A Spoonful of Sugar: A Nanny’s Story by Brenda Ashford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
As is my usual preamble, I received this book for the fat sum of exactly nothing because of a GoodReads giveaway. Despite that kind consideration my candid opinions follow.
The summary of this one is easy. Our author is 92 and for 62 of those years she has dedicated her life to taking care of children. In that time I daresay she’s seen it and done it all and she shares some of those experiences and wisdom in her book.
My first concern on cracking open this book was that it would be rather whitewashed. When you liken your life to the story of Mary Poppins in your subtitle, this seems a fairly reasonable concern. I was delighted to see though that she does not take this tact. Most certainly her life was a primarily happy one dedicated to her craft but she’s not afraid to share some of the darker times with her readers too. Her memoirs are refreshingly honest and complete. We’re treated to the good and the bad, a life as balanced as any.
The second concern was that the author might be preachy but again, Ashford speaks with well-earned wisdom and she’s not afraid to state an opinion but she is anything but preachy. Her delivery of parental correction is gentle, effective and well-practiced. She’s like the benevolent grandparent that you listen to because they’ve been rearing children for three times longer than you’ve been alive. She clearly and emphatically points out examples of bad parenting but does so with a glowing benevolence that’s hard to resist. This is the sort of person you’d like to sit down and talk to for months at a time.
In addition to sharing her life and her wisdom, our author also shares some recipes and provides us with a history lesson. While skillfully avoiding the pedantic tone of many history lessons she illustrates in vivid color how child-rearing has changed over several decades. She not only appreciates the advantages of modern parents (no more heating an iron on the stove) but also the pitfalls of the internet and other modern temptations.
In summary, Ashford’s book is part memoir, part history lesson, part recipe book and part parenting guide. Her presentation is gentle and inspiring but not afraid to be opinionated. In her 62 years on the job she’s earned the right to tell parents how they should raise happy, healthy children and she’s knows how to pass along her knowledge. While it would be cliche to say that this is a “must-read” for any new parent, I would say that it certainly couldn’t hurt. If even on parent remembers to just sit on the floor and play with their child because of Ashford’s careworn wisdom then the world will be a better place. Just plain exceptional.
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Escape Theory by Margaux Froley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
As is my usual preamble, I received this book through the kind consideration of the people at GoodReads. Well, that, and my tendency to sign up for lots of drawings.
To put the plot in a nutshell, our protagonista is a reluctant entrant into a high-end California prep school. After a couple of years there, one of her intermittent acquaintances commits suicide… or DOES HE…? and the hunt is afoot for what REALLY happened.
So, in judging such a work the first thing I remind myself of is that it’s a book intended for teens. In that light suffice to say that the writing is adequate and appropriate for the age group. The themes are no doubt of interest and the work features all the usual characteristics that youth like to read about: bumbling, clueless adults… exciting intrigue that goes unnoticed by bumbling, clueless adults… kids who solve mysteries that were just too perplexing for bumbling, clueless adults. This is the standard one-upmanship of the genre. As an adult I can’t restrain a certain sense of incredulity at the whole thing but I won’t fault the book for this because it’s one of the charms of kid-lit and one thing that youthful audience loves to see in a book. Sure, the average kid certainly can’t sneak out in the middle of the night without getting caught and have wild adventures until all hours of the morning so they might as well read about someone who does so with regularity.
Also with young adult fiction I always ask myself if I would want my young children to read this book. Perhaps it’s my prudish Midwestern values showing through but I can’t help but come back with a resounding: NO. Sure, I accept that the kids portrayed get away with things and pull one over on the adults. I can roll along with the idea that maybe they’re smarter and more attentive too. What horrifies me is the prolific presence of sex, drugs and alcohol in a book about kids between the ages of 13 and 17. It’s not that real kids don’t engage in these things; they certainly do. The kids in this book though do so with utter disregard. They’re not just drinking at parties, they run a drug cartel and for the most part this is considered just fine and normal. Sure some small subset of kids who “aren’t smart enough to handle it” pay the price by getting pregnant or ending up dead from an overdose, but for the most part everybody does whatever the heck they want and they get away with it. That’s really not an example I’d want to put in front of my children. If they’re going to get into things they shouldn’t then they should bloody well do so with the right and proper respectful fear that accompanies such things, not emboldened by some mythical world where everything turns out just fine most of the time.
Alright, enough rant. In a nutshell, this book is a modernized Nancy Drew. “Those Meddling Kids” as they might say on Scooby-Doo, come to the rescue and solve a mystery. The author draws some interesting characters at times and it’s reasonably entertaining but falls rather outside the bounds of what I’d want to give my kids for reading material.
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If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
As is my usual refrain from which I do not refrain from repeating, I received this book in a GoodReads giveaway. Despite that kind and repetitious consideration, I give my candid opinions below.
Our story begins as one of the much under-appreciated members of Child Protective Services arrives at the “home” of two young girls to remove them from the trailer where they live under the “protection” of their meth-addicted mother. As they begin their lives with new parents the book takes us through their various adventures in the real world.
After racing through this in a few hours I found myself having two disparate reactions to it. This is no doubt because it’s really two storylines intertwined. Page one joins the story in what is ostensibly the middle of a larger narrative. In one direction we have the story of the girl’s lives after their rescue as they join normal society and live what are for the most part saccharine sweet lives with a new family. At times this line of storytelling is feels far too-good-to-be-true. Being introduced to a new family and letting go of an old one is a complicated affair that gets glossed over mightily at times in this thread. It’s not all bubblegum and roses but it does at times feel too easy.
What really catches the reader’s attention is the thread which wends its way into the past as we learn bit by bit about their lives before. This history is teased out wonderfully until it reaches a final and captivating climax. As maudlin as the forward storyline reads at times you can’t help but inwardly cheer for the girls given the horrific events which unfold in their history.
The author goes to great pains to draw the history and personalities of her smallest protagonists and does so with heart-rending realism. One almost feels like you’ve been acquainted with them after only a few short hours. Unfortunately, not all her characters are rendered with such care. The adoptive family especially seems rather hollowly and sketchily brought into being.
In summary, one of the best and most emotionally touching books I’ve read in quite a while and one that will bore images into your brain that will last. I anticipate having flashbacks to this book for quite a while.
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An Amish Alphabet by Ingrid Hess
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As per usual, I received this book because of a GoodReads giveaway. Despite this very kind consideration I give my candid opinion below.
First off, it must be admitted that as alphabet books go this is pretty unique. At the same time it introduces those ubiquitous letters of the English alphabet it gives us some simple factoids about Amish life and culture. How better to let your kids know more about those quiet but industrious people in the buggies? It’s a good thought. The book even introduces some relevant verses from the Bible in support of each aspect of Amish culture.
The idea of the book is executed fairly well. The illustrations are colorful, appropriate and well done as paper cut-out art. For the most part the content is 4-6 year-old-appropriate though I do wonder about the inevitable questions that will arise from children when they reach S (Social Security) and X (XXXXXXXX representing quilt stitching, also covered by Q). That said, it’s far from a trivial matter to find child-appropriate topics for all 26 letters and also make them properly fit your topic so any slight misstep should be forgiven.
In summary, a good introduction for children to the Amish culture. It’ll take a bit of adult explanation in parts but a parent-child face-to-face interaction never hurt anyone so it’s all to the good in the end.
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