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Monday, July 10, 2017

The Happiest Kids in the World

Hola! So I just enjoyed reading some new non-fiction I picked up at the library:

click for Amazon reviews ;-)
The Happiest Kids in the World: How Dutch Parents Help Their Kids by Doing Less by Rina Mae Acosta and Michele Hutchison

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. I was (strangely) somewhat disappointed to learn that I was already doing many of the things the authors recommend. Isn't that odd?! I already doing a pretty good job of giving my kids a happy childhood!

The book has thirteen chapters, which mostly take the reader through the authors' thoughts on each age: prenatal, baby, preschooler, school kids, and teenagers, and also break out into particular topics like schooling, discipline, food, and sex education. I read the whole book and found interesting things in each chapter, but I felt like a lot of my reading was just enjoying hearing someone else's experiences, rather than enjoying learning something new. 

I already knew that I should take good care of myself and make sure my own physical, emotional and social needs were met. The authors talk about what wonderful sleepers Dutch children are, and . . . my kids are wonderful sleepers! When Benjamin, my oldest, was first born, my mom said to me, "Once he gets to be about 6 weeks old, he can sleep for 6 hours a night. I wish someone had told me that was possible and healthy with my firstborn!" That bit of advice was huge for me, and coming from my mom it was much more meaningful than coming from this book. The book was more like, "Dutch babies can sleep a lot! Can my babies do it? I'm not sure? I think it might be working? But it might just be a symptom of them growing older." 

It was kind of the same story with schooling: Dutch parents don't get really choosy about their kids schools, and don't pressure their kids (as much as parents in the US and UK) to perform well academically in school. I learned to be relaxed about school from my own mom. We never lived in a place that had a private school option. I grew up in a time before online school was a thing. My parents didn't pressure us to excel academically, because . . . we did that naturally, without pressure. I'm not saying I was immune to the cultural pressure to perform. I definitely felt that pressure. But I knew it wasn't coming from my parents. I knew if I got bad grades my parents would be like, "What do you think are the contributing factors here? How can we help you do better?" instead of slashing my privileges or withdrawing their love. 

And recently when my own son was struggling with enjoying Kindergarten, my mom gave me the good reminder that if a child can be happy at school, that's what makes life good. Kids spend so much time at school. So when the authors of the book were talking about how the Dutch let kids begin academics at their own pace and emphasize relationships above academics in primary grades, I was like, "Yeah. Thumbs up to that."

I think the biggest piece of advice from the book that I am putting into practice in my own life is to get my kids outdoors more. It was inspiring to read about Dutch people (and the authors!) going camping, biking through snowstorms, and just getting outdoors regardless of the weather. I have friends who are better at this than I am, so I have some real-life inspiration here, too. Anyway, the authors talked about how going outside and playing outside in inclement weather gives kids grit

So a few days ago we drove my oldest to a playdate, and on our way we passed a playground that we had never seen before. It was a good-looking playground, too! But it was actively raining. I thought about bringing it up, but didn't. But then my four-year-old daughter saw the playground on our way home and asked to stop at it. So I reminded myself of a few things: 1. Playing in the rain will give us grit. 2. When I was a kid I always played in the rain, because rain in AZ is a celebration worthy of dancing in the streets. 3. If the author Michele can take her kids biking through the snow and then dump them in a hot bath, I can totally take my kids to a playground in the rain and then do the same if need be. The fact that I found a towel in the back seat of the van cinched it, and I said we were going out!

Benjamin was at his playdate. Jubilee loved the idea from the start. But it took Levi (age 6) longer to warm up to the thought of playing at the park in the rain. He couldn't be coaxed out of the car until he had his umbrella up, and only then to run under the pavilion. But pretty soon he was swinging while holding his umbrella, and then you know how it's just easier to do things when you're not holding an umbrella . . . plus the rain let up a bit. So we got him by degrees. And once I could see that he was enjoying himself, I started really talking it up. "Wow, this is fun, isn't it? All the other kids think they can't come to the park today because it's raining, but we know you can!" Haha. Honestly it helped me that this park was not muddy at all. Very grassy, nice paved path, and rubber under the swings and playground area. So I'm not saying I'm hardcore yet. I'm just saying this book convinced me to try something I wouldn't have otherwise, and I think it made my kids a little happier.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Three good books!


Hi there! It looks like I've been holding out on you. I've got some good books to recommend, so here they are without further ado. All three are historical fiction with female protagonists. All three make great books for book club. The book covers are links to Amazon, as usual.




The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
I read this one because it was chosen by my book club, and I loved it. It was a lot of fun to read, tough to put down, and not too scary or gory, as some mysteries can be.

The story follows Flavia, a girl living on the family estate in England in ... gosh I can't remember what year. But she rides a bike and uses a telephone, though it is somewhat unusual that their home has "the instrument." When Flavia finds a dead body in the back garden, she does what 10-year-old girls do best: finds out as much information as possible as unobtrusively as she can. And of course that leads to trouble.

This book comes the absolute closest to a Nancy Drew mystery that I've read in adulthood. Flavia and Nancy are both young girl detectives with independent transportation and permissive families, but Nancy generally is appreciated by the police. Flavia is not.

It made for a good book discussion with questions like "How realistic do you think it is that Flavia had the skills needed to solve the mystery?" "When did you know who the murderer was?" and "What ages do you think this book would be appropriate for?" It was generally agreed that 12+ would be fine.

This is the first in the series, and I would mind reading the other ones at all. The mystery is all tied up at the finish, but some loose ends about the characters remain.





The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

I first heard this recommended by Leila Roy, who was gushing about it a couple of years ago. I finally picked it up, and I loved it. I was going to pick it for my next book club pick, but Bethany beat me to it!

The Hired Girl is the diary of a farm girl circa 1910. Her mother died a few years before the story opens, and we find her working like a slave (unpaid, unprivileged, constantly belittled) to keep the family farm going. When she sees advertisements for positions as a Hired Girl and realizes the worth of her work, she runs away from home and her abusive father. Of course, being a runaway in 1910 comes with its own huge set of challenges and learning experiences.

I think it can be really tricky to do a diary format novel right. I'm really picky about diary format, because I keep a personal diary. The author does a really good job here, and also makes the story so interesting that I was happy to forgive entries that seemed too long or too detailed to be completely realistic. The story was realistic, and captivating, and I can't wait to discuss it with the book club ladies. Everything from journal keeping and women working to domestic abuse and religion.

I loved the way that religion featured largely in the book. Religion features largely in my life, and I find that a lot of young adult literature these days doesn't touch the subject. our protagonists late mother was a different religion than her father, and other characters of other religions and various degrees of devotion to their religions are big in the book, and make the whole story more nuanced and believable.




The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer

Ashley has been telling me for a while now that I need to read some Georgette Heyer books. And as we all know Ashley has great taste. So I went over to the grown-up section and it looks like Heyer is prolific. I picked The Grand Sophy because I seemed to remember hearing about it before. Now that Bethany has stolen The Hired Girl as her book club pick, I think The Grand Sophy will be mine. (Do you hear that, friends? DIBS)

The Grand Sophy is set in post-Napoleonic England, and will remind you of Jane Austen's books if you've read them. (Heyer was not, however, a contemporary of Jane Austen. Heyer wrote The Grand Sophy in the 1950s.) The book follows a family in London whose situation is rough: father has gambled away all of the money, and his eldest son has inherited a fortune from an uncle. Because the eldest, Charles, has a good heart, he is helping his family out, but he's a bit of a tyrant about it. Into the picture comes cousin Sophy, who needs a place to stay while her father is out of the country on government business. She has all kinds of virtues and a few vices and upsets the apple cart in all the best ways.

This one was just SO fun to read. I laughed out loud several times and loved the scene with the moneylender, particularly. I have to wonder if Eugenia from the Mercy Watson books is named for Eugenia in this book. That will be something to ask Kate DiCamillo someday! Anyway, good call Ashley, and I'll definitely be reading some more Georgette Heyer.


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