How had I never before read The Blue Jay's Dance?

Louise Erdrich's The Blue Jay's Dance is one of those books that it seems like I've always known about. And yet I'd never read it. Blue Jay's Dance

When I received Daisy Florin's lyrical, moving review of the book (published today at Brain, Child!) I knew I had to read it. Florin's summary and the ways in which she intertwined the language and story with her own life-- really part of the message of Blue Jay's Dance-- pushed me over the edge.

And boy am I glad it did. My pink highlighter [confession: the same color and brand for the past 10+ years!] was working in overdrive.

Some of my favorites:

  • "Writing is reflective and living is active—the two collide in the tumultuous business of caring for babies.”
  • "It requires no thought at all for me to form and fix a whole other person. First she is nothing, then she is growing and dividing at such a rate I think I’ll drop… Whatever else I do, when it comes to pregnancy I am my physical self first, as are all of us women… Still, our bodies are rounded vases of skin and bones and blood that seem impossibly engineered for birth… I fear I’ve made a ship inside a bottle. I’ll have to break. I’m not me.”
  • This one was a total gasp-worth passage for me: "Although every birth is a story, there are only so many outcomes possible. Birth is dictated to the consciousness by the conscious body. There are certain frustrations in approaching such an event, a drama in which the body stars and not the fiction-making mind. In a certain way, I’m jealous. I want to control the tale.”
  • And one of Florin's favorites as well: "Growing, bearing, mothering or fathering, supporting, and at last letting go of an infant is a powerful and mundane creative act that rapturously sucks up whole chunks of life.

So much resonated with the past few years of my life. For instance, "I scratch messages on the envelopes of letters I can’t answer, in the margins of books I’m too tired to review.” (!) Also that Erdrich ate matzos while pregnant (I am addicted), that she went electric curlers in her hair when she went into labor (I took a shower, shaved my legs, used STEAM rollers, and went in full make-up both times after my water broke), and her friendly relationship with her mail carrier (after my boys were born we really got on first name turns as he was at my door almost every day).

I would have loved Erdrich's language even before I had my babies, but being out of the newborn stage (no more lap baby for me, and I haven't had one now for some time-- sob) but still near it makes it resonate so much more for me. The idea of the unfolding origami children who could no longer fit inside of me, the biological zero, the notion that women don't know how strong they are until they push out their babies.

Now I just need to hold on to the last wilderness, according to Erdrich, of sleep. But books like Erdrich's keep me up late at night thinking...

Reading and Reviewing Parenting Books: The Long View

It's no secret that I am a voracious reader. So when I read that people no longer want to read a book-- or certain type of book-- it makes me very sad. Especially given that one of my hats is as Book Review Editor at Brain, Child Magazine (obviously focusing on books related to parenting). I must admit though that in general I agree with the authors of both articles a bit.

1) Meijler's article out on Kveller today raises the important point that following any book (whether on parenting or other philosophical) to the letter likely isn't the best idea. That's why I like to explore a range of titles on a topic and pick elements that work best for me, my family, household, or work life. In that vein, I have recently done two Top 10 Lists for Brain, Child. The first is on books about sleep and children (not just infants!) and the second is on parenting a child with special needs.

2) I also agree with Schoech that "parenting" books can often be anxiety-laden, knee-jerk, and inflammatory. That's why some of my favorite parenting books aren't actually about parenting at all. For example, see my recent reviews of The Marshmallow Test (one of the best books of any type I have read of late) and Where Children Sleep (truly thought-provoking).

Reading is a gift, as I try to teach my boys, and I hope by reading broadly we can all learn something, even if we don't always agree with everything in a book. Because, more than anything, reading should make us think (and open up new worlds, either fictional or non-fictional)!

Off to sneak in a few more pages now of Lev Grossman's The Magicians!

A Bookworm's Dream Position: New Book Review Editor at Brain, Child Magazine!

When my name first appeared in Brain, Child Magazine in the Summer of 2013, I felt I had finally arrived as a writer. With the tagline "A Magazine for Thinking Mothers," I had long admired the publication, and dreamt of the day when hopefully something I wrote would appear on its glossy pages. I've been lucky enough to write other pieces for them and to get to know the amazing Editor-in-Chief, Marcelle (in real life) and many other team members virtually. So, to know that in the next issue my name will appear on the masthead is mind-boggling! That's because I am the new Book Review Editor for Brain, Child. I'll be writing book reviews and editing them monthly for the blog Brain, Mother. I will also be writing a book reflections column each month,  doing six different "Top Ten" book lists, and writing and editing book review essays for the Magazine's five print issues. As I wrote when I posted the news on Facebook the day the press release went out, "To say this is a dream job for me is a massive understatement. So excited to combine three of my favorite things in the world: parenting, reading, and writing (listed in alphabetical order to conceal my true preferences...)."

As I wrote in my bio, "Hilary is a true bookworm, who happened to be raised by a Miss America. This means that when she wore glasses in grade school she had fancy pairs (fuchsia polka dot, Scottish plaid, purple flowered), and that she still loves to read and write about glitz and glamour as much as she loves to read serious works of fiction and non-fiction." Here's some photographic proof for you:

Beautiful mother, gawky meThe fuchsia polka dot frames perhaps look more glamorous standing next to mom (see, we really look nothing alike!), Miss America 1970. Oh, and yes, that was an old school Pleasant & Company (now known as American Girl!) over-sized Samantha hair bow.

Fifth Grade School Picture- at my worstLest the Scottish plaid glasses, or my general fifth grade geekiness, feel neglected. Also, thank goodness for orthodontia!

As I write in my first talking about books column this month, Raising Readers, I have always read books like it was my job. It is rare to find me without a book (now digitally more often than not, but still).

new_002(A pre-glasses pic, and what I now look like since having LASIK while in grad school- one of the best decisions I ever made, despite the lost opportunity to rock crazy specs).

I hope to instill that same love in my sons, especially by implementing some of the suggestions written about in my column from  I'm Ready! How to Prepare Your Child for Reading Success by Janice Greenberg and Elaine Weitzman.

I also hope that they will appreciate all different types of reading materials, including poetry. Here is the first review I edited, written by Beth Eakman on Carrie Fountain's new poetry collection (about motherhood), Instant Winner.

Hope you enjoy and join me on the journey to look for meaning in books, together.

Competition, Competition, Competition: Sibling, or Otherwise

This may be my last regular post for some time. I'm preparing for the arrival of my second son next month and want to enjoy the holidays, Carston's second birthday, and the end of this pregnancy (as much as that is possible!)-- especially before potential sibling rivalry/competition appears in my home! 7.

In the competitive spirit I want to highlight a few recent writings I have done on competition, particularly as I wrap up my work related to this fall's release of PLAYING TO WIN.

1) The Wild, Unregulated Business of After-School Programs at The New Republic- I think this is one of the most important pieces I have ever done, and it is about an issue I feel VERY strongly about. Parents often don't know who is teaching their kids-- and at stake are injuries, psychological well-being, and significant investments of familial time and money. Please read and pass it on! Note there is more on this topic in Chapter 5 and the Conclusion of the book.

2) Is Competition for Kids Healthy-Yes! in Brain, ChildI'm the affirmative side of the debate (though I share much in common with the "negative" side, written by the super smart Sarah Buttenwieser). A good summary of what I took away from my research and how it applies to my parenting today.

3) Children and Competitiveness in Oxford Bibliography of Childhood Studies- While this is for students and a a more academic audience, it's a great resource for those of you interested in learning more about what's been done on kids and competition. It's always nice to be recognized as the expert in your field too...

I was also very gratified that Brain, Child's blog Brain, Mother ran such a nice review of Playing to Win (written by Lauren Apfel). I especially loved her description of the book: "Playing to Win is, at heart, a sociological study. It is a laying bare of a cultural phenomenon—its history and its infrastructure—not a judgment on that phenomenon. “Are these parents crazy?” Levey Friedman asks. “Have they lost their grip?” Her definitive answer to these questions is “no” and she walks the line between showing us why and telling us why with admirable grace. On the one hand, she lets the data and the people involved speak for themselves: interviews with both parents and children are a hallmark of the book. On the other hand, she is a careful, explicit and non-biased interpreter of her fieldwork."

As I get ready to explore for myself more issues of parental craziness, competition, and family dynamics, I will try to remain a non-biased observer of my own life and decisions. I'll keep you posted!

I not only get to write books these days, I also get to write ABOUT books

Books are my life these days-- and I wouldn't have it any other way! If I'm not reading or writing about my own book, I've been enjoying writing about *other* people's books.

As a non-fiction writer I especially appreciate the clear prose and narrative, but research-based, focus in books like Emily Bazelon's Sticks and Stones.

0-2Here's part of my recent review on the Brain, Mother blog:

The 1999 Columbine massacre changed the way we see bullying in schools. Since then 49 states have passed laws addressing bullying. In her recent book, Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy, Emily Bazelon, a lawyer and journalist, shows how in post-Columbine America bullying has become one of the biggest stories about 21st century childhood.

And, yet, according to Bazelon’s research, things aren’t as dire as you might think. The stats show that somewhere between 15-20% of kids are regularly involved in bullying (either as victims or bullies) and while cases of bullycide are tragic, often there are underlying issues such as mental illness. To make her case Bazelon draws on Scandinavian research, analysis of legal cases, and in-depth investigation of three high profile cases involving children in the Northeast.

Sticks and Stones is divided into four parts; the first two focus on the stories of Monique, Jacob, and Flannery, while the third focuses on a synthesis of research, and the fourth on conclusions and tips to combat bullying. I found Part III to be the most compelling, particularly Chapter 9, “Delete Day,” which concentrates on Bazelon’s visit to Facebook and what the social media giant is doing about cyberbullying.

Bazelon writes: “The electronic incarnation of bullying also changed the equation for adults by leaving a trail.” Kids today care more about having a Facebook account suspended than getting suspended by their schools, so she argues that the company should do more protect teens (Bazelon suggests a simple solution that Facebook make the default settings private for any teenage account holder, which Facebook hasn’t yet done).


In the print version of the current issue of Brain, Child Magazine I have a review essay on fact-based pregnancy books. You can read that in full BY CLICKING HERE! Oh, and for the record, this pregnancy I have had NO desire to eat that Sierra Turkey sandwich (too spicy for this expecting momma)... Maybe I simply don't want it since I gave myself permission to eat it?

I'm extremely excited that soon others will be sharing their thoughts on my book. And, get this, it was just announced that PLAYING TO WIN is the focus of The Brilliant Book Club: Illuminating Reads for Parents. Definitely a club after my own heart. Stay tuned for more!