April 19, 2012
(++++) TEACHING KIDS, TEACHING PARENTS
Oceans: Making Waves! Created by Simon Basher. Written by Dan Green. Kingfisher. $8.99.
No Regrets Parenting: Turning Long Days and Short Years into Cherished Moments with Your Kids. By Harley A. Rotbart, M.D. Andrews McMeel. $14.99.
The Basher Science books continue to present potentially difficult information in a clear and articulate way that, if it does not necessarily make learning fun, certainly makes it easier than it would otherwise be. Oceans is the latest example of a typical Basher design that personalizes natural forces and animals while presenting them with a touch of anime and a touch of attitude. Chapters here have titles such as “Ocean Motion,” “Reef Chillin’” and “Frosty Fellows,” and single-page explanations of individual topics pack in more information than would seem possible. For example, the page on Sponge (part of “Reef Chillin’”) has a smiling yellow character saying, “Chillax, dude! I keep things cool by not being overly complicated.” The dialogue contains some information of its own: “I also have an awesome superpower – I can regenerate my body if it gets chopped into pieces.” And there are three brief facts above the drawing (one of which is, “Has no stomach, so filters food from the water through pores”), plus three hard-science pieces of information below the illustration (one says, “Volume of water filtered by a sponge per day: up to 20,000 times its own volume”). The presentation helps the information go down more easily without shortchanging the facts – yes, they are presented in compressed form, but always accurately. Porpoise and Dolphin appear in the “Open-water Crew” section, for example, with a note that a superpod of the animals is one with more than 1,000 members. The Tripod Fish, among the “Deep-down Dandies,” is “almost blind but sensitive to pressure and touch” and lives “on the sea floor at depths of up to 18,400 ft. (5,600m).” Kids will likely be attracted first and foremost to the words being “spoken” by the animals and other things presented here. In “Frosty Fellows,” for example, the Ice Shelf says, “A cold shoulder is all you’ll get if you nestle up to me,” while Krill comment, “Life is tough when you’re snack food for half the animals in the ocean.” But the pages are small enough, the type sizes large enough, and the illustrations attractive enough to keep young learners interested after they finish enjoying the comments and are ready to move on to something meatier. Or fishier, as the case may be. Basher Books are certainly introductory – Oceans is intended for ages 10 and up, but probably not very far up – but they make a fine gateway to more in-depth scientific study.
Every parent knows that raising a child is more art than science, but there are certainly plenty of books out there attempting to make the experience more organized and efficient than it usually is. A lot of them succeed only in making parents feel bad for not attaining the authors’ ideal (no word whether the authors involved ever attain it themselves). No Regrets Parenting takes a different approach: pediatric specialist Harley A. Rotbart points out that in addition to being “among the greatest sources of human joy,” raising children “is also the single greatest cause of guilt and worry.” His aim is to raise the joy level and reduce the worry element. He is earnest about this to a sometimes overdone degree, as when he writes about homework help, “This is a tricky one. You already went through third grade yourself; now it’s your child’s turn… Homework checking time is a wonderful opportunity to sit close to your child, maybe while he’s in pajamas and maybe with a cup of cocoa, and provide positive reinforcement for a job well done – or constructive advice on how to do it better tomorrow night.” This is a trifle naïve, assuming as it does that homework gets done before a reasonable bedtime hour and that the parent is not utterly exhausted from his or her own job, with barely the strength to lift a cup to his or her lips, much less fill it with cocoa. The intention is certainly good, though; in fact, all the intentions here are good. Take “Family Movie Night.” Rotbart says that “finding movies that are appropriate and enjoyable for everyone in the family” can be a major cultural challenge, then suggests that “picking the right movie becomes another chance to spend precious moments with your kids,” and then says to involve the kids themselves in the selections and make sure that everyone watches together even if some family members end up seeing films they cannot stand. Uh, right. OK, Rotbart says no cell phones are allowed at movie times (just as in theaters), and parents should make popcorn and grab snacks for everyone before a film begins, but is it really realistic to expect an easily scared child to sit through even a mild modern horror film, or someone who loves smash-bang action movies to sit quietly through an intimate domestic drama? Parents will certainly learn something by trying to arrange these movie times with and for their kids, but the lesson may not be one of togetherness. No Regrets Parenting gets a (+++) rating for its good ideas and straightforward presentation, and for making an attempt to have readers feel good about themselves and their families instead of believing they cannot possibly live up to some unreasonable ideal. The book does, however, call for the creation of scenarios that are, for a lot of families, improbable if not impossible. Many things in the book are worth trying, but it remains up to parents to reassure themselves that there is nothing wrong with them or their children if Rotbart’s well-meaning ideas simply do not work because of particular family circumstances.