Bringing Families Together
The wide array of recent family and parenting books suggests that there are many mediums through which parents can widen the boundaries of their children’s experiences and imagination, teaching them to value relationships in the context of the simple joys of nature and the everyday life.
In these five featured books, families with younger children can learn to connect over art, simple outings, cooking, and small celebrations, while parents of older children are shown how to transition from the activity-driven preschool and elementary years into a less immediate role where good communication skills are prioritized. Finally, two books of memoir offer instructive stories for parents and parents-yet-to be.
The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book
Softcover $16.95 (224pp)
The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book, by Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer, aims to get kids outside and cultivate in them a love for nature. With simple instruction and a seemingly intuitive understanding of young readers, Kids’ Outdoor Adventure might just succeed. What it’s not is an impossibly inconvenient children’s activity book that requires parents to special order materials, run errands, and spend hours on complicated projects meant for their offspring.
Written by two experienced nature lovers who understand the joys that nature can offer, the book invites young people into a world of observation and discovery. Activities, separated by season, include ample options that can be recreated in your own backyard, city block, or local park, as well as excursions suited for the whole family. Each of the 448 entries also offers various levels of engagement in the activity, with “The basics” (the activity), “Challenge” (an additional twist), and “Did You Know?” (an informative hook that might have kids heading to the Internet or library to do research on their favorite subject). Not every child will be able to accomplish every activity, especially where geography limits their exposure to snow or beaches, but the authors offer many activities for every child.
Additionally, any parents who pick up the book will likely be flooded with nostalgia for their own childhood—of making snowmen, walking along the beach, collecting leaves, and fashioning mud pies. Whole families will be inspired to get outside for more of the same.
The Artful Parent: Simple Ways to Fill Your Family’s Life with Art and Creativity
Jean Van’t Hul
Softcover $21.95 (304pp)
Jean Van’t Hul’s The Artful Parent is a how-to manual for purposeful parents who want to incorporate more art into family life. Sprinkled with essays by additional contributors, The Artful Parent offers the lowdown on making time for art with kids, setting up an age-appropriate indoor art space (or outdoor, if weather permits), making basic supplies, as well as a philosophy for discussing children’s art in such a way as to empower children to keep exploring, experimenting, and creating. The latter half of the book outlines specific art activities (with age suggestions), including “Quick and Easy Art,” “Getting Fancy,” and “Action Art,” all of which are sure to be kid-pleasers.
Van’t Hul, a parent of two small children, started blogging her art ideas before they became a book and seems to understand the time and space crunches most families experience, as well as the energy required of parents to proactively offer art to young children (one mess after another!). She prepares the reader with simple ideas for minimizing mess and disorganization. Readers who gravitate toward organization will also be pleased with the ideas and resources offered at the back of the book.
Celebrate Every Day
Hardcover $24.95 (240pp)
Well read, well bred, and well fed are the anchoring themes of Sophistimom.com and its originator, Jaime Richardson, author of Celebrate Every Day: Recipes for Making the Most of Special Moments with Your Family. A blogger since 2008 and a Martha Stewart-endorsed chef, Richardson has packaged specialoccasion recipes in a gorgeously photographed volume of menus for celebrations throughout the year, with everything from a “welcome spring” party to a “fireside supper” dinner party to a “snow day” soiree.
Celebrations are arranged according to season, identifying touchstones that are sure to be shared by many families throughout the year: the last day of school, pumpkin carving, tree trimming, back-to-school preparations, and movie nights, as well as the more whimsical “garden tea party” and “French café.” The menu offerings invite a bit of labor into the preparation process—olive tapenades, homemade marshmallows, and egg salad and avocado tea sandwiches are not ordinary foods for every day, but neither are these ordinary occasions. Richardson’s template for each event is suggestive of the celebratory, the rare treat. A parent concerned with enlarging the minds and thinking of her children, her meal and dessert menus are paired with suggestions for accompanying music and literature to read aloud as a family (think Around the World in Eighty Days for her “world traveler party”).
These celebration templates are just that—Richardson is not so concerned with exact replication but with inspiring her readers with ideas for discovering “the importance of stopping to do something meaningful and wonderful” with loved ones in the midst of life’s chaos. The recipes, photographs, and essays that accompany her celebration themes are sure to inspire parents and children alike to treasure time spent together in the kitchen and elsewhere.
Mom, I’m Not a Kid Anymore
The Experiment Publishing
Softcover $14.95 (256pp)
In Mom, I’m Not a Kid Anymore, Sue Sanders takes a virtual dive into the community of reading parents, outing the universal issues that face them and their tweens. Sanders writes with the belief that when parents are willing to connect with one another—sharing their triumphs and struggles in raising kids on the brink of adulthood—other parents can be helped and inspired. Though Sanders herself did not have a built-in community of local parenting friends (due to a cross-country move around the time her daughter was in junior high), Mom, I’m Not a Kid Anymore makes up for missed, real life conversations with her fourteen-year-old daughter, Lizzie. Sanders writes, “I like to think that reading these tales is a bit like the advice you get from a friend over coffee: perhaps you agree on some aspects of parenting, maybe you disagree on others, but it’s still good to hear from someone who is going through something similar.”
While the subtitle, Navigating 25 Inevitable Conversations that Arrive Before You Know It, suggests a how-to genre, Mom, I’m Not a Kid Anymore is truly memoir—twenty-five essays surrounding a unique conversation or experience with Lizzie in the context of a re-fashioned family (Lizzie’s biological father is not altogether present, but Sanders’ second husband, Jeff, helps with the parenting). With humor, sobriety, and grace, Sanders takes the reader into the dynamics of family life as well as aspects of her own childhood—she was raised by conservative parents in a small town where prejudice and ignorance abounded—gleaning the mores and lessons she does and does not want to pass on to her daughter.
Cracked Open: Liberty, Fertility, and the Pursuit of High Tech Babies
Softcover $20.00 (198pp)
Miriam Zoll, award-winning journalist and human rights advocate, discovered her desire for motherhood at the age of forty. Optimistic about the reproductive technologies available to women her age, she and her husband, Michael, set out on a many-years-long journey through the world of IVF, donor eggs, tens of thousands of dollars in infertility treatments, and post-traumatic stress disorder—a journey that ultimately ended in adoption.
With journalistic flair, Cracked Open: Liberty, Fertility, and the Pursuit of High-Tech Babies shines a light on the experiences of infertile couples within an industry that, in Zoll’s experience, offers inflated hope to desperate would-be parents. While Zoll herself questions the ethics of clinic policy and various fertility interventions, she offers no answers. The memoir, she tells us, is her contribution to a public, “consumer-driven” conversation, one that will empower couples with information and insight about assisted reproductive technology in their quest to become parents. Zoll tells this story as an authority and with brutal honesty—no doubt a conversation starter.
Heather Weber is a freelance writer and Associate Pastor of adult ministries at LIFEchurch in North Liberty, Iowa. She blogs about parenting, faith, and culture at www.onravenstreet.com.