Weighing in on the Berenstain Bears

Were you a kid raised on Berenstain too? Until recently I’d enjoyed exposing Felicity to some of my favorite titles in the much-beloved series.  Some of these favorites included (and still include) New Baby, Too Much Junk Food, and The Bear Scouts.

I’d been checking out titles in the series I was less familiar with, including Learn About Strangers, The Gimmes, and Too Much TV. I’m not sure if these are newer titles, but they are certainly much more formulaic than the books I grew up with.

Formulaic how? Well, in the books I’ve been checking out recently, Papa Bear is dunce and plot-pusher. He’s the device that allows Mama Bear, who is right all the time (yawn), to teach Brother and Sister Bear what NOT to do and how NOT to be. So really, she’s raising 3 cubs, and one of them is her useless bear-spouse.


As parents, we’re all about demonstrating and exemplifying what we consider to be good patterns, right? Kind of like Ben Blair’s rejection of the bad pattern of Disney siblings, I think it’s worthwhile to reject the normalization of patterns unsustainable and unhealthy in family dynamics between spouses. It might be different if Mama and Papa Bear showed some level of complexity (for instance, if Papa Bear acted like the adult on occasion, and Mama Bear erred once in a while). Even better, if they were shown to be on the same wavelength in terms of maturity and parented together a bit more.

So, in short, Berenstain Bears is meeting a chopping block of sorts in this house. Ever the moderate, there are still some titles in the series I love and would recommend. But before opening up another unknown Berenstain title, I’ll be sure to read through it first before reading it to Felicity.


of a hiatus and a hero

Between my pregnancy and my last semester in my Masters program, this blog has suffered from much neglect. I plan to change all that soon.

In the meantime, a quick update on a worthwhile read: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas.

(Watch the book trailer here).

I had never heard of Dietrich Bonhoeffer before I came to New York. The first time I ever became truly cognizant of the man, I was attending a class at Union Theological Seminary, where Bonhoeffer had been a visiting scholar in 1930.  In fact, our class was held in a room dedicated to him: The Bonhoeffer room. My professor drew the class’ attention to the room’s namesake, basically expressing the fact that this person had been a remarkable individual.



(Union Theological Seminary, at Broadway and 120th St)

How remarkable, how interesting, I didn’t know until I checked this beauty out from the library. I’m now thinking about buying my own copy because I’ve had to resist more than once the impulse to make notes in the margins. I don’t think NYPL would be too happy about that, do you?



My favorite part thus far has been the chapter about Bonhoeffer’s time in America. Covering the desultory theological discussions he despised at UST, his subsequent retreat into an examination of African-American Christianity and experience, and his “conversion” to pacifism, this chapter has been captivating.

It’s always a bit dangerous to choose heroes. It’s almost certain they will disappoint you. Thus, I’m typically very careful in this enterprise. But Bonhoeffer strikes me as a good bet. Reading about him has made me want to be a better person, due in large part to his many complexities; to be open-minded, yet distrustful: of artifice, of popular opinion, of knee-jerk reactions. To be open to new experiences, yet to trust in tradition. And to be always seeking, yet full of conviction.

Some favorite quotes (DB signifies direct quotes):

“Whatever he had and whatever he was, he made that accessible to others” (Quote from a friend and student; 2006, p. 126).

“It is likely that now he began to think of the church as called by God to ‘stand with those who suffer'” (p. 128).

“Harnack’s theology was something like Archilochus’s proverbial fox, knowing many little things, while Barth’s theology was like a hedgehog, knowing one big thing. Bonhoeffer would side with the hedgehog, but he was in the fox’s seminar. . . As a result of his intellectual openness, Bonhoeffer learned hot to think like a fox and respect the way foxes thought, even though he was in the camp of the hedgehogs. He could appreciate the value in something, even if he ultimately rejected that something–and could see the errors and flaws in something, even if he ultimately accepted that something” (p. 61).

“Where a people prays, there is the church, and where the church is, there is never loneliness” (DB; p. 69).

“It is much easier for me to imagine a praying murderer, a praying prostitute, than a vain person praying. Nothing is so at odds with prayer as vanity” (DB, p. 69).

“Christianity preaches the infinite worth of that which is seemingly worthless and the infinite worthlessness of that which is seemingly so valued” (DB, p. 85).


pregnancy and childbirth book reviews

Guest post by Krisanne
[I hate to insert my own voice in here, but I thought I’d give a brief explanation of this post. My talented, compassionate, artistic friend, Krisanne, just welcomed her first child into her home this month. I had watched over the months the degree of her preparation in welcoming this little one; and in her preparation I couldn’t help but feel how present Krisanne was in her pregnancy. It wasn’t something that was just happening to her. It was a process she was very mindful of and involved in mentally and spiritually. So I asked her to share some of her favorite reads with us here. And she gets EXTRA thanks for writing this while pregnant and renovating her home. Thanks, Krisanne!]
In preparing for this pregnancy, I really wanted to immerse myself in books that helped me feel empowered about my body and the childbirth process. I had read on several blogs and online forums about Ina May’s books and about Ina May herself–the godfather–erm–godmother of midwifery. Ina May has been in the business of childbirth for decades and her respect and reverence for women and birthing is obvious. The first half of the book includes several stories of women sharing their positive birth experiences while the second half of the book offers insight into the birthing process and suggestions for creating a natural, healthy, and loving birthing experience. I found the tone of Ina May’s writing to be a perfect balance of practicality and encouragement. She believes whole heartedly that women’s bodies were created to give birth and are perfectly capable of bringing forth life without the myriad interventions most women experience in a contemporary hospital setting. I enjoyed the birth stories at the beginning–but because I had already read dozens of natural birth stories by this point–I was definitely more drawn to the more practical portions of the book. I rank this as the number one book I read in my preparation for childbirth. 
If Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth ranks first in my list of childbirth books, Birthing From Within comes in at a very close second. Birthing From Within, like Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, endorses a natural approach to childbirth and frames pregnancy and birthing as rites of passage that women can experience with confidence and joy. The authors address a wide range of topics including the importance of acknowledging birth-related fears, Buddhist based pain management techniques, and practical birth preparations. In the beginning of the book, the authors present numerous art and writing prompts to help the reader address her fears regarding childbirth. As a writer and art educator, I found these exercises really compelling. I have no doubt that creative expression can help us articulate and address feelings and fears that we may be unaware of or that we find simply overwhelming. Including such exercises in a birth book struck me as remarkable and insightful. 
This was one of the first books I purchased when I found out I was pregnant. It definitely doesn’t have the spiritual dimension of either Ina May’s book or Birthing From Within, but it does provide a wealth of practical, relatively unbiased information about pregnancy and childbirth. I found it extremely comforting and informative to read about each stage of pregnancy as I was in the throes of my first, second, and trimesters. I also really enjoyed reading about the weekly growth and development milestones my baby was reaching. In addition to outlining the stages of pregnancy and childbirth, the book provides several stretching and strength training exercises for mom-to-be, a glossary of common pregnancy symptoms and remedies, helpful positions for laboring, and practical advice for taking care of baby once he’s made his grand arrival. This book proved to be a fantastic balance to Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth and Birthing From Within with its emphasis on the physiological dimensions of motherhood. 
The Gift of Giving Life: Rediscovering the Divine Nature of Pregnancy and Birth by Felice Austin, CHt; Lani Axman; Heather Farrell, CD (DONA); Robyn Allgood, AAHCC; and Sheridan Ripley, HCHI
The Gift of Giving Life is a collection of birth stories told by predominately Mormon women, each of which revolve around the spiritual nature of conception, pregnancy, birthing, and lactation. Every story falls under a chapter heading such as “Personal Revelation”, “The Spirit-Mind-Body Connection”, and “The Atonement” which made it easy to search for narratives that I thought might resonate the most with me. Instead of reading this book cover-to-cover, I enjoyed picking through stories that I felt would be particularly relevant to my mental or emotional state at any given time. The narratives are personal, moving, and deeply spiritual. My favorite stories were those that used scripture to delve into the theological and symbolic significance of women’s bodies, childbirth, and motherhood. As a Mormon woman, the way in which these birth experiences were framed made sense to me on a spiritual and theological level, however I don’t believe you have to be Mormon to find inspiration and peace in these pages.
[Readers, as you may know by now I am also expecting. No wonder I found Krisanne’s centeredness and spiritual preparation during her pregnancy inspiring. Whether your recommendations are spiritual or not, do you have any other reads not mentioned here that you or your spouse/partner found particular helpful as you prepared for a new addition?]

children as God

Guest post by reading parent Timothy Browning:

My children are the closest things to God or Gods that I have in my life right now. They are mysterious, omnipresent, and jealous against all other gods. They demand strange and repetitive rituals for appeasement. At times they seem devastatingly indifferent to suffering. And they might just be the salvation of my soul.

In recent years, I have lost most of what I would call my faith in God. But even as I have lost faith in God, I have gained faith in my children. This is not to say that I don’t spend most of my time thinking about the mundane considerations of how I will get my children to eat, how I will get them to sleep and how I will get them to just be quiet for 10 minutes while I get something done. But in contemplation of where my children fit in my soul, I am undeniably assured that they do have a place, and thus, I must have a soul. Whatever the source, I am willing to accept these feelings as clear evidence of meaning or divinity in the human experience and to be grateful for whatever it is that has created them.

As I have, in the past, consistently turned to books to help me understand my relationship with God, so have I turned to books to help me understand my relationship with my children.

I have to say, though, that I find myself constantly disappointed by parenting books. Full of strategies, tips and superficial philosophies, they barely scratch the surface of what it actually means to be a parent. I find them almost universally to be lacking in scope and empty of inspiration.

Taking a part of yourself, combining it with another, and then caring for, raising and loving the product, independent yet fully derived, or adopting or fostering a child and treating it and loving it as if the child were your own, until it truly becomes your own, brings with it complexities and depth that are perhaps forever outside of the capabilities of our language to describe fully.

When I think about books, then, that have deeply affected my parenting, I do think of some “parenting” books that have offered helpful advice, useful experience or guiding philosophies. But I have found that my richest source of wisdom on parenting has not come from books about our relationship with children, but our relationship with God. There are any number of books that have affected me consciously or unconsciously in how I parent and in how I think of my children. Three, however, stand out.


Les Miserables has a very clear narrative of what it means both to be a biological parent as well as an adoptive parent as Fantine and Jean Valjean both work to try to make Cosette’s life happy and safe in a world that is continually conspiring to make everyone miserable. Instead of placing the burden on the balance of good and evil, Valjean’s mercy is constantly opposed to Javert’s justice, and, spoiler alert, mercy triumphs, but justice does plenty of damage along the way.

Parenting is such a balance of justice and mercy, in my mind. I have yet to experience a time where my flaws in character and judgment are so often justly exposed as in parenting. I am generally a patient person, but what impatience I have is broadly on display every day as a parent. I am petty, selfish and cold more with my children than anyone else in the world. But just as kids have an ability to constantly expose your faults, bringing harsh justice into the world of parenting, they also often bring grace. Because they are both deeply connected, but also deeply independent, it is possible for even the smallest of children to spontaneously bring moments of beauty and grace into an otherwise bleak day.

However, what Les Miserables explores most profoundly is that dark space occupied neither by justice nor mercy, where terrible things happen just to happen, with no explanation. Sometimes it is clear how bad parenting develops bad behavior in kids, but sometimes even the best parenting cannot put children on a path of happiness or fulfillment and devastation can result. Fate, maybe, is the name for this, and Les Miserables is full of examples of how to fight when you can and accept when you cannot, and it is this message of parenting that stays with me the strongest.


Nature and other essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson has also been key to me for many years now, as I look for spirituality outside of a specifically doctrinally proscribed context. Finding beauty in experiencing the mystery natural world is one of Emerson’s key themes. Although he, too, rarely uses his writing to specifically examine the child/parent relationship, his writing is clear that we need not fully understand something in order to appreciate it, but that the beauty is in the attempt to understand and find our place.

Emerson is clear that we have to constantly struggle against society’s influence, whether deliberate or not, that will pull us away from getting at the wholeness of nature. Staying present as a parent is extremely difficult to me. It can be incredibly difficult to try to constantly adjust my behavior and focus to calibrate with that of a 4 or 2 year old, but if I do it with good intention, I am never disappointed at the result. Just as we try to box in nature, we try to box in our children, putting them into labeled patterns of behavior and personality. But if we truly observe and appreciate, a different child confronts us each time we give them space in our consciousness to be who they are. Being solitary with parenting, as Emerson admonishes us to be solitary with nature, not bringing any outside voices with us, can be incredibly difficult and isolating, but deeply gratifying.


The Brother’s Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky is perhaps the most challenging book I have ever read, both in its complexity as well as its themes, so it is appropriate, I think, that the challenge of parenting is so clearly reflected back to me in its pages. This book, out of the three in this post, is most direct in its confrontation with God. It is also a direct commentary on family, putting us right in the middle of a terrible family situation. This book is among the three, the most concerned with what it really means to be a family and to be responsible for each other.

Short story: everything is a mess. The family life is a mess, the convent where the most innocent of the brothers wants to go is a mess, the society around the family is a mess. How can God possibly be responsible for allowing such a mess to be? How can he possibly work out salvation for anyone, let alone everyone, in such a messed up world?

While hopefully I am a better parent than Papa Fyodor and my children are never suspected of murdering me, I can’t but feel sympathy for and resonance with every member of the family, as if Dostoevsky meant it to be. As we come to care for each of the characters, we mourn with them. In this life, where so many things can be stacked against us, especially our own natures, how can we have any hope of real happiness or true divinity, even touching our lives for the briefest of moments?

One of the key points of this book, epitomized by Alyosha (perhaps my favorite character in all of literature), is that loving people is not enough to save them. Nor can we count on the love of others to save us. I said, at the start of this post, that I have gained faith in my children as I have lost faith in God, and that I now wonder if my children might, in the end, be my ultimate source of salvation. Of course, a deistic faith in someone is much too big of a burden to place on a child, or any other human for that matter. I don’t expect them to give unending joy to my life by their presence and attention. Then again, it’s not, really, that I think my children, themselves, will save me.

If I am to be saved by anything, my life given ultimate meaning, my soul ultimate redemption, it will be by the love that I have for my family, especially my children, flesh of my flesh. Is pegging my life’s meaning on how truly I can love my children asking too much of a relationship? Setting us up for failure? Risking ultimate damnation? Possibly. But if our love for our children cannot handle the responsibility of granting our life meaning and salvation, what can? If I fail at life by putting too much into my relationship with those closest to me, than I am willing to fail. If I succeed, I expect that success to cover over any other failure that my life might accumulate and grant my soul peace.

I love and respect those that choose not, or are not able, to have children. I recognize that their lives have equal meaning and worth to my own. But the reality of life that confronts me is that I must gather my meaning, my salvation, where it lies, just as everyone must, and, for me it lies with my family, and though sometimes I might definitely wish it, this truth cannot be shifted.

Read more by Tim here.


imperfect people can still make perfect parents


Do you think this is true? Probably not as stated, I’d imagine. One might ask, “what exactly is a perfect parent?” And I’d have to agree that it’s a standard without definition and the narrower the definition the less true to the standard it probably becomes.

Before I go further let me report on another reading success this month: Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things. Are you a Gilbert fan? I don’t know that I am. I read Committed and liked it, but I haven’t read any of her other work out of a choice I’m not sure I understand yet. But Signature has been enjoyable; the scope of the work is ambitious and interesting. Considering that this is the first novel I’ve read in quite some time I feel like the fact that I’m well on my way to finishing it constitutes praise for this book. So if you’re looking for something to read, there’s that recommendation (I will admit that sometimes I find that Gilbert’s voice gets in the way of the story, but that’s a matter of personal opinion).

Central to the story are parents Henry and Beatrix Whittaker. Neither are perfect people by any means. By extension, many would say they aren’t perfect parents either. Where Henry is raucous, irreverent, selfish, hurtfully blunt, and kind of a rake in general, Beatrix is disciplined, cold, corrective, strict, sharp-eyed and sharp-tongued, and unrelenting about her childrens’ faults.

Yet for all that, somehow Beatrix in particular showcases herself as a parent who is perfect. In what way? Well, you see through the novel that she was the perfect parent for her children. Her idiosyncrasies and her beliefs allow her daughter Alma to accomplish wonders, and her adopted daughter Prudence from falling in line with the ruinous path of her biological parents. [Here are some impressive Beatrix quotes: “‘At no moment in history has a bright young girl with plenty of food and a good constitution perished from too much learning'” (p. 52). “A child’s intellect, Beatrix said, is an object of impressive elasticity . . . The human mind, if dutifully trained, should be able to perform anything we ask of it. It is all just a matter of working hard” (p. 74-75).]

You might argue at this point, and I’m inclined to agree, that such things probably appear much cleaner and more obvious in works of fiction. Cause and effect is so much more obvious on the page than in real life, isn’t it?

Setting all that aside, wouldn’t it be nice if we as parents did ourselves a kind favor and assumed our own rightness for our children? What if we suspended our doubts and fears and told ourselves, “I don’t see it yet, but one day it will become clear to me and maybe even to my child that I was the right one for them. In essence, I was the perfect one for them. It was meant to be.”


Reader: I’m aware that many believe that the idea of the perfect parent is a fallacy, and therefore controversial and a waste of time to talk about. Do you have an alternate definition for “perfect” when it comes to parenting? What are your thoughts about this?

reading parent and Olive Us creator Ben Blair

Today I am so excited to welcome reading parent Ben Blair to our reading parent series. You may remember from this post, but Ben is the creator of one of my favorite TV web series, Olive Us! He and his wife have formed a formidable parenting team I’ve admired from a distance for a while now. Hearing him answer my questions as to how reading informs his parenting has been a real treat I’ve been eager to share. Enjoy!Image

Hi, Ben Blair! Tell us about yourself and the Blair family.
I’m married to Gabrielle Stanley Blair, who writes a popular (and brilliant!) blog called Design Mom.  We’re the parents of 6 children: Ralph, Maude, Olive, Oscar, Betty, and June. Our family has lived in Utah, New York, Colorado, France, and now California.
I loved to make movies with my friends growing up. One of our recurring shows was called “The Glove” and featured a murderous glove. For the last two years, I have been working on Olive Us, which is a web video series we make as a family.
Prior to that, I had mostly been working in education–my PhD is in Philosophy and Education. One of my favorite movies is School of Rock, and I discuss it extensively in my dissertation! I started and ran an after-school language program at public schools, and at an independent facility. I worked for a little over 7 years with K12.com developing online curriculum.

Tell us about how reading works for you as a parent.

‘Try’ is going to be the operative word here. We try to read every night together as a family, and also individually to our younger 3 children as they go to bed. For the individual reading, we try to rotate so our different kids have turns reading to each other. For together reading, we used to take turns reading, but that often took too long, and would bore the older kids so we have adapted to have family reading time, where a parent, or one of the older kids reads to everyone, and individual reading times. We still have occasional family reading time where we all take turns reading. When we read individually with kids, we typically take turns–a parent or “older” kid reading, and the younger kid reading–it’s about growing as a reader as well as listening to a good book.

Has what you read changed since you became a parent?

Absolutely. Right off, I have become a huge fan of some great children books! And I think, as is the case for most parents, you can’t help but see books and media in a different light when reading to your children. As I hinted in our Olive Us manifesto  I’m much more conscientious of the culture and values conveyed in media than I was pre-kids. So I’m always on the look out for books that portray working hard and intelligently, tackling problems, cooperating, supporting others, etc. Reading has helped to both shape what types of cultures and values I want to promote, and has given some concrete models for those values and cultures.
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What reading have you done since becoming a parent that has impacted your parenting in a big way? Any aha! moments that made you re-evaluate your impulses or past decisions? 

There have definitely been books we’ve read that I finish and am just so impressed with the writing, the story, the characters. I remember having that experience after finishing Oxcart Man, and just thinking “Yes! This is all I want in life!” I love basically every chapter from Winnie the Pooh–any book in that collection. Oh! three books that made me re-evaluate some of my instincts and tendencies would be: Emile, by Rousseau, and some more contemporary would be: How to Talk so Kids will Listen, and Listen so Kids will Talk; and Nurture Shock. Emile is an educational classic from the 1700s by Jean-Jacques Rousseau describing how he would educate an imaginary child, Emile. A favorite line is: “No bed is hard for one who falls asleep the moment he lies down…The best bed is that which brings us the best sleep. It is such a bed that Emile and I prepare for ourselves during the day [by working hard]…” And I think the thinking behind Nurture Shock—identifying and praising ability to work hard and struggle through to completion rather than labeling and praising kids as ‘smart’ has awaken a monster of re-evaluating past decisions. I group myself in part of the formerly-guilty now-always-trying-to-praise-appropriately party.
On your Olive Us about page, it says, “The series . . . showcases values we care about like working hard, being kind, helping each other, being creative, problem solving and staying positive even when frustrating things happen.” You also mention that you are a “big fan of ideals.” A statement I love. Where do you think these family ideals or values sprang from? Did any reading inform these values or help you determine how to transmit them to your children?
For sure reading has inspired and informed our values and ideals. And that statement from the “Aims of the Series” video is also to say that just because we don’t live up to the ideal, doesn’t mean ideals aren’t important, or worthy of pursuing and worthy of the effort to strive to portray. And we’re not as polished in real life as we are in the videos. Ideals are ideals for a reason.
I’ll share this: I like art museums, but I’m not an “art museum” guy. But one experience that has stuck with me, and the more we work on Olive Us, the more I see this experience as really formative. The experience was a visit to the Musee D’Orsay in Paris before we had any children. Ugh. That sounds so pretentious. Anyway, the one painting that totally mesmerized me was “Floor Planers” by Gustave Caillebotte.
It’s not a very famous painting for Musee D”Orsay, but it’s my favorite. Obviously, I wasn’t thinking about our children when I saw it (we didn’t have any yet), and I wasn’t thinking of Olive Us when I first saw the painting, and we weren’t conscientiously mimicking this painting when we started the series. But the painting conveys the dignity and beauty of work, cooperation, physical exertion. I look at the painting now and can’t help but see some strong roots of Olive Us.
In terms of books, some of the reading that I would say has shaped our family ideals would include: Oxcart Man, Boxcar Children, Swiss Family Robinson, Many Moons, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, The Little Prince, Emile, Winnie the Pooh, A Series of Unfortunate Events. For me, these books capture the beauty of work, cooperation, kindness, gentleness, a curious naivete toward others and the world, etc.
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 Gabby shared the following in an interview once:

 “. . .We have tried to create a warm, nurturing, orderly, hard-working, creative, loving environment, but we have a ways to go. Ben is really conscientious about the environment of our home. He asks what the art around us is suggesting. What the books on our shelves convey. On our last over-nighter (it was a while ago) we spent probably 3 hours talking about what books and what types of books we want on our shelves. We are at least aware that our books aren’t the ideal library we want our kids to remember — and admitting it is the first step to recovery.”

I’m interested in your thoughts about this. What kinds of conclusions did you come to about the message you feel books can convey, even when they’re just sitting on the shelf? What does your “ideal” library look like; for you and your kids?
I love this quote by John Dewey about environment. I come back to it all the time:
the only way in which adults consciously control the kind of education which the immature get is by controlling the environment in which they act, and hence think and feel. We never educate directly, but indirectly by means of the environment. Whether we permit chance environments to do the work, or whether we design environments for the purpose makes a great difference. And any environment is a chance environment so far as its educative influence is concerned unless it has been deliberately regulated with reference to its educative effect. An intelligent home differs from an unintelligent one chiefly in that the habits of life and intercourse which prevail are chosen, or at least colored, by the thought of their bearing upon the development of children.
 Our environment is always evolving. I think books can contribute vitally to a family culture. I want our bookshelf to be approachable—for our family, I wouldn’t want a book collection that feels stuffy, e.g. only includes esoteric “important” “classic” “philosophy” books. I also wouldn’t want a collection that is just a bunch of page-turners. I want a collection that gets used, and conveys that we are readers, and also conveys something about our approach to work, our posture toward each other, our orientation toward the world, etc. We want books that we can connect to, books that communicate some of our values. Books that stretch us, books that help us be better citizens, books that are fun. These change over time.
When I think about our ideal library, I have a few different categories in mind.
Core books that are the cultural backbone of our library–they may support or challenge our values, outlook, etc. Emile would be in here, Scriptures, Plato’s Republic, Arendt’s The Human Condition, Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude, etc. I don’t want this category to overwhelm the collection, but I definitely want it to have a presence. These could rotate.
Enjoyable books that align well with our moral vision—I’ve mentioned a lot of these before—in many ways these are the de facto core of the library: Oxcart Man, Boxcar children, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Swiss Family Robinson, Little House books, The Little Prince, Frog and Toad, etc.
Timely books e.g. during a presidential election year, we would ideally have a good bio, or a book by each candidate available; a current or recent best-seller, some contemporary thinkers’ books like Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig; The Singularity is Near, by Ray Kurzweil; The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brene Brown; Makers, by Chris Anderson; In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan; Bossypants, by Tina Fey; Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell, Nurture Shock, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
Interesting books: I use ‘interesting’ as meaning ‘books that help move us from where we are to where we want to be. So, for example, since Ralph is interested in movies, a good book about film making.
A good helping of books that have bite-size content--so we feel like we could benefit with even a 15 minute read…like a book of poems or short stories or essays.
More philosophicalEmile, by Rousseau (we can count it in at least 2 categories…); The Child and the Curriculum, by John Dewey; The Sovereignty of Good, by Iris Murdoch. I read a lot of dense books in college and graduate school, I want some of that work to get to our library, so our family is comfortable with some density in reading. The sweet spot I’m after is as light as possible, while still packing a philosophical wallop.
Books about where we areSo for example, in New York, we loved Gotham; In France we loved Discovery of France, and D-Day. We’re still looking for a great California or Bay area book. Any recommendations?
Books we’re connected toMy Dad wrote a book about language teaching, my sister has co-written a trilogy about Black History in the Mormon church. We love that our kids can see books and put a familiar face behind them—so books aren’t mysterious objects that just appear out of nowhere.
Books that Gabby and I think everyone should readEssays by Emerson and Montaigne; The Banality of Evil, by Hannah Arendt; Bonds that Make us Free, by Terry Warner, Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner; Foundation, by Isaac Asimov
Beautiful BooksWe just always have a place for something really beautiful. Perrault’s Fairy Tales illustrated by Edmund Dulac comes to mind.
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In your “aims of the series” video, you mention conversations that inspired the series. What it means to be a good sibling seems to be a point of concern and fixation for you. Did any reading impact the way or degree to which you think and care about this topic?

A few books come immediately to mind (a lot of these will sound like a broken record): The Boxcar Children–the Olive Us series could be one big homage to the Boxcar children. A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Little House books. These portray anti-Disney channel siblings. They love each other, they support each other, they work hard together, etc. And books are great entry points for conversations. After reading a Harry Potter chapter, we talked about how do you know Malfoy is bad? What makes Ron and Harry good? Are the Weasley’s good siblings? etc.

While I rely on reading a lot to help me try to be a thoughtful and deliberate parent, I wonder if it is the same way for you, or if other habits of thinking or being influence you to be this way.

Yes, reading is important–really a vital part of being a deliberate parent. I think another part of our approach is to drill down to target activities and conversations. So when I think about the environment I want to build, I think in terms of questions like these: “What activities do we want to make really easy to do in this space?” “What kinds of conversations do we want to take place here?” And to try to write up samples in as concrete way possible. I think books like those I have mentioned earlier have informed both what activities and conversations I want to aim for, and they have also shaped this whole mindset. We are working right now on a reading nook in our home, and not surprisingly, the primary activity we want to make easy and pleasant is reading.

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Felicity and I love your family’s work on Olive Us. The episodes balance and capture so many beautiful things: the comfort of the familiar and the exhilaration of new discovery; the beauty of being solitary, but the importance of belonging to each other; I could go on, we love it! 

We feel really fortunate to be able to work on Olive Us as a family. I love working together with our family, and with really talented film makers, I love capturing some really stunning memories, and creating a compelling portrait of siblings who love and like each other, and do cool things on their own and together. It has been really rewarding to feel like we have made a public offering that we are proud of, that conveys some of our values and ideals, that we can turn and return to often. And we’re really grateful that others watch, enjoy, and share the show. So thank you! I wish there were many other shows like it. But until there is, we’ll take Olive Us!
Thank you, Ben Blair!
Readers, what do you think? Food for thought? I appreciated so much Ben’s thought-out “ideal” library organization. I can’t say I’ve sat down and thought about it in quite that way before, but I agree! I’ve been in homes with shelves stocked with gorgeous editions of books no one in the family touched. The books were beautiful decoration (which alone is something, I suppose), but it wasn’t what the family actually read. What a waste! 
Also, one of the reasons I love Olive Us is the rejection of “Disney channel siblings”, as Ben Blair calls them. Instead Olive Us really does portray siblings that love each other, support each other, and work hard together. It is about creating a loving, beautiful, and growth-oriented family culture and it has been so valuable to me to hear about what reading helped to plant the seeds of that culture. 

reading while pregnant update

True to form, (no commentary on whether this is a self-fulfilling prophecy or not, please) my attention span and reading interests just haven’t been as predictable as they ordinarily are. Here a is small sampling of the books I haven’t been able to finish/start. This is in no way a commentary on the inherent value of these books.

The Family Dinner (I picked this one up at the library just before the worst throes of my morning sickness began. I could hardly pick it up without feeling incredibly nauseous because, hello, it’s about food. Also, while I am a deep believer in family dinner, it all goes to pot when a certain family member (ahem) has to flee to the other room anytime food is prepared. Maybe I’ll pick it up again someday.)

Childhood Under Siege (Yeah, brought it home from the library, haven’t picked it up once.)

When I was a Child I Read Books (I’ve tried and tried. It just feels like too much of a chore and I DON’T KNOW WHY.)

The Good Life (I recommended this book to my brother as soon as I heard about it. I knew it would be a book we’d both love. This kind of thing is right up my alley…when I’m not pregnant, apparently.)


My one reading success this month: being totally engrossed by this biography on Frida Kahlo. I couldn’t put it down. My family was deeply mystified by my absorption in this book.

Currently, the only book I feel excited to read is Noam Chomsky’s Fateful Triangle.

Amanda N left some great advice when I first expressed my worries about how pregnancy might impact my reading: do some re-reading!

Watership Down is on my list. As is Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day.

What are some re-reads that would go on your list?

overcoming fear and self-loathing in parenting


Confession time: I had a very bad parenting moment this morning, in which I behaved very badly.

It’s amazing and awful how as very human parents, what in the moment seems like unforgivable behavior from our children, when reflected upon, later makes us wonder what we were so upset about.

Shortly after my outburst with Felicity this morning, I realized that when I get irrationally angry with her it’s usually due to some unspoken, deep-seated fear that I have about my parenting. And needless to say, some of those fears are irrational.

So what is my biggest parenting fear? I am terrified of raising lazy children. And if Felicity ever exhibits behavior that to me indicates laziness I become overzealous and angry.

What was her grand offense this morning? Well, she asked me to do something that I know she can do for herself. When I told her no, she then created a mess in what appeared to be an attempt to make the task she didn’t want to do a little easier for herself.

And I lost it. I acted shamefully. I shamed her, yelled at her, and was rough with her. And now, as we usually do, I feel terrible about it.

We all do it. We all lose sight of the moment-what is actually happening-and give in instead to some irrational fear of what this moment may mean for the future. How to stay in the moment? As a parent, being mindful of the present moment is one of my largest, most ambitious goals. It is one of my greatest struggles.

One book I read about parenting and mindfulness encourages parents to think about what is going on for your child at this moment. To take this moment to pause and reflect alone is helpful, I think. But it also may lend itself to more effective parenting strategies.

I could recognize, for instance, that instead of blaming Felicity’s unwillingness to be independent on inherent laziness, I could reflect instead on the fact that maybe she’s not ready to be as independent as I want her to be sometimes. Even if I don’t do the dreaded task for her, I could still say something to the effect of, “no, that’s something you need to do yourself. But when you’re finished we can do (insert more pleasant task) together.” Because maybe her asking for my help  has less to do with unwillingness, and more to do with wanting to spend time with me or wanting to feel loved.

And when our unfortunate parenting moments are tied less to fears, and more to moments of exasperation, there are undoubtedly other strategies as well. I read this one the other day. I’ve seen parents do this in my Instagram feed, and it seems to be a brilliant solution that might at least suspend the worst of we parents’ wrath.

So what do you think? What are your solutions to these kinds of moments? What are your biggest parenting fears that rear their ugly heads in this way?




I may have mentioned this before, but I absolutely love the New York Public Library System. It’s centralized, with branches all over the five boroughs, and a wonderfully useful website unites the whole system. It has really been vital to our life here.

But to be truthful, with only one exception I’ve loved every library I’ve been to for different reasons. And, like this Pew study (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/01/24/10-facts-about-americans-and-public-libraries/) indicates, my library usage has changed over time. While we’ve lived here we haven’t had the time or inclination to participate in any of the library-sponsored story-times for kids, whereas at past libraries we sometimes attended on a bi-weekly basis!

What’s your favorite thing about your library?

Olive Us

As you may have guessed based on my last announcement-related post Felicity has watched A LOT of TV over the past few months. Judge if you must (I’ve certainly, and embarrassingly, been on the giving-end of such judgments), but that is often the reality of ill parents. And of course I didn’t always feel great about that reality and how it might be impacting my daughter.

Wow. Media choices are tough aren’t they? Tried as I might to choose shows that didn’t at least give me the gags there were times over the past month or so that I noted how media seemed to influence Felicity’s behavior.

Around this time I read this manifesto, written by Olive Us creator, Ben Blair. He says, “I know that what television programs my children watch is not the only influence on how they behave, and that, as a parent, my behavior is a much more significant influence. And that even allowing my children to watch television programs is a decision with consequences. I accept that responsibility.”


From the limited amount that I know about Ben Blair, he seems to me to be a very deliberate parent. And I love what he is doing with Olive Us. It is a show Felicity absolutely loves, and it’s one I love to watch with her (I include links to our favorite videos below). And it does make me relax a little to know that we’re watching a show created by a parent who is thinking very seriously about how media impacts his own children. There is a level of transparency with Olive Us that I wish were present in all of children’s media.

Wait, don’t go yet! What are some of the harder media-related choices you’ve had to make with your kids? What decision/s did you ultimately come to? 

Here’s a list of some of our favorite Olive Us episodes. Let us know if you like them as much as we do!

Felicity’s favorite videos:
An adorable Red Riding Hood adaptation.

Snoball Cookies.

Hand Cookies with Grandma. (Do you sense a theme here?)

Mom’s favorites:

How to be 2

Betty in Paris

Lemonade Stand

Making Tzatziki