April Books

Trust Your Children: Voices Against Censorship in Children's Literature by Mark West (1997) is a collection of interviews with children's book authors, publishers and librarians on the subject of censorship. My local library had a display of books on censorship, and the title of this seemed in keeping with my parenting philosophy, so I picked it up. I'm pretty naive about censorship because I don't really see the point of it, so I don't think about it much. This book was a pointed reminder of how some people dislike some ideas so much they don't even want them to be mentioned. Back in the seventies and eighties censorship was largely about sex, but these days (well, when the book was written) more people complain about anti-authoritarian themes, books where the kids best the adults, books where kids question the rules, and even books where kids are portrayed as unhappy.

Judy Blume got more mentions, if I recall correctly, than any other author. I'm not surprised by that, but I am saddened; Judy Blume was a staple of my childhood. I never got The Sex Talk from my mother, but it was fine because between Judy Blume and the other books I read I pretty much knew what to do and what not to do when the time came.

A more subtle issue is that of self-censorship by authors and publishers. Honestly, what's the use of writing something if it's just going to be taken out, or result in your book not being bought by libraries? One of the solutions, and a flawed one to be sure, is to market your teen book as an adult book, which I was surprised to find actually happens. Apparently Judy Blume's first adult book, wasn't.

This is a valuable compendium of perspectives, with lots of history and context. It would be nice to read an updated version of this book - there are lots of references to the Reagan administration in the book, and I would love to know how the Bush and Obama administrations affected censorship of kids' books.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, Ph. D. (2006). Carol Dweck is a social psychologist who specialises in motivation, personality and development. Her mindset theory is hot in democratic parenting circles, and it deals a death blow to the idea that you have to constantly praise your children for any and all achievements. I was very glad to hear this behaviour has been discredited because I hate hearing parents constantly chirp, "good sharing!", "good swinging!", "good falling down!". (Unfortunately, most people don't seem to have heard that praising sucks, but I'm trying to spread the word.) As you might guess, Alfie Kohn refers to Dweck's work in his Punished by Rewards, so I thought I might as well read this book to get the full story straight from the horse's mouth.

Dweck's argument is that everyone walks around with one of two mindsets: the fixed mindset wherein you believe that everyone is born with a fixed set of talents and abilities which will remain constant for life, and the growth mindset wherein you believe that those talents you are born with are just the beginning; everything you do can be improved by study and practice. If you have a fixed mindset, you believe that you are what you are, and so your main motivation is to prove that what you are is fabulous. If you have a growth mindset you believe that you can always get better, so you don't have to prove anything, you just have to figure out what needs work and get on with it. Or not: it's your life!

The book discusses how mindset applies in business, in sports, in romance, and in parenting. It's nicely written for a non-scientific audience, leavened by plenty of anecdotes, some of which are about Carol Dweck's own journey from fixed mindset to growth mindset. The book also offered some concrete advice on how to change your own mindset, and how to help your children grow up with a growth mindset.

I think understanding the two mindsets is important to anyone who wants to understand their own mind and motivation, and reading this book is probably the best and most direct way to learn about them. You could probably safely skip the chapters on business or sports or parenting if they don't apply to you.

new day revolution by Sam Davidson and Stephen Moseley (2007) is a book about how easy it is to make the world better, written, I assume, to convince those who might otherwise not bother to lift a finger to help out. And lifting a finger is about as much as this book asks: it proposes such strenuous tasks as "call someone you haven't spoken to lately", "learn your barista's name", or "watch a documentary instead of a blockbuster". They have a laudatory profile of a woman who gave up the use of her car... for one whole day. This book sets the bar so low that I'm fairly sure that anyone who would be interested in it would already have done the calibre of world-improvement activities they suggest. If you need the advice in this book, you wouldn't bother to pick it up.

Also there was a spelling mistake on the second page. Pff.

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