Monday, July 14, 2008

The Case for Make-Believe by Susan Linn

iconiconI heard about this book, The Case for Make-Believe by Susan Linn, via an article about children's play on USAToday.com. Since I have a background in teaching preschool and after school programs, and since I've always believed myself that creative play is important for children's development, I was particularly interested in what Susan Linn had to say about it.

As it happens, Linn's book completely supports my own viewpoints on creative play versus video games and TV. She comes down pretty hard on baby and toddler videos such as Baby Einstein, setting the record straight about its benefits (watching TV that young has a detrimental impact on development) and exposing its misleading marketing (no, listening to Mozart does not make your baby smarter).

She also comes down hard on the state of kids' toys these days. For one thing, most toys aren't very open-ended, as they are often electronic and only have a limited purpose. For instance, a baby doll that cries or asks for Mama is only good for that, and as a result kids end up making it cry and say "Mama" over and over, rather than playing pretend games with it like they would with a regular baby doll. One thing she says that I really like is, "A good toy is 90 percent child and only 10 percent toy."

And of course, she talks about the awful impact that TV, video games, and computer games are having on children's development. Linn takes the position that make-believe gives kids a chance to play out things that might be bothering them — so when you plunk kids down in front of even a mildly violent cartoon, you are giving them more things to be bothered about and less opportunity to play it out and relieve that bother. Linn advocates delaying a young child's first introduction to TV and video games as long as humanly possible, and I totally agree.

This is an excellent book to read if you are expecting a child or planning to start trying for one, because it encourages you to think about your own approach to parenting before you have the child. However, I also recommend it for those who are already parents, because it's never too late to encourage your child to play!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Now You See Him by Eli Gottlieb

iconiconIf you had asked me a day ago what I thought of this book, I would have said I didn't like it much. Now You See Him by Eli Gottlieb is fairly short, but really wordy, and as of a day ago I was having a really hard time with the lack of action (and surplus of introspection into the narrator's thoughts and feelings). Mainly I hung on because I wanted to see what happened to the characters.

In the end, though, I was pleasantly surprised. There are two really big revelations in the last 100 pages, and I ended up being pretty glad I finished the book. However, I'm glad it was a short book — I don't think I could have taken much more of Gottlieb's writing style. I feel a little disloyal by saying so, since the author is a fellow Coloradoan, but it's the truth.

Interestingly, I heard about the book via NPR's summer book recommendations. I seem to remember being disappointed with their summer book selections last year, too. Perhaps I should make a note of it and choose my own summer reading next year... If the other suggestions for this summer are as lackluster, I just might!

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

iconiconAlthough Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City took me a while (about two weeks) to read, it was one of the best books I've read lately. It's nonfiction, but written like a novel. What is so amazing about this book is the amount of research that went into it — Larson took the information from goodness knows how many sources, put it all in chronological order, and turned it into a beautifully compelling book.

The Devil in the White City is about two different, but irrevocably intertwined, subjects — the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893, and a serial killer who operated just around the corner from it. Larson alternates back and forth between the story of building and running the fair, and the story of the killer's victims. With each victim's story he draws you in and makes you hope that she (they were usually women) gets away in time, but of course she never does. And presiding over all of this, of course, is the White City (the fair), with its many successes and failures.

As you can probably tell, I highly recommend this book. The detail is fascinating, which is why it took me so long to read — you get the feeling that every single world is important in some way, and you just can't bring yourself to skim any of it.

I think I've found myself a new favorite author...

Saturday, July 5, 2008

My Friend Flicka by Mary O'Hara

iconiconI actually finished My Friend Flicka almost two weeks ago, but I've had a hard time finding time to blog lately.

Anyway, I decided to read this book after watching the movie Flicka a little while back. While I liked the movie, some things also seemed a little unrealistic to me, such as the way Flicka was trained.

The book was actually very different, and I liked it a lot better. The main character was a young boy, which I thought was more appropriate. The horse was a filly born on the ranch, but the descendant of a wild horse that had impregnanted one of the ranch's mares years ago. And although there was a mountain lion, and the father did save the horse from the mountain lion, it happened a little bit differently.

I enjoyed the book very much, especially the parts about the training and the boys' responsibilities on the horse ranch. The author, Mary O'Hara, clearly knew a lot about horses. The book was written in the 40s, but I think it's still a wonderful story for any horse lover — young adult or adult.