March 03, 2011


Potty Training Girls the Easy Way: A Stress-Free Guide to Helping Your Daughter Learn Quickly. By Caroline Fertleman, M.D., and Simone Cave. Da Capo. $12.

Gluten-Free on a Shoestring: 125 Easy Recipes for Eating Well on the Cheap. By Nicole Hunn. Da Capo. $19.

     These would be called “special needs” books if the phrase had not been taken over by the politically correct contingent in an attempt to describe people needing extra assistance because they are in some way disabled…sorry, “differently abled.” Vocabulary and political arguments aside, though, these are clearly niche publications, intended for people with particular problems to solve and a need for guidance in dealing with them. The title of Potty Training Girls the Easy Way makes the book’s content self-explanatory: this is a short work (126 pages of text, in large type, with plenty of white space) for parents seeking help in teaching girl children to move a step beyond diapers. Pediatrician Caroline Fertleman and health editor Simone Cave explain the steps to use when a girl is 2¼ years old (the authors’ recommended average age for potty training), starting with what to call her private parts (they suggest “private parts”), including signs that a toddler is both physically and mentally ready for training, and discussing ways to lead up to toilet training and then actually do it. Parents who have toilet trained without significant difficulties will find the book simplistic, even silly, but they are not the intended audience. The authors really have thought the process through – for instance, they tell moms to “wipe the seat of public toilets and sit down rather than squat” because “your daughter will be watching closely and will imitate you when she’s old enough, and she won’t be able to squat over a toilet because she’ll be too short.” The basic approach here involves “potty-training ‘sessions,’ beginning with just an hour a day without a diaper and gradually building up until your daughter never wears a diaper at home during the day.” Fertleman and Cave explain, in detail, how to lead up to the first day of training and then what to do on “D-Day.” Positive reinforcement, so common in today’s books about child-rearing, is a must, not only to avoid having the girl feel bad when (not if) she has an accident, but also to make her feel wonderful when she has a success: “The first time your daughter pees or poops in the potty, go crazy with the praise. Clap, kiss her, phone Daddy to tell him, and award her a particularly pretty sticker.” The approach is simple and progressive, and the authors are careful to discuss special circumstances, such as “when your daughter announces she needs to pee or poop and there’s just no way that you can get her to a bathroom in time.” The book is mother-focused, but there are some suggestions for fathers, too: “A wheelchair-accessible toilet is generally the best option,” but if there isn’t one, “carry her straight into the [men’s room] cubicle to avoid her becoming curious and wandering off.” They do not, however, deal with what to do if no cubicles are available – a fairly common situation in men’s rooms, which have fewer of them than women’s rooms do. In any case, a certain application of common sense will go a long way toward helping frazzled parents handle unpredictable toilet-related events, and inexperienced parents (whose common sense in such matters has not yet had a chance to evolve) will find sensitive, carefully structured ideas here to help things move along as smoothly as possible.

     A different sort of special-interest problem is addressed by blogger Nicole Hunn in Gluten-Free on a Shoestring. There has been a great proliferation of gluten-free foods in recent years as the diagnosis of diseases relating to gluten absorption has produced more and more such cases (or has recognized more and more previously unknown ones). As usual in a free-market economy, supply of gluten-free products has increased dramatically in order to service soaring demand. But also as usual, these specialty items – made in smaller quantities than traditional goods and often by smaller companies – can cost a lot more: often two-and-a-half times as much, according to Hunn. Hence this book’s underlying idea of planning and making gluten-free meals at home while using online coupons and careful shopping to get the best prices possible (Hunn provides specific suggestions on where to get inexpensive gluten-free items). One basic element of the book is adapted from an approach long favored by money-saving-meals books: make lots of basic ingredients and “foundation recipes” at one time and then, to avoid waste, use the excess from one recipe as part of another. This means not having to start every recipe from scratch every time, and makes it possible to buy certain ingredients in bulk – resulting in a saving of both time and money. You can also make larger amounts of a food than you can use at one meal – cornbread, for example – and then use the remainder from the first meal as part of the next (for instance, serve the cornbread as bread one night, then use it as the foundation of stuffing a few nights later). In addition to shopping and meal-preparation ideas, Hunn offers, as her subtitle indicates, 125 recipes, which take up the bulk of the book. They are of all kinds: sauces such as barbecue and sweet-and-sour; dips such as spinach and hummus; breakfast foods such as bagels, cinnamon rolls and muffins; breads, such as focaccia, buttermilk biscuits, white sandwich bread and soft pretzels; main courses such as chicken pot pie and pot roast; and loads of desserts – apple cake, pumpkin bread, chocolate-chip cookies, graham crackers, banana cream pie, devil’s food cake and others. It is a stretch to describe all the recipes as “easy” – not all readers will agree – but Hunn does a good job of explaining what is required and taking readers step by step through the cooking or baking process. And while the book contains only a few photos of the foods, those it does pitcure certainly look delicious. It is unlikely that Hunn’s book will appeal to anyone who does not have the special need of gluten-free eating – but for those who do need to avoid gluten, it will offer many attractive ideas for creating and enjoying meals that will not cause the gastrointestinal distress associated with a gluten allergy.

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