One-Minute Book Reviews

March 7, 2011

Why Was Dr. Spock’s ‘Baby and Child Care’ So Influential?

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:36 am
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Dr. Spock has yielded a lot of ground to a new generation to child-rearing experts like the American pediatrician Bill Sears and the British psychologist Penelope Leach. But it’s hard to overstate the influence of his Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care on parents of baby boomers. First published in 1946, Spock’s guide helped to introduce to America the theories of Sigmund Freud, including that “infantile experiences” and “repressed sexual desires” led to unhappiness in adulthood.

Steve Gillon writes in Boomer Nation: The Largest and Richest Generation Ever and How It Changed America (Free Press, 2004):

“Thanks to Benjamin Spock, Boomers – often called ‘Spock babies’ – had Freud mixed with their baby formula. ‘Benjamin Spock probably did more than any single individual to disseminate the theory of Sigmund Freud in America,’ observed the psychiatrist and Freudian critic E. Fuller Torrey. Spock, whose The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care (1946) served as the bible for Boomer parents, had attended the New York Psychoanalytic Institute in the 1930s and was determined to bring Freud and his ideas to a mass audience. Spock rejected his own upbringing, which emphasized strict feeding schedules and unchanging routines, and insisted that parents respond to the needs and schedules of their children. ‘Trust yourself, you know more than you think you do,’ he reassured worried new parents. His ideas reflected the optimism of the age, reinforcing that personality was malleable only if parents developed the right skills. Along with practical advice about colic, toilet training, and temper tantrums, Spock offered parents sugar-coated doses of Freudian psychology. Since he believed that most adult problems began in childhood, Spock instructed parents about the concepts of ‘sibling rivalry’ and used Freud’s Oedipus complex to explain the behavior of 6-year-olds.”

November 1, 2009

All the Words to the Baseball Poem ‘Casey at the Bat,’ Free and Online

Okay, parents, here’s my annual reminder: If you want to get the kids interested in poetry, turn off the TV during the seventh-inning stretch and read Ernest L. Thayer’s brief classic baseball poem, “Casey at the Bat.” You’ll find a good, free, legal and complete version on this page of the site for the Academy of American Poets. And you’ll find my review of several picture-book editions of the poem, suitable for children of different ages, here. My review includes Christopher Bing’s Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888, a Caldecott Honor Book.

August 14, 2009

2010 Newbery and Caldecott Medal Predictions From the School Library Journal Blog

From "The Lion and the Mouse"

Update, Jan. 11, 2010: The School Library Journal blogger Elizabeth Bird now predicts that When You Reach Me will win the Newbery Medal and The Lion and the Mouse the Caldecott. She also predicts the Honor Books at http://tinyurl.com/yarluuf.

You say the kids aren’t going back school for a couple of weeks and you’ve run out of ideas on what they could read? You might want to look at the 2010 Newbery and Caldecott Medal predictions that Elizabeth Bird has posted on the School Library Journal blog. Bird is a children’s librarian with the New York Public Library system and a past Newbery judge who has a better record than most of us do for predicting the winners of the American Library Association’s annual awards. Among her favorites for the 2010 Newbery: Jacqueline Woodson’s: Peace, Locomotion (“it has her customary style and grace intact and she’s been edging closer and closer to outright Newbery Award status with every year”). Bird’s 2010 Caldecott candidates include Jerry Pinkney’s “almost wordless” and “meticulously researched” interpretation of a fable by Aesop, The Lion and the Mouse (“the kind of Pinkney book that will make converts out of people who weren’t Pinkney fans before”).

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

July 15, 2009

Telling Kids ‘You’re Special’ Fosters Narcissism, Not Self-Esteem, Prof Says

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:02 am
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You know all those parenting manuals that say that you can build children’s self-esteem by piling on praise like, “You’re special”? And how a lot of schools apply the advice by assigning essays on topics like, “I’m special because …” If U.S. News & World Report is right, some people might want to ask for refunds from the boards of education that have used tax dollars to pay for such projects. Telling kids “You’re special” fosters narcissism, not self esteem, Jean Twenge, an associate professor of psychology at San Diego State and the author of Generation Me (Free Press, 2007), says in the magazine. U.S. News also says that you’re squandering your praise if you keeping telling the kids, “Good job!” If the magazine is right on that one, many parents deserve additional refunds from the publishers of the waves of books on child-rearing that have been promoting that phrase for years.

June 27, 2009

A Teacher With Large Breasts and a Small Brain Gets Her Comeuppance in ‘The Dunderheads,’ A Picture Book by Paul Fleischman, Illustrated by David Roberts

Students seek revenge when Miss Breakbone calls them dunderheads

The Dunderheads. By Paul Fleischman. Illustrated by David Roberts. Candlewick, 56 pp., $16.99. Age range: See discussion below.

By Janice Harayda

A cynic might call The Dunderheads an ideal book for anyone who believes that children are never too young to learn that some women with large breasts do have small brains. But that view may be too harsh. David Roberts’s pictures are often funny even if the protagonist of this book looks like a refugee from a wacky Hooters franchise staffed by middle-aged teachers-union members.

The cruel Miss Breakbone seems not to have gotten the message that she might crush her students’ fragile self-esteem if she never assigns essays on topics like, “Why I’m Special.” She brazenly calls her class a bunch of dunderheads – at least when she isn’t confiscating their cell phones and vowing not to give them back.

But her students have self-esteem to spare, fostered by their many achievements, and Miss Breakbone is too dumb to see how smart they really are. A female student nicknamed Hollywood is typical: “She’s got every movie that was ever made and has watched them all 11 times.” So one day when Miss Breakbone goes too far, her students take their revenge in a breaking-and-entering caper that ends when she finds a note that says, “The Dunderheads were here!”

All of this is reasonably diverting, owing largely to Roberts’s flair for visually amusing details, such as the skull-shaped lamp on Miss Breakbone’s dresser. But the plotting isn’t as clever nor is the writing as sharp as in in many other tales of a classroom revolt, such as Miss Nelson Is Missing!. Miss Breakbone’s name, for example, is somewhat labored and not as funny as that of Viola Swamp in Harry Allard and James Marshall’s back-to-school tale.  And a goggle-eyed character named “Google-Eyes” may leave some children using the incorrect phrase for a lifetime.

Best line / picture: Roberts’s spread showing the movie addict named Hollywood in a bunker-like room full of cables, DVDs, Oscar statues, and a television and larger-than-life remote control.

Worst line / picture: “That’s when Google-Eyes went to work.” The girl shown on this spread isn’t “Google-eyed” but “goggle-eyed.” Fleischman also writes: “Spider went up the drainpipe like malt up a straw.” That similie sounds dated coming from a young narrator whose classmates bring cell phones to school, all members of a generation that might never drink a malted milk (if that’s what’s meant here).

Suggested age range: The publisher recommends this book for ages 6–10. This suggestion is unrealistic for many children given that The Dunderheads has a picture-book format and children often begin to spurn picture books at about the age of 6 or 7 (and to crave picture books that have more than 32 pages, as this one does, one starting at 4 or 5). School Library Journal says the book is for Grades 2-5 (roughly ages 7-10). But, again, it seems too optimistic to believe this book would appeal to many 8- and 9-year-olds who have enjoyed, for example, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. The natural audience for the format of The Dunderheads might seem to be 4- and 5-year-olds who want picture books with more than the usual 32 pages, such as the original Flat Stanley with words by Jeff Brown and illustrations by Tomi Ungerer. But — speaking just for myself — I wouldn’t give this one to a literal-minded child who start school soon because of its message, however humorously developed, that some teachers just hate children and, if you get one, you may feel better if you take criminal acts of revenge.

Published: June 2009

About the author and illustrator: Fleischman, a Californian, won the 1989 Newbery Medal for Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices and has posted an excerpt from it on his Web site. Roberts lives in London and has illustrated many books for children, some of them prize-winners.

Reviews of books for children or teenagers appear every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reviews.  To avoid missing these reviews, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed. Books that will reviewed on this site are sometimes announced in advance at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

June 6, 2009

Why Children Need High-Quality Fiction and Other Imaginative Literature

Filed under: Children — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:35 am
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Most children need to read more than nonfiction and the poor quality fiction that often appears on school reading lists. Here’s a good explanation of why:

“Practical books with facts in them may be necessary, but they are not everything. They do not serve the imagination in the same way that high invention does when it allows the mind to investigate every possibility, to set itself free from the ordinary, to enter a world where paradox reigns and nothing is what it seems. Properly engaged, the intelligent child begins to question all presuppositions, and thinks on his own. In fact, the moment he says, ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting if …?’ he is on his way and his own imagination has begun to work at a level considerably more interesting than the usual speculation on what it would be like to own a car and make money.”

Gore Vidal in Homage to Daniel Shays: Collected Essays 1952–1972 (Random House, 1972). The illustration shows the cover of Natalie Babbitt’s modern classic, Tuck Everlasting, an example of high-quality imaginative fiction that encourages children “to enter a world where paradox reigns and nothing is what it seems” and also appears on many school reading lists.

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

April 11, 2009

More Good Coupons for Kids in a New Hallmark Gift Book

Filed under: Holiday Gift Books,How to — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:29 am
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Just before Christmas, I wrote about a book of tear-out coupons full of good IOUs for children that vanished from stores soon after I found it at CVS. I speculated that the item had been recalled because it contained a coupon that promised a child a lottery ticket when the laws in most states forbid the sale of lottery tickets to anyone under 18.

Now the book is back in slightly different form with a new title, What a Great Kid! Coupon Book: 52 Ways to Tell Kids “You’re Loved” (Hallmark Gift Books, 120 pp., $5.95, paperback), minus the lottery-ticket coupon. As in the earlier version, some coupons would appeal mainly to younger children. (“TRADE THIS IN FOR A ROYAL NIGHT … Good for one evening of being treated like royalty. You’ll be waited on hand and foot, and the entire family will refer to you as ‘your royal highness’ or ‘your majesty.’”) Other coupons might please children of any age, including teenagers. (“Not today! Pick your least favorite chore and SKIP doing it today!”) But the earlier bok disappeared so fast that there’s no telling how long this one will remain in stores, so if you may need a last-minute children’s holiday gift, you might pick one up well before December.

At this writing What a Great Kid! isn’t listed on the Hallmark site. But I found it at a Walgreen’s, and it’s also supposed to be available at Hallmark stores. Watch a video about it here.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

April 3, 2009

A Good Warm-Weather Activity for Young Children

Filed under: How to,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 4:21 pm
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Maybe it’s because the sultry days of summer don’t feel as far away as they did a few weeks ago. Or maybe it’s because I haven’t forgotten how our family’s adored German shepherd mauled the sheet cake at my Sweet Sixteen party with a lunge toward the dining-room table.

Whatever the reason, I love this idea for warm-weather fun from Steve and Ruth Bennett’s 365 Outdoor Activities You Can Do With Your Child (Adams Media, 1993), which might especially appeal to an apartment-dwelling preschooler who can’t have a dog:

Let your child create an “invisible dog.” Tie piece of rope or string (with a loop at the end for the imaginary dog’s head) to a handle made of cardboard or another sturdy material. Then “walk around with the invisible dog, talk to it like a real dog, and try to teach it to speak (your child can bark for the dog in an attempt at ventriloquism), sit up, shake hands, roll over, and (this requires extra imagination) fetch,” the Bennetts suggest. Alternately, they say, you or the child could hold the leash while others try to guess what trick the dog has performed.

If you like this idea, head for your library, eBay or another good source of older books. If your library doesn’t have 365 Outdoor Activities You Can Do With Your Child, you can ask the staff to get it for you on an interlibrary loan. Or go to an online or retail bookseller and pick up the Bennetts’ 365 TV-Free Activities You Can Do With Your Child (Adams Media, 2002), which is just as good but easier to find. Among the many books of activities for children, but the Bennetts’ stand out for their abundance of easy, no- or low-cost activities that don’t involve television or other electronic devices.

For more ideas for free summer fun with children ages 3 and up, see the review on this site on June 20, 2008 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/06/20/.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

February 4, 2009

The Book That Started the Backlash Against Self-Esteem as a Cure-All for Children’s Woes – William Damon’s ‘Greater Expectations’

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:08 am
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Greater Expectations was one of the three or four best books about children that I reviewed in my 11 years as the book critic for the Plain Dealer, and it’s the one I’ve recommended most often to parents. This trailblazing indictment of many popular educational theories was among the earliest to expose the myth that raising children’s self-esteem leads to higher achievement in school and elsewhere.

The arguments in Greater Expectations: Nurturing the Moral Child (Free Press, 304 pp., $20.95) are powerful in their own right. They have all the more force because they come from one of the nation’s most distinguished educators: William Damon, director of the Stanford Center on Adolescence at Stanford University and editor-in-chief of the latest edition of The Handbook of Child Psychology.

Damon maintains that something has gone badly wrong in “the passing of essential standards between the generations.” Children at all levels of society grow up in an unwholesome atmosphere that goes beyond drugs, violence and similar woes: It involves a focus on the self and a devaluation of spirituality and faith. Damon blames part of this on influential childrearing experts such as David Elkind and Penelope Leach, whose approaches may encourage adults to infantilize children on the pretext of protecting them.

One of the Damon’s main contributions is that he documents painstakingly the lack of a connection between high self-esteem and high-achievement. Researchers have tried many times to link the two but “have not even provided convincing correlational data,” let alone causal links. Quite the opposite: High-self esteem doesn’t lead to high achievement but high achievement may increase self-esteem. Developing either, Damon says, is a slow process:

“There are no easy shortcuts to this. The child cannot be quickly inoculated with self-confidence through facile phrases such as ‘I’m great’ or ‘I’m terrific.’”

If there’s no evidence that self-esteem fosters academic success, why have school systems thrown so much money at programs that claim to build it? Damon deals with that, too. And his reasoning no doubt has helped to fuel the recent and overdue backlash against the self-esteem frenzy, so that many psychologists now urge adults to focus on giving children sincere and thoughtful praise, not cheerleading for trivial efforts. Some parents may see the new moderation as too late, given how much money schools have squandered on programs of no proven value. If so, it’s only the common sense that has arrived belatedly. First published in 1995, Greater Expectations was – and, in some ways, still is – ahead of its time.

This is the third of the daily posts this week about some of my favorite books. Monday’s post dealt with Now All We Need Is a Title and Tuesday’s with Middlemarch.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

January 26, 2009

Newbery and Caldecott Medals Don’t Determine the Long-Term Fate of a Children’s Book (Quote of the Day / Barbara Barstow)

How much difference will Newbery and Caldecott medals make to the winners named today? In the short run, a lot. Newbery and Caldecott medalists typically become bestsellers. They also gain prestige and a longer life on bookstore and library shelves.

But do medals determine the ultimate fate of a book? Not according to former Newbery judge Barbara Barstow, the retired head of youth services for the Cuyahoga County Public Library System and co-author of Beyond Picture Books: Subject Access to Best Books for Beginning Readers (Libraries Unlimited, 2007).

As the book editor of the Plain Dealer, I interviewed Barstow about children’s books that didn’t win a Newbery or Caldecott medal, including Charlotte’s Web. E.B. White’s classic earned an Honor Book citation but lost the top prize to Ann Nolan Clark’s Secret of the Andes.

“How do I feel about that?” Barstow asked. “I feel it was very tragic. But it didn’t matter ultimately because children made E. B. White immortal. Secret of the Andes is still there, and it’s like putting teeth to get a child to read it. If we make mistakes, the children rectify them.”

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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