Sure, I like to read about Tiger Moms and French parenting. These books and arguments about them are fun, and they tell us a lot about our society’s present anxieties over cultural change, over changing roles for women, and over how prepared our kids will be for a global world.
But when you get tired of the latest parenting media fad that overgeneralizes cultural differences, here are a few nonfiction books that are written by absolutely terrific writers that all expand or challenge previously accepted notions of how to raise good, smart kids.
1. How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough. I’ve already discussed how much I like this book’s conclusions about the role of character strengths and resilience in academic success. Rather than focusing on inborn intelligence, Tough argues — with convincing evidence from researchers in the fields of attachment and stress research — that the ability to persevere and triumph over adversities both large and small is the key to a bright future. His work has important implications for parents from all walks of life.
2. Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon. This book is daunting and impressive in its size and scope. But don’t be intimidated because it’s nearly impossible to put down in spots and broken up into manageable sections. (Check out the website for the book; it’s an interactive page of stories and people from the book that is beautifully designed.) Andrew Solomon has written beautifully, personally and exhaustively about his own mental health issues, and here he explores the stories of parents who are raising children that are very different from themselves, from autistic children to child molesters to geniuses. This is about how parents and children cope when kids have an all-encompassing “identity” that is hard for everyone to understand.
3. Origins: How the Nine Months before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives by Annie Murphy Paul. She is one of my favorite writers and writes an amazing blog talking about new developments in understanding how we learn. But suffice it to say, I should not have read this book during my third trimester of pregnancy. I repeatedly woke up my husband, worrying about everything from food choices to caffeine intake to alcohol, and then — my husband’s favorite — I would wake him up again to ask if he thought my worrying about my worrying was hurting the baby. This book is about how our earliest experiences in the womb can shape us in ways that we are just learning more about. Annie Murphy Paul is a wonderful storyteller and in no way sensationalizes her thesis relating to how a mother’s lifestyle can impact her child’s later experiences and even temperament and development. After reading this book as a parent or future-parent, you will be both hopeful about the possibilities for ensuring all of our children’s well-being and a little more amazed and freaked out about the miracle of human life.
4. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck and NurtureShock: New Thinking about Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. I’m including them together because what I really liked about both of them is that they changed my thinking as a teacher and then as a parent. They both discuss– using Dweck’s research — the inverse power of praise and argue that the strategies that modern parents are using to nurture their children may be not be working because key scientific findings about how we actually grow and learn have been ignored. You will never tell your kid, “Good job. You’re so smart” again without pausing for a second.
5. Character Compass: How Powerful School Culture Can Point Students Toward Success by Scott Seider. Although this book presents portraits of three high-performing charter schools with unique approaches to character development, it may be seem like a book intended just for educators. But it has powerful lessons for parents too from these schools’ curricula, programs, and practices for how to instill moral and civil character in our kids, as well as academic achievement. If you’re ever been skeptical of how “character education” can work in the classroom, you may be interested in reading about a few successful models.
6. When Can You Trust the Experts? How To Tell Good Science from Bad Science in Education by Daniel Willingham. With a terrific blog, Dr. Willingham is well-known for questioning educational theories that prove to have little credible scientific basis. With a technique for evaluating the validity of research claims that is useful both parents and educators that I described before on Momma Data, this book is perfect for those who ever stood in the toy aisle, questioning the claims of “brain-based” on a “learning toy.”
What’s your favorite non-parenting book that has changed the way you raised or teach children?