found that kids wait longer when the reward is covered (ten times longer!), when they are primed with fun thoughts (three times longer than sad thoughts), and when they are shown an image of the reward instead of the actual reward (also three times longer). To delay kids displayed a variety of techniques including averting their gazes, whispering to themselves, reaffirming intention to wait aloud, making up a song, picking noses, and some simply slept. Another technique the researchers found to help delay gratification is imagining how someone else—like a smart child—might behave.

The book is divided into three parts; Part I describes the experiments with preschoolers and the strategies they develop to control themselves, Part II shows these same strategies can help adults, and Part III applies the findings to public policy. If I had to pick a few chapters I highly recommend Chapter 3 in Part I, “Thinking Hot and Cool,” which discusses our brain systems in a remarkably clear way and Chapter 13 in Part II, “The Psychological Immune System.”

The Marshmallow Test is very comprehensive when it comes to discussing self-control. For instance, at one point I asked myself, “I wonder if boys and girls behave differently while waiting for the marshmallow?” And, then, he tells you on pages 47-8 that girls usually wait longer than boys and their strategies may differ, with boys using physical strategies like rocking or pushing temptations away while girls seem to sing or tune out (note that when rewards were only imagined girls delayed longer, but once it became a real choice the differences between boys’ and girls’ wait time went away). I also started wondering about the role of genetics—turns out that is what Chapter 7 is all about (not surprisingly it’s neither genes nor environment but a mix of both and Mischel mounts a compelling case that the nature vs. nurture debate isn’t very fruitful for anyone).

The writing in The Marshmallow Test is crisp, clear, and engaging. Mischel shares anecdotes about himself (like a cigarette addiction and a struggle with celiac disease), which adds a richness to the book. He also shares a joy in his work and a true respect for children captured in this sentence, “By the time they reach their fifth birthday, their minds have become wonderfully sophisticated.”

My biggest complaint is that we don’t always know a lot about how many participants there were in each experiment, and over time, and how representative they may be. Children who attend a preschool at Stanford are likely different from children on the South Side of Chicago. He does reveal that more than 550 kids took the marshmallow test from 1968-74, and that follow-up surveys began in 1982, but we have no sense of how many responded. The book is well annotated, but without notes on the page it can sometimes be tricky to find the desired reference.

As holiday season approaches considering buying your child a Cookie Monster—or at least the new version Mischel is helping to develop with Sesame Street Workshop who learns to wait for more cookies—or a copy for your child’s teachers, who play a key role in helping develop the skills children need to delay gratification and cultivate self-control.

Now, I wonder what it says about me that I had little self-control while reading The Marshmallow Test and couldn’t stop reading?

Hilary Levey Friedman, PhD is the Book Review Editor at Brain, Child and the author of Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture.

Top Ten Nonfiction Books for Thinking Mothers

Top Ten Nonfiction Books for Thinking Mothers

By Hilary Levey Friedman

details-of-huckfin-npr-650Any list like this is inherently idiosyncratic—unless you go by sales numbers it’s hard to find the perfect metric by which to create a Top Ten. You could go by number of times a book is cited by other authors (that’s the academic sociologist in me), or its reviews, but those nunbers can’t capture the way a parenting book can give you an a-ha! moment or make you reevaluate a parental decision.

This list for Brain, Child’s store is thematic, covering issues that arise at different stages of the parenting game, mindful that much of the “Parenting” section of the bookstore is dominated by infancy and toddlerhood. We can’t forget about our school-age kids and those teenagers! You will find below a mix of books—recent, classic, bestseller, academic, oft-recommended—and my hope is that at least one of them will make you think more deeply about this crazy thing we do call parenting.

Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong—and What You Really Need to Know by Emily Oster

Reviewed in the Fall 2013 issue of Brain, Child this book caused a firestorm by suggesting drinking during pregnancy can be ok (in moderation!), but don’t let the controversy dissuade you. This book covers many of the pregnancy “classics” (like What to Expect) by evaluating their claims while giving soon-to-be moms the tools to make the decisions that work best for them. Guidelines are suggested, but aren’t set in stone. Oster reviews the relevant medical literature and evaluates the research that went into the studies, starting with fertility and ending in the post-natal rooms. You don’t have to understand statistics, but an interest in numbers will help as you read the straightforward prose. Expecting Better is a useful tool for women of child-bearing age and it certainly is a pregnancy book geared for thinking mothers-to-be that reflects the trend toward evidence-based medicine and evidence-based parenting.

Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood by Steven Mintz

Historian Steven Mintz’s comprehensive tour through childhood in the US—starting with the Puritans and ending with twenty-first century techno-savvy kids—may appear overwhelming (no, the hardcover is not actually a doorstop, though it could double as one). But it’s a very thoughtful, straightforward, and obviously thorough take on how childhood as a time of innocence has developed over time. It should reassure parents that for the past three centuries each generation has believed that the succeeding one is more violent and sexual and less respectful and knowledgeable, and that concerns about technology persist whatever type of media develops, yet somehow we continue to make progress. Each chapter can be read and digested in its own time while still preserving the overall message that a carefree childhood has always been a myth in America, though it is still worth striving for today.

Diaper-Free Before 3: The Healthier Way to Toilet Train and Help Your Child Out of Diapers Sooner by Jill Lekovic

We spend a lot of time worrying about the inputs for our kids, but what about the outputs? Lekovic is a pediatrician and mom of three who offers sensible advice about potty training while also educating the reader about how this practice has changed over time. I actually enjoyed Chapter 2, “Life Before Disposable Diapers,” more than the eminently reasonable and effective advice she offers. Lekovic reminds us that disposable diapers that take away the feeling of wetness may be incredibly convenient in our busy lives, but kids are quite capable of doing it sooner (and she proves this by talking about how this works in other countries around the world). Her no pressure method, which can be thought of as exposure, also takes into account children with special needs. A rare book that I encourage every parent I know to consider.

The Portable Pediatrician: A Practicing Pediatrician’s Guide to Your Child’s Growth, Development, Health, and Behavior from Birth to Age Five by Laura Walther Nathanson

We all need that general reference guide to consult when we are worried about a certain behavior or icky rash. This book by mother and pediatrician (who has been through hundreds of thousands of office visits) more than fits the bill. Nathanson writes compassionately but tells us what we need to know. Originally published in 1994 and revised in 2002, the book stands the test of time as an informed, common-sense guide to parenting. It’s notable that the books starts in weeks, moves on to months, and then years and each section gets longer as you as a parent have more time to actually sit down and read as time progresses. As with most parenting books like this, it’s best to read ahead before Junior arrives (I did up to 6 weeks) which allows you to know what to expect and catch up later!

The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children by Wendy Mogel

Don’t worry if you aren’t Jewish—you don’t have to be to appreciate the wisdom and beauty of Mogel’s book, a perennial favorite among thoughtful parents since its release in 2001. Mogel was a practicing psychologist who left her practice after “finding” religion, along with finding a way to translate lessons of spirituality to today’s busy families. You won’t find statistics or lots of research in this book, but you will find a meditative take on what ails so many children and parents today. The three main principles she talks about are moderation, celebration, and sanctification and she uses nine blessings as chapters to communicate this message to all parents encouraging parents to let their children fail, work, and just be ordinary. More recently Mogel released a follow-up focused on teens entitled, The Blessing of B Minus: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Resilient Teenagers.

NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

NurtureShock is a great example of the type of parenting book that resonates today. Bronson and Merryman are journalists (note that this is one of only two books on this list not written by a PhD or an MD) and they take scientific research and package it in a counter-intuitive way that makes people stop and think. They also take an extreme position to attract attention and then add nuance later; for example, the introduction starts with the statemnt, “Why our instincts about children can be so off the mark.” Bronson and Merryman’s writings on praise (why it’s bad for kids) in particular have made a big impression. It is unclear if NurtureShock will remain a popular parenting book 10-20 years from now, but for moms and dads today who want to inform their parenting with research this is a mainstay in home libraries.

The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren by Peter and Iona Opie

This is an oldie, but a goodie—and not one you will find on a lot of top parenting lists, but it is definitely worth a read. Originally published in 1959 it is based on the research of a husband-and-wife team in the UK. The Opies, professors of literature and essentially folklorists, did something path-breaking: they observed children and took their play seriously. What’s interesting for parents today is captured in Iona’s preface to the 1968 edition, “Yet all in all children continue to regulate their own society, and defend themselves against the constant threat of boredom, with much the same code of law and style of humor as they did thirty—or indeed, a hundred—years ago.” The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren reminds us that children are their own beings who create and navigate complicated social worlds, and the way they do so is worthy of respect and understanding.

The Pecking Order: A Bold New Look at How Family and Society Determine Who We Become by Dalton Conley

During my second pregnancy I searched for books about raising siblings and couldn’t find any great how-to books. In the end, I returned to Conley’s book on siblings. Conley is a sociologist and he talks a lot about the research, but livens it up with personal examples. His discussion of twin studies is the most research heavy and while they are important it’s the color provided by interviews with nearly 200 siblings that gives a more nuanced picture. Among the more interesting discussions in The Pecking Order are that the number of children in a family matters much more than birth order and that there is more inequality within families than across them. Status hierarchies form in every family, often around birth order but also around sex and natural talents, so thinking about the way that impacts children and less about birth order is helpful while trying to raise siblings effectively.

How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish

Many parents refer to this 30+-year-old book as “The Parenting Bible.” It is one of five books written by the team of Faber and Mazlish and you likely have heard of at least one of their other books (their first was Liberated Parents/Liberated Children and their other immensely popular book is Siblings Without Rivalry along with How to Talk So Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk). Faber and Mazlish are revered by parents for helping adults understand that they need to recognize their children’s emotions and feelings. This is the core theme of all of their work and they use a technique to personalize this in their work that involves the reader completing exercises. They also include cartoons and a single-voice conversational style that can be confusing at times, though they are clearly effective overall. Note that the 30th anniversary edition includes an afterword by Adele Faber’s daughter who has joined the family business.

The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids by Madeline Levine

Levine’s influential book about the challenges facing middle- and upper-middle class teens today is comprehensive in that it discusses relevant research (namely Suniya Luthar’s work on difficulties facing advantaged teenagers), personal experiences (as a mom and as a therapist in an affluent San Francisco suburb), and offers advice to parents on how to help their children through these difficult and formative years. Levine has gone on to write more on how to help teenagers become well-adjusted adults (see the review of Teach Your Children Well in the Summer 2013 issue of Brain, Child), but in a nutshell the best advice to come from The Price of Privilege is that time and not money or things matters the most—even if your teen doesn’t always want to talk. Don’t pressure them, just be there, and hopefully in time the alarming statistics about increases in substance abuse, self-injury, and suicide will decrease among more affluent children.

Raising Readers

Raising Readers

DEPT_REVIEWBOOKS-ICON_FinalTalking about books with Brain, Child Book Review Editor, Hilary Levey Friedman.

I’m a professional reader. Long before I earned a living by reading and writing about books, I read like it was my job. I loved reading so much that when I turned 16 the main reason I wanted to get my license was so I could drive myself to the library.

So it’s no surprise that one of the things I most looked forward to about motherhood was reading to my children. But as my eldest son, Carston, hit toddlerhood I realized that while I like reading to my sons, what I really want to do is read with them. A persistent daydream I have is sitting next to one another on the couch, cuddled up in front of a fire, each of us reading our respective books.

I suspect this is the case for many Brain, Child readers. As parents who love to read and think, modeling our love for the written word is likely second nature. We’re doing something right, as the American Academy of Pediatrics recently decreed that reading early and often to children is so important it is basically prescribed.

After reading “alphabet” books to Carston (from Boynton to Seuss) what seemed like hundreds of times, he seemed to magically pick up his letters and start spelling everything he saw from street signs to labels on food. “Well,” I thought smugly to myself, “soon we shall be sitting by the fire reading together.”

One of my closest friends, a speech language-pathologist, gently disabused me of this notion by suggesting I pick up a copy of I’m Ready! How to Prepare Your Child for Reading Success by Janice Greenberg and Elaine Weitzman. I’m Ready is less than 70 pages, but it is chock-full of useful advice including suggestions, exercises, and a list of suggested children’s books to develop preliteracy skills. Published by The Hanen Centre, a Canadian non-profit focused on helping children communicate in all forms, I have started recommending this book to all parents I know with preschoolers and pre-kindergartners.

Sometimes as a parent, and even as a reader, I focus on the nuts and bolts of things, like how many pages there are in a book or how long it takes me to read (Or, in all honesty, how many pages I can squeeze in before dinner or after the kids’ bedtime!). When I read for myself I often do so with too much of a laser focus, thinking in terms of summaries and take-aways. But reading I’m Ready! reminded me that there are many components to literacy: conversation, vocabulary, story comprehension, print knowledge, and sound awareness. These are the building blocks, skills kids to learn before they can learn to read or write. Like so many things in life, as much as we would like them to, these skills don’t develop sequentially or on a time table but often in a haphazard way and then all at once.

After reading I’m Ready! and implementing some of Greenberg and Weitzman’s suggestions with Carston each time we read—like asking open-ended questions about the story and not those that produce one-word answers—I began to notice the ways in which my own reading has changed. I’ve started thinking more about characters and what problems they have to overcome. I have begun to once again notice and think about marks of punctuation, which I had been taking for granted.

I’m Ready! doesn’t teach you how to teach your child to read, it teaches you how to teach your child to be a reader. As the authors write, “The important task right now is to get your child into the habit of always looking for meaning every time you open a book together.”

As Brain, Child’s new Book Review Editor that is what I hope we can do together as well—to look for meaning as readers and as parents. To think about the characters, the settings, and the questions and exclamation points in our lives. I know I’m ready to, “Show that the words being read match the words on the page, with spaces in between.”

I hope you say, “I’m Ready!”, curl up by that metaphorical fire, and open up a few books with me as we identify and explore the spaces in between our words.

Book Review: The Price of Silence

Book Review: The Price of Silence

By Hilary Levey Friedman

The Price of Silence coverLike Dara-Lynn Weiss before her, writing a negative piece about her child secured Liza Long a book deal. Her emotionally raw blog post, “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother” (originally published anonymously on her blog The Anarchist Soccer Mom as “Thinking the Unthinkable”), penned in response to the Newtown shootings, quickly went viral after appearing on The Blue Review and then The Huffington Post. The reaction was extreme in both directions, with some applauding Long’s courage and identifying with her family’s struggle and others calling her an imposter and suggesting she is the one who needs mental health monitoring.

Her just-published book, The Price of Silence: A Mom’s Perspective on Mental Illness, is an expansion of that polarizing post. According to the Introduction this is a book for two different audiences. The first is those families who have a child with a mental illness to let them know they aren’t alone by sharing her family’s experience. The second is for those who are “surprised to learn that one in five children in the United States has a serious and debilitating mental disorder, an audience that believes mental illness is something we still shouldn’t talk about except behind closed doors in private rooms.” The Price of Silence succeeds in addressing the latter audience more than the former.

Long is at her best when describing the labyrinth families must navigate when they have a child with a mental illness. A myriad of acronyms must be decoded, reports must be written, and parents have to accustom themselves to the idea of dealing first with administrators and educators in public schools and then with first responders like police officers before frequently turning to the juvenile justice system. Though “institutions” no longer exist (in many cases, happily so), no good system has developed to figure out how to take care of the mentally ill, especially children. Many have to enter juvenile detention and hope to stay on parole to get actual treatment at an affordable price. Long writes of parents divorcing so their child can access services with a reduced family income, and poverty in general is a big issue when it comes to children’s mental health. She explains, “In some states, this transition from school to prison is so regular that it’s been called a ‘pipeline,’ one that disproportionately affects poor children and their families.”

One of the most practical suggestions Long makes in The Price of Silence is that pediatricians need to be better trained to identify the warning signs of various forms of mental illness, and not just autism. Though it is true that there is much still unknown about the science of mental illness, more is being understood every day through new imaging techniques and DNA analysis. Because Long discusses a lot of of-the-moment research, the book might not hold up well over time. But her message that there is a complex interplay between genetics, parenting, and the environment, and her reminder that people with mental illness are usually the victims of violence (and when they are violent it is usually against themselves) ensure that The Price of Silence is an important book.

The book falls flat in describing what it is like in Long’s family, which clearly has a complicated dynamic with four children, an ex-husband, and a new partner, along with a change of family religion. She refers to an acrimonious divorce and custody battles, but doesn’t get into specifics and if anything is clear it is that the situation isn’t resolved. That murkiness dulls the larger messages of her book and it may have been more effective to limit the more personal to one chapter.

While Long’s blog post did net her a book deal, it also caused a lot of anguish as her ex-husband had their two youngest children removed from her home on the basis of the violence described. At the same time because her piece reached so many it ultimately led her to a child psychiatrist who seems to have at long last provided a diagnosis and treatment for her son. Now diagnosed with juvenile bipolar disorder with a “Fear of Harm” phenotype, “Michael” is doing better and spending more time with his younger siblings. In many ways Liza Long is not like Adam Lanza’s mom because she acknowledges her son’s illness and will never have guns in the house. And hopefully her message and suggestions can help other mothers avoid the sad fate of Nancy Lanza and those impacted by acts of violence by sick young men.

Hilary Levey Friedman, PhD is a sociologist and writer. You can learn more about her work at

Book Review: Playing to Win

Book Review: Playing to Win

playing to winEnjoy Brain, Mother’s monthly book review. Comment and/or sign up for our weekly blog update and you could win a free copy of Playing To Win:

If you are interested in after-school activities and the future prospects of the children who participate in them, Playing to Win by Hilary Levey Friedman is a must-read. An astute, well-researched and clearly written account, the book examines the ins and outs of today’s competitive youth culture across three different arenas: chess, soccer and dance. It is not, however, a documentation of the lives of rising Grand Masters and Broadway stars in the making. It is a tour of the psychological landscape of middle-class American parenting, as it relates to the ever-present push to create the most “successful” kid possible.

The premise of the book is that parents believe children need something Levey Friedman describes as “Competitive Kid Capital” in order to achieve the “good life.” And that extracurricular activities are the way, par excellence, to accrue it. The process of acquiring Competitive Kid Capital, which includes qualities such as internalizing the value of winning and learning how to perform in stressful situations, starts young: we are talking about elementary-school-aged children. It is also directly linked to competitive (as opposed to recreational) ventures, where scores are kept, rankings are obsessed over and trophies are doled out one after the next.

Playing to Win is, at heart, a sociological study. It is a laying bare of a cultural phenomenon—its history and its infrastructure—not a judgment on that phenomenon. “Are these parents crazy?” Levey Friedman asks. “Have they lost their grip?” Her definitive answer to these questions is “no” and she walks the line between showing us why and telling us why with admirable grace. On the one hand, she lets the data and the people involved speak for themselves: interviews with both parents and children are a hallmark of the book. On the other hand, she is a careful, explicit and non-biased interpreter of her fieldwork.

The chapter on gender, one of the strongest, provides a good example of this balanced presentation. Here Levey Friedman tackles the influence of sex, and also of class, on a parent’s decision to enroll a child in a particular activity. Upper-middle-class parents, she notices, are more likely to promote an “assertive type of femininity” and so choose soccer for their daughters, whereas lower-middle-class parents are likely to favor a “more traditional type” of femininity and choose dance. So too girls are far more likely than boys to take dance classes at all. These trends are outlined with no aspersions cast and with ample opportunity to hear the parents’ own voices.

One of the major themes weaving through Playing to Win is the perceived relationship between competitive after-school activities and college admissions. The US is unique in nurturing such a connection, as it is one of the only countries to “consider admissions categories other than academic merit.” For American parents, therefore, the drive for their children to participate increasingly in these ventures (“to beef up their resumes,” as the dean of admissions at Harvard has put it) is an extension of the desire to get them into the best college possible, which is often narrowly construed as the elite universities of the Ivy League. And yet, in the end, Levey Friedman acknowledges that “we don’t know conclusively that the activities that fill the leisure time of affluent American children are central to maintaining an advantage for these kids into adulthood.”

Playing to Win will leave you ambivalent, just like the parents it chronicles, who seesaw between “the ‘need’ to keep up and their exhaustion from trying to keep up.” It will make you question where you fall on the spectrum of competitiveness for your children, both in terms of the activities they take part in and the process of getting them into college. You will recognize the potential benefits these activities bestow, the confidence, the resilience, the self-regulation. But you will also probably lament the fact that America has gotten to a point where eight year olds are spending hour upon hour of their “free” time honing skills so they can win at sports we used to play for fun. And when you close the book, you will either immediately sign your kid up for chess lessons. Or make plans to flee the country.

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