some recent(ish) reads: The Complete Brambly Hedge, Magyk, and Unconditional Parenting

Three short reviews of possible interest to those of you who don’t follow me on Goodreads (a nonfiction parenting book and two pieces of fiction for young people–and those of us who are not so young, too!):

Alfie Kohn, Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason

I largely agree with this book’s argument–that punishments (including time out and subtler “love-withdrawal” reactions) and even rewards (including a constant stream of “good job!” used to push children into doing/being/wanting what you want them to do/be/want or what is convenient for the adults around them) are really problematic and probably not even effective in gaining compliance … if you really, in your heart, want “compliance.” I don’t like the whole concept of discipline and have been trying, for years, to move further and further away from it in our home and our relationships with our children. It’s helpful to hear about studies exploring various aspects of this topic and to read Kohn’s examples of various parenting techniques. I absolutely agree that parents would do well to be more aware of the power dynamics in our relationships with our children, and to be more respectful of them than the world around us is willing to be to young people.

However, the book feel repetitive and slow to me. I wish I could read the article version! Perhaps because I accept his premises (a lot of it felt obvious to me), and perhaps because I’m coming from a scholarly background (I want more data and analysis packed in more tightly), it just feels like 21 pages of information have been stretched to 221 pages. So I skimmed and skipped around and considering stopping and kept going and set it aside for weeks at a time and came back to it and so forth. I haven’t actually read the whole book.

Angie Sage, Magyk

A fun book that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and a promising start to a series: I’m looking forward to seeing whether the sequels build effectively on this beginning. In some ways, it’s standard fare for fantasy aimed at young people. It annoyingly equates parents/origins with the answer to “Who am I?” and has a restoration-of-the-monarchy-equals-good thing going on. It has some interesting quirks, though. Here are two:

1) It’s nonsexist (“wizard” isn’t even a gendered term! and there’s some background grumbling about the evil administration having barred women from acting as judges).

2) It doesn’t kill off the central child characters’ parents, or even make them neglectful and/or incompetent. Instead, without comment, it builds a world in which children simply have greater autonomy than in our world. On a number of occasions, an adult advises a course of action and a child simply rejects it, and that decision stands. It’s a really neat way to go, and I’m interested to see whether and how that develops in future installments.

I do find it annoying that words associated with magic appear in bold text. What’s with that? And the bit at the end that follows up on various minor characters’ fates leaves readers on a weaker note than just stopping at the end of the main narrative.

Jill Barklem, The Complete Brambly Hedge (a gift from Anna and Hanna, who have the scoop on all the awesome British children’s culture you could ever need)

This is just a gorgeous book. The illustrations are intricate. They create a pleasingly tiny world in a way that reminds me of the visual richness of the film The Secret World of Arrietty. So, my six-year-old loves poring over them.

The words and stories, too, are excellent. Sweet little explorations, utterly nonthreatening, simple, and lovely for bedtime reading.

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