Tag Archives: adult books

Mamaleh Knows Best by Marjorie Ingall

9780804141413by Marjorie Ingall
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Generally my coworker, who is herself already a Jewish mother, tries to dissuade me from reading parenting books, especially since I do not yet have children. And generally I disregard her because, not only do I need to know what’s out there to advise patrons, but I also enjoy storing up tidbits for someday. This book I enjoyed so much that I am actually recommending it to her!

Ingall’s writing is funny and confident, though her premise seems to be based more on her own observations and ponderings than on any studies about what is “actually” recommended. She draws heavily on her experiences of attending Jewish Day School and raising her two daughters, who are now teenagers, and draws conclusions I had never thought of about how certain aspects of parenting are rooted in Judaism.

Such conclusions include: teaching independence (and therefore rejoicing when your child challenges authority), telling stories, asking questions, and modeling tikkun olam. I realized in reading this that these are some of my foundational memories of how my mother raised me, and what I feel strongly about instilling in my own children. They also happen to overlap with traits my partner does not possess in spades and make me a bit hesitant about how our future children will be raised. But Ingall claims that children with only one Jewish parent are more likely to identify as Jewish if that parent is a mother, so I feel good about our odds of success in raising Jewish kids. (And it reinforces that Judaism is a matrilineal religion – a practice that has been controversial due to its non-inclusivity to people whose fathers were Jewish and identify strongly as Jewish. But I digress.)

Most importantly, Ingall does not claim that only Jewish kids are capable of being raised this way, nor are they genetically predisposed to end up with these traits. The purpose of this book is that lessons from Judaism can be very easily picked up by non-Jews, and to explain why Jewish people, though very small percentages of nearly any population, excel and thrive.

The Explosive Child by Ross W. Greene


by Ross W. Greene
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Why would a children’s librarian with no children of her own read parenting books? I’m so glad you asked! Not only do I get asked for recommendations (happened just tonight, and I recommended this very book which I just finished), but also sometimes the situations addressed occur in our storytimes and programs. In fact, I’ve got a kiddo in one of my storytimes that I was thinking about the whole time I was reading this book. Some of the information can even be applied to adults I know, or be filed away for use with my own future kids. Of course, in the library, I can’t really implement Greene’s strategies without a caregiver’s consent; but even if I could, it wouldn’t be nearly as effective as it would with his compliance as the solution works best when it involves other adults in the child’s life.

Greene advocates what he calls Collaborative Problem Solving to address “explosions”. He explains that many parents rely on what he calls “Plan A,” or just sheer authority (“do what I say”) which usually results in a meltdown that seems to come out of nowhere, be willful and manipulative on the child’s part, and lasts for a long time (in some cases, hours). This, he argues, does not allow the child’s needs to be met or even, in most cases, be heard. In attempting to choose battles, some parents choose “Plan C” where they don’t address the issue at all, in which case their own needs are not being met. A happy medium, he says, is Plan B, or Collaborative Problem Solving.

Plan B can be implemented in the moment of a meltdown, but is most effective when brought up in a calm moment before the meltdown occurs. It requires the adult (parent, teacher, caregiver… librarian?) to identify the event that appears to set off the meltdown and use that as a jumping off point for a conversation with the child that allows the child to express whatever their frustration with that situation is. Sometimes this takes a little digging, and sometimes multiple sessions, before the child is able to both trust that the adult wants to hear and they’re able to articulate it. Greene argues that often the underlying issue is that there is a skill required for the task that the child doesn’t yet have, and in the frustration occurs the meltdown.

Greene gives many, many examples and is quite thorough. I recommend this book as one way to think about approaching temper tantrums with the child in your life – maybe not as the be-all end-all, but food for thought.

Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult by Bruce Handy


by Bruce Handy
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

My Adults Who Read Kids’ Books book club had a good time dissecting this one, and especially making our own list of books and authors that could have been included. I did notice, however, that neither our list nor Handy’s was especially diverse, except for gender-wise (ours had more female writers; Handy’s had few). Overall, it was fun – not only a trip down memory lane, but Handy apparently did a lot of research. I found it a bit technical at first, but eventually got into it. I liked that each chapter had a theme (like Christianity or Death) and fit a few things together into each. I was prepared for it to be total fluff, but was pleased that there was a bit more thought put into it (though he mentioned and completely dismissed an entire book, Was the Cat in the Hat Black?, out of hand, which irked me because I thought it had important things to say, and white people dismissing claims of racism really irks me. But other than that, this was a well-researched trip down memory lane, with a few surprises.

Was the Cat in the Hat Black? by Philip Nel


by Philip Nel

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

I would give this book 5 stars but he was seriously preaching to the choir and in a much wordier way than necessary. It took me a long time to read this book, partly because I’m not used to such academic writing anymore. (Also, non-fiction just takes me a long time.) I did learn a few things about racism in children’s books, such as that the Cat in the Hat was based on a lot of racist, minstrel stereotypes, which modern readers wouldn’t necessarily know anymore. The other points he made include: Publishing is too white and the people making decisions on what should be published are too quick to tell POCs their story isn’t relatable before checking their privilege; there is some significant editing-out of people of color in books like William Joyce’s Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore; whitewashing covers is also a terrible thing that not only tries to trick white readers but, even worse, doesn’t get books with main characters of color into the hands of readers of color; and finally, that people of color are excluded from certain genres such as fantasy. There was also a good list of ways to be not just a good ally, but a good accomplice. Overall, a solid, important read, though I suspect that many of the readers will again be the choir he’s already preaching to.

Double Review: Nonfiction about Trans girls


Becoming Nicole
by Amy Ellis Nutt
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

In a way, it seems unfair to give this book a rating. Would I be evaluating Nicole’s life? Nutt’s writing? Both? Nicole’s life has been hard; much of the story is told through her mother’s struggles for her daughter, both with the world and with her husband, which was also hard to read about; Nutt’s writing is great. Nicole, more or less fully aware of the struggles and the victories her family went through because of her, seems to have an edge to her. Her story is told from an outsider’s perspective and has a matching edge.

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Being Jazz (picture book: I Am Jazz)
by Jazz Jennings
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

In comparison, Being Jazz is written by the girl herself, and a teenager at that, so has a much different voice. Jazz was also the youngest in a big family (four children total) and somewhat unaware of the fights her parents were fighting for her. With a healthy sense that her parents have always supported her, Jazz grew up with seemingly boundless enthusiasm and positivity, which gives her memoir an even more different feel than Nicole’s. Jazz is not completely oblivious, however, and recounts a few instances where she felt taken advantage of because of her high profile status, especially when it comes to dating. She also struggled to be allowed to play on the girls’ soccer team with her friends.

Both girls’ stories are inspiring and provoked lots of reflection from my fellow book clubbers – mostly older white women who are librarians who have in Massachusetts for all or most of their lives. Though it’s a liberal area, they were raised in the 50s and 60s, mostly in traditional Catholic families, and so their upbringing was utterly unlike what Nicole and Jazz went through, in rural Maine and south Florida in the 2000s. It was very interesting to hear these ladies speak about how times have changed. One recounted that she has a (very obviously, in retrospect) gay cousin, but no one talked about it at all when they were growing up. Another said her son thought we were basically almost to full equality for LGBTQ rights; recent events have me doubting that, but marriage equality was huge. Another said she thought we’d be fully there within 20 years. We’ll see – hope springs eternal, if not for my own friends and family, then for all the other kids like Nicole and Jazz, who should grow up knowing only love and acceptance.

One striking thing was how much more attention is paid to trans girls than trans boys. Such a big deal is made of keeping penises out of girls’ bathrooms! On one hand, I totally understand wanting to protect women and girls from sexual predators. On the other, that’s not what being trans is about, and denying people the ability to perform the most basic of human functions because of some disturbed individuals really denies their own humanity.It’s incredibly heartbreaking to hear a very small child express a desire to cut off part of their anatomy, as it seems is common, because that sense of discomfort in one’s own body is tough, especially in one so young. I was curious to see what the story sounds like when the genders are swapped but found very few books in my library catalog chronicling a girl who becomes a boy. Stay tuned for a review of the one I found, Raising Ryland.

Primal Teen


Overall: 4 out of 5 stars
A couple of months ago, I went to a day-long conference for teen librarians. One of the presenters talked about teens and the changes their brains are going through, some of which I already knew and some of which was revolutionary for me. The presenter mentioned this book as a good source for more information, so of course I immediately logged into my library app on my smartphone (don’t you just love technology?!) and requested it, and have been slogging through it ever since.
Honestly, the only deductions are because this book is now 13 years old, so who knows how the science has advanced in the intervening time, and because I’m out of practice with reading nonfiction, especially science-based nonfiction. I was mostly able to follow the sciency bits, but got bogged down sometimes. Strauch includes lots of narrative about individual teens which is well done and helps break up the technical stuff while also illustrating it. She covers a lot of different areas where we might see changes in teens’ brains manifesting as particular behaviors. As a librarian who works with children and teens, I would have appreciated a little of “and then here’s how to deal with it,” though this was not at all what Strauch claimed to accomplish; rather, she aimed merely to present the facts and best theories (as they were in 2003). I was surprised at how much of this supposedly still-developing behavior is still present in many adults I know, but that’s maybe a topic for another book! (However, Strauch passed away last year, so sadly we will not see an updated version of this book. She did publish a 2010 book about adult brains, if you’re so inclined.)
The most interesting chapters to me were on just how much the teen brain develops during adolescence, including an explanation of the myelination process that helps them learn to make good decisions and not react from the gut and also learn to read social cues and emotions and not take everything personally. She also discusses sleep cycles (with a good healthy discussion on why schools should start later, a particular pet issue of mine) and the effects of nicotine and alcohol on teen brains (basically, people are likely to get much more addicted to nicotine if they start smoking as a teen than as an adult, because of teen brain development; alcohol is similarly worse). Teens’ brains are taking all the possible things they could need to learn to do in their environment and, by doing them over and over and strengthening those synapses, they are fine-tuning their brains and basically making them less plastic and adaptable and therefore capable of being responsible adults in whatever type of society it turns out they’ve ended up in, which is never a given at birth and which has also changed over time since caveman times and needs.

Article on Transgender Children’s Books

Maybe because I live in the Boston Bubble of LGBTQ heaven, but I was surprised by my aunt’s declaration that there wasn’t a big need for books about transgender kids because there just aren’t that many (in response to this article in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review). I would love to hear from readers in other places (especially if you are in the business of finding books for a large cross-section of kids!) if you think this is a good thing or overkill. Especially on the heels of Fun Home winning Best Musical at the Tonys last night and other books such as Tomboy by Liz Prince becoming their own genre (gender identity graphic novel memoirs), I think this marks a turning point in children’s literature and society in general.

Now I’ll Tell You Everything; or, I Am Alice McKinley

by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

There is a generation of women who grew up with Alice McKinley. Her struggles were our struggles, her questions and embarrassments were our own. The first 28 books took us up to her high school graduation and now the final, 500-page installment delivers its title’s promise: it takes us to college with Alice, and through relationships and kids and aging parents, all the way until she’s 60 years old. I imagine Phyllis Reynolds Naylor putting down her pen (or, probably more likely, typing THE END) and thinking, “There. That ought to fend them off until they’re that age, and by that time they’ll be on their own. If they haven’t figured out how to manage without Alice by then, too bad.”

I inhaled this one, reading 400 pages last Sunday and finishing up the last hundred the next evening (it’s unfortunate when work gets in the way of your reading time, even when you work in a library!). I won’t spoil anything, but her life is relatively charmed, though her friends and family have their struggles. The things Alice goes through spoke so clearly to my own life that I feel more than ever that we are the same person, even moreso than when I was a preteen. I can tell you right now that I will be rereading this book, and probably several times.

Applewhites at Wit’s End

by Stephanie Tolan
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

This is the sequel to Surviving the Applewhites, both of which I really enjoyed. The premise of this book is that the family is bankrupt and is going to start a summer camp for creative children to pay the bills. This actually reminded me of the premise of a grownup book I read years ago called When the White House Was Ours by Porter Shreve. The dysfunctional adults and creating their own school were very similar. Main character E.D. is the voice of reason in this family of left-brained artsy types, adults and kids alike, leaving E.D. de facto in charge of details that adults should have thought of. She handles her role with much grace and maturity, yet with a measure of frustration mixed in. The premise is wacky on its own, but the creative climax and resolution of the story are entertaining and clever.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter

by Peggy Orenstein
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

But first, an anecdote: I mentioned the title to a friend and she asked what it was about. I said it was non-fiction and she looked startled. I hastened to add that it didn’t really happen… that Cinderella didn’t actually eat the author’s daughter… and we had a good laugh.

I had high hopes for this book. What I liked about it was that Orenstein’s struggles and questions were so real. She was trying so hard to figure out what the right thing was and do it, but it’s not easy. She waffles a lot and the book is incredibly inconclusive, down to the symbolism and meaning of the Disney Princesses (are they positive role models or not? I’m still unsure). Overall, though, she raises a lot of good questions and actually not answering them seems to prove her point about just how confusing it all is. Worth a read, in any case.