The Dads’ Book for the Dad Who’s Best at Everything. By Michael Heatley. Scholastic. $9.99.
The Moms’ Book for the Mom Who’s Best at Everything. By Alison Maloney. Scholastic. $9.99.
These short (120-page) hardcover books, illustrated with 1940s and 1950s clip art, have a bit of an identity crisis: they are filled with a mixture of useful and useless information, and don’t seem to be sure where to come down on the overall usefulness scale. They are fun and easy to read, and they contain some genuinely helpful material, but they are more than a little odd in the way they mix the good stuff with other things that range from the silly to the strange. Oh, and the “best at everything” part of each title really should read “wants to be best at everything,” or at least at a whole lot of things.
The book for fathers, for example, explains how to make a bow and arrow and an oven-baked pizza, how to teach a child to ride a bike, how to build a kite, how to go camping, and what you can do if your child wants a pet and you need something that is low-maintenance. The instructions and recipes are straightforward and useful if they happen to deal with things you’d like to do, but other sections will throw your kids a curve. The one on “easy” pets, for example, starts by suggesting a pet rock and then moves into such ideas as buying an ant farm, raising tadpoles in a pond in your back yard, or getting a snake. Much of the book seems to be about young children, but there is also a three-page chapter on teaching a child to drive, which includes such statements as, “Praise is the key. Encourage all the things your child does right and keep the edge out of your voice when he or she makes a mistake.” Also here are brief discussions of such subjects as neighborliness (“Whether you get along with your neighbors or not will determine how you approach your relationship with them once you have a child”) and two-family vacations (“Going on vacation with another family has its advantages and disadvantages”); a list of “Ten Things Fathers Wish They’d Known” (No. 9: “I wish I’d known that children might listen to words but pay more attention to actions”); and much more. Everything is brief and easy to read, including the lists: famous fathers (“father of modern science – Albert Einstein,” “father of puppeteers – Jim Henson”); Ten Top Gifts for Dads (pretty stereotyped, including “gift certificate to your favorite steakhouse” and “taking you fishing”); and Dad’s Dream Cars (mostly sports cars and the Hummer H2 – how typecast is that?). And the pages are sprinkled with quotations about fatherhood, such as Bette Davis’ “If you’ve never been hated by your child, you’ve never been a parent.”