April 03, 2008


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.”

      The Davis quotation is in the book for mothers, too, and this book’s format is much like that of the book for fathers – and stereotyped in many of the same ways. Here is information on getting the kids to bed; arranging birthday parties and dinner parties; “Ten Excuses Not to Do Housework” (none of which is, “your father is doing it – we take turns”) plus “Ten Housework Shortcuts” and suggestions on how much to pay kids for helping out; and lots of recipes: several different cakes, shakes and smoothies, various sandwiches, etc. Then there is a chapter on “‘My Time’ for Moms,” which suggests getting a haircut or taking a bath, plus ones on “Heroic Moms” (Eleanor of Aquitaine, Josephine Baker and others) and “Record-breaking Moms” (they hold such records as heaviest baby born, lightest surviving triplets, oldest woman to give birth, and so on). To a certain extent, everything in both these books can be looked at as being written in good fun, and the old-fashioned illustrations encourage that view. But the books seem to be intended as gifts to be given by kids to their parents – likely for Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day – and in that sense, the reinforcement of stereotypes in both books seems at best inappropriate. If these are not intended as child-to-parent gift books, it’s hard to see who would buy them and for whom. There are some neat ideas and tips in both books, but if you know enough to skim them before purchasing them, you’re probably already too wise a parent to need much of what they offer.

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