Sticks and Stones by Emily Bazelon – Book Review

Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy by Emily Bazelon
Published by Random House

The big bad wolf in the raising of teenagers today is cyber bullying. If you believe Emily Bazelon, however, cyber bullying is not a new thing. It is, she claims, essentially nothing more than plain old bullying, moved to a new venue. What, then, is bullying? In Sticks and Stones, Bazelon unpacks the issue of bullying through three case studies, discussing interventions, suicide, and, of course, the role of the internet.

Honestly, I’m not sure I would have ever picked this one up had I not been interviewing Bazelon about it for the SheKnows Book Lounge. I expected Sticks and Stones to either be self-help-y or to be a dry recitation of the facts of bullying. Happily, it is neither. Instead, Sticks and Stones is a book that realistically delves into a difficult and complex issue. The case studies bring real people and real faces to the problem of bullying, and on both sides of the issue. It helps her unpack the school cultures that contribute to bullying, as well as what, if anything, can help in such situations.

Beyond being a well organized informative book, Sticks and Stones is also simply a compelling read. Bazelon has a great style, and knows exactly how much she can insert herself in the story without detracting from the facts she hopes to impart. Even without any current personal vested interested in precisely what goes on in high schools, I did not want to put Sticks and Stones down. Between Bazelon’s engaging prose and her ability to get to the heart of why exactly this issue is important, she had me hooked.

Very highly recommended.

For more, see my interview with Emily Bazelon in the SheKnows Book Lounge.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Author’s publicist.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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How Children Succeed by Paul Tough – Audiobook Review

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough, narrated by Dan John Miller
Published in audio by Tantor Media, published in print by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Synopsis:

From the publisher:

A foremost New Yorker and New York Times journalist reverses three decades of thinking about what creates successful children, solving the mysteries of why some succeed and others fail – and of how to move individual children toward their full potential for success.

Thoughts on the text

Much of what Tough talks about in How Children Succeed – such as the need for strong attachments – is not new. However, combined with some of the newer and less-known research about non-cognitive skills, often referred to as character traits, such as curiosity and grit, these old Psych 101 ideas take on new life. Tough’s reporting is straightforward, informative, and interesting. Perhaps his greatest skill is his ability to explain his ideas across audiences. The average parent could absolutely pick up How Children Succeed and understand any and all of Tough’s theses and explanations, but he is not too simplistic for our household, with our education and education-reform backgrounds. That being said, much of the content in How Children Succeed that will appeal most to those interested in education reform. There is information for parents, but this is decidedly not a parenting book. Tough focuses primarily at students at the outsides of the socioeconomic divide: poor minority students and the children of the 1%. Still, there are things in here that parents can easily extrapolate for their own children.

As far as the issue of school reform goes, How Children Succeed reports ideas from some of the leading lights in today’s movement and comes up with some very interesting ideas, many of which do seem to have the potential to effect great change. If only the parents and caregivers of my old students on the South Side of Chicago had been given attachment therapy! Our school days might have been much different and more productive.

As a side note: having been a Teach for America teacher in Chicago I was familiar with many of the reformers Tough refers to, which may have increased for me the legitimacy of his arguments, I am clearly predisposed to agreeing with many of these people.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Dan John Miller does a great job keeping How Children Succeed interesting. Of course, Tough writes engagingly enough that the text itself is interesting, but Miller adds audible interest as well. When narrating conversations between Tough and some of the subjects of his investigations or direct quotes from some of the same people, Miller gives these people unique voices. The voices are fairly subtle, so it doesn’t matter that Miller isn’t exactly a credible high school girl. In addition, Miller seems just as passionate about the subject matter of How Children Succeed as Tough is himself, which gives Tough’s findings an increased feeling of importance to listeners.

Overall:

A fascinating look at the non-cognitive markers of success. Interesting for parents, but especially relevant for the school reform-minded out there. If you’re going to want to take notes, by all means you probably want to approach this in print, but if you want a general introduction to Tough’s arguments, Dan John Miller’s narration is a great choice.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
Indiebound: Audio/Print*

Sound Bytes is a meme that occurs every Friday! I encourage you to review your audiobooks on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman – Audiobook Review

Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman, narrated by Abby Craden
Published in audio by Random House Audio, an imprint of Random House; published in print by Penguin Press, an imprint of Penguin

If you reviewed an audiobook today, Tuesday, June 26th please leave your link in the Mr. Linky before midnight Central time (US) and you will be eligible to win a prize.

Synopsis:

Pamela Druckerman is an American woman married to a British man and living in Paris. When their daughter was a year old, the family took a vacation that necessitated eating out in restaurants every night. As most parents of a one year old can probably imagine, that didn’t go particularly well, particularly since they were eating nice places, not the the French equivalent of family chain restaurants. As she sat there, trying to figure out how to  keep her child entertained, Druckerman began to realize that the other toddlers in the restaurant were waiting calmly for their food and eating whatever was put in front of them. Since French parenting is not mythologized like their wine and cheese, it took her some time to realize what was going on, but eventually she began to pay closer attention to what the French parents around her were doing.

Thoughts on the story:

Bringing Up Bebe is a fascinating look at cultural differences in parenting, but it is not, strictly speaking, a parenting book. Druckerman is not holding French parenting up as the be all and end all of parenting, but as a consistent ideology that produces relatively consistent results, the results that are desired by these French parents. I can definitely see why this book has been somewhat controversial: many of the French parenting techniques are anti-attachment parenting, which is a huge trend in the United States at the moment; in addition, many of the stories she tells of American parents in Manhattan and Brooklyn are ridiculous in the extreme, and not really the norm of American parenting. Of course, since she is primarily studying Parisian parents, perhaps comparing them to New York parents of the same general social strata is, indeed, fair. Overall, though, Bringing Up Bebe offers interesting insights and ideas and is also fascinating simply as a cultural comparison of parenting styles.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Abby Craden does a wonderful job narrating Bringing Up Bebe. Her accents are good and her narrative style engaging, but most of all, I frequently forgot that I was listening to a hired narrator, and not simply Druckerman relating her observations. The ability to seamlessly blend into the story is, perhaps, the highest praise that I can give a narrator of memoirs. In becoming Druckerman, Craden brings this personal and parental account vividly to life.

Overall:

A fascinating book, you may want to have Bringing Up Bebe in print to refer back to some ideas, but I do recommend listening to Abby Craden narrate.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
Indiebound: Audio/Print*

Source: Library.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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Double Time by Jane Roper – Book Review

Double Time: How I Survived – and Mostly Thrived – Through the First Three Years of Mothering Twins by Jane Roper
Published by St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of Macmillan

After trying in vain to have a baby and enduring fertility treatments, Jane Roper finally learned that she was pregnant. With twins. Following the initial moment of panic, Roper – a writer and reader – searched for a book that was, at the time, nonexistent: a memoir of the first years with multiples. Roper’s own first few years with her twin daughters were filled with many exceptionally joyful times, but also with renewed depression and professional hardships.

Double Time is a funny and insightful look into life raising twins. Much of what Roper discusses will be relevant to all parents, life with young children viewed through Roper’s wry sense of humor:

After extracting what cat food I could from Elsa’s mouth – not that it mattered, really, but the idea of one’s child eating horsemeat and fish eyeballs and whatever else is in dry cat food isn’t terribly pleasant, especially when, as Alastair pointed out, we hadn’t formally introduced those foods yet – I grabbed the dishes and went into the kitchen to find a towel to mop up the water. –p. 109

Of course, Roper also brings in the challenges that are unique to parenting twins, or children very close in age in general, such as the inability to be in two places at once as twin babies grow into toddlers, and both decide to engage in risky or disgusting behavior at the same time.

As the soon-to-be mother of twins, I found Double Time to be an honest and open look at twin parenthood. It is reassuring, even when Roper discusses the challenges, because she explains how she and her husband, Alastair, were able to meet those challenges without loss of life or limb. Her approach is descriptive, rather than prescriptive, which is also reassuring as she shows a picture of a family making it and being happy, rather than an unattainable picture of familial perfection. Towards the end of the book, she says something that sums up perfectly why Double Time is so reassuring, when responding to the eternal ‘how do you do it?’ question:

Of course the answer to all of these questions – in any context – is that raising twins is not a matter of being some kind of superhuman wonder parent. We simply don’t have a choice. We just do it…. Not always well, and certainly not always with the amount of patience and perspective or consistency we’d like. But we do it. –p. 259

I would absolutely and unequivocally recommend Double Time to new parents of twins, but I think many parents – perhaps mothers in particular – will resonate with Roper’s experiences. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, via Netgalley.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina – Book Review

Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five by John Medina
Published by Pear Press

As a (now former) teacher and a math/science nerd, my husband has a significant fascination with brain-based learning research, thus it was only natural that he read John Medina’s Brain Rules, followed by his Brain Rules for Baby. When we found out that we are expecting this summer (before we learned that we are expecting twins), he pulled Brain Rules for Baby off of his shelf and stuck it at the top of my TBR pile, then proceeded to pester me about it any time he saw me reading anything else at all.

Here’s the publisher’s description of exactly what the book is about:

What’s the single most important thing you can do during pregnancy? What does watching TV do to a child’s brain? What’s the best way to handle temper tantrums? Scientists know.

In his New York Times bestseller Brain Rules, Dr. John Medina showed us how our brains really work—and why we ought to redesign our workplaces and schools. Now, in Brain Rules for Baby, he shares what the latest science says about how to raise smart and happy children from zero to five. This book is destined to revolutionize parenting. Just one of the surprises: The best way to get your children into the college of their choice? Teach them impulse control.

Brain Rules for Baby bridges the gap between what scientists know and what parents practice. Through fascinating and funny stories, Medina, a developmental molecular biologist and dad, unravels how a child’s brain develops – and what you can do to optimize it.

I am very conflicted as to how I felt about Brain Rules for Baby. On the one hand, it is full of fascinating and potentially helpful information for parents to understand how their children’s brains work and how their choices can influence their children’s brain development. On the other hand, it often comes off as if Medina is talking down to parents and Holy Mother of Metaphors is it ever overwritten. As far as the talking down, I don’t think that this was a purposefully disparaging move on Medina’s part. As a developmental molecular biologist he clearly needed to phrase things in layman’s terms to make it accessible to most parents, but I think he underestimated the education of parents who would be interested in a book on brain-based learning and parenting and often oversimplified or over-explained.

The overwriting may also be a symptom of Medina’s not knowing exactly how to approach the audience of this book. The main problem with his prose (there may have been others, but this one drove me so to distraction that it was all I could do at times to glean the important information he was presenting, syntax and the like were beyond me at that point) is his severe overuse on metaphors. There is a general, overarching gardening metaphor that in and of itself could be quite useful, and might of been had he primarily stuck to that. Instead, he seemed to just use whatever metaphor presented itself first for any general topic – at times I counted up to four discrete metaphors on a single page. In addition, many of the metaphors used are not particularly edifying, but instead add an additional layer that needs parsing, such the explanation, below, of the workings of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex:

This is oversimplified, but think of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex as the Golden Gate Bridge, connecting San Francisco (emotions) to its northern neighbor, Marin County (just the facts, Ma’am). Here’s how some scientists think the traffic generally flows:

  1. An emotional reaction occurs. When a child’s brain is confronted with a moral dilemma, San Francisco is alerted first. The child’s deep, mostly unconscious circuitry generates an emotional reaction – a Post-it note.
  2. The signal is carried across the bridge. That message is spirited across the VMPFC, the cellular Golden Gate connecting lower and higher centers of the brain.
  3. Fact centers analyze it and decide what to do. The signal arrives at the neuroanatomical equivalent of Marin County. The child’s brain reads the note and makes up its mind about what to do. It judges right from wrong, critical from trvial, necessary from elective, and ultimately lands upon some behavioral course of action. The decision is executed.
    – p. 233-234

That reference to a Post-it note comes from a metaphor Medina utilizes earlier in the chapter. I really think he’s making this much wordier and more complicated than it needs to be. Perhaps he feels that the metaphor makes it easier to remember, which might be the case if they were used sparingly and if they were much simpler, but in this case it simply distracted me from what he was really trying to get across.

Now, I don’t want the writing issues to completely overshadow the fact that Brain Rules for Baby really is chock full of interesting and useful information about the brain development of children in utero to about five years old. There is enough good stuff here that I would tentatively recommend it to parents of small children interested in developing their parenting style around brain-based research, but I wouldn’t ever pick it up just to learn fun and interesting new things, because of the annoyances of the writing.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Personal copy.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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