Book Review: Goodnight, Canada

Once you’ve read Goodnight Moon so many times that the thought of reading it one more time makes you glum, Goodnight Canada is a great book to pick up. Because RJ has a short attention span, hubby and I usually skip the first few pages that have 4-line stanzas of introductory verse and go straight into saying goodnight to all the provinces and territories. The illustrations (which I believe are done by pencil crayon) are fun and have lots of imagery that represent distinctive geographical and cultural features of the provinces.

This is the type of book that can be enjoyed with babies and I imagine it will also be enjoyed by older children as well. If you’ve traveled around Canada a bit you will probably find that this book will make you happily reminisce about your trips.


Book Review: French Kids Eat Everything (And Yours Can Too)

Do you fantasize about moving your entire family to France? I know I do. And Le Billon, a Canadian who married a French man, did just that and then wrote a memoir about it (I just started typing “momoir” which I have just discovered is an actual word that would also describe this book).

This book was a bit of a downer actually. In reality, being a foreigner is France is not always that great (I related to this because I have also spent a year living in France). France is culturally very different than Canada. Do they have a better food culture? Yes. I felt that this was the case before I read this book, and reading it confirmed it for me, while elucidating the methods whereby this food culture is promulgated.

At the end of the book Le Billon talks about her return to Canada and how certain aspects of French food culture were pretty much impossible to continue in Canada. Farmers markets and local produce are harder to come by and more expensive (although the French spend a higher percentage of their income on food than we do: check out this nifty diagram). French schools and workplaces are equipped with cafeterias with high quality food, and it would be unusual (and probably considered antisocial) for people to bring their own food from home and eat alone.

There are some food habits that Le Billon’s family picked up in France that they were able to continue in Canada. Some of these were: making time for sit down meals, making meals feel special (I liked the idea that tablecloths were used regularly and setting the table was part of setting the mood), not snacking in between meals, not feeding “kid’s food” to kids but having the whole family eat the same thing, and not using food as a reward or pacifier.

This book also had some tasty looking recipes. It was an interesting read, and like Bringing up Bebe, Parenting without Borders, and How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm, it is a good reminder that as authoritative as those BabyCenter emails or your mother-in-law sounds, the North American parenting way is not the only, and perhaps not even the best, way to parent your child.


Book Review: Parenting Without Borders

Another book in the cross-cultural parenting practices genre. This was my least favourite one. In any parenting book there is always an agenda: how will reading this book make you a better parent?

In Bringing up Bébé, the message I took from it was that complete self-sacrifice for the sake of your child is unhealthy for both you and the child.

When I read How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm, it started to dawn on me that some of the difficulties and frustrations I have with parenting are not inherent to the process of raising children, but are very much a part of the way my culture deals with raising children. In a way it is both hopeful and depressing because there are many societal influences on raising children that are beyond our control.

Parenting Without Borders seemed to focus a lot of using scientific studies to confirm that other specific parenting practices around the world are superior to those that are used in America. “Superior in what way?” You might ask yourself. Well, the book jacket tells us that this book will offer “research-based insight into which strategies can help us improve our own children’s chances.” By this I think is meant their chances at doing well in the global marketplace.

And this is the point at which every parent should stop and ask themselves: what is my goal in parenting? Do I believe that society is so competitive that I need to focus on doing everything I can to boost my child’s IQ? Or do I believe that (HERE COMES MY CHRISTIAN BIAS) God will provide and the goal of parenting is to encourage my child’s appreciation of life and their integration into the family unit in a happy and harmonious way that doesn’t necessarily prioritize them above the other thinking/feeling members of the family? (Okay we do prioritize RJ above the cat though).

Christine Gross-Loh focuses a lot on Japan in this book because she has spent time living there. She also talks about a few other countries. Unlike in How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm, she provides very little detail about how the concepts in this book have affected her own parenting. The result is a book that replaces that personal memoir quality with descriptions of scientific studies, making it drier and less relatable than Eskimos.

Overall though, this book did have some interesting information in it. One stand-out part for me was its discussion of education in Finland. By international measurements, Finnish students perform much better than American students. They also have shorter schooldays, no homework or grades until grade 11, more recess and teachers all have Master’s degrees and more autonomy over the classroom curriculum.

Although I find the attitude of emulating other cultures so we can be more “successful” a bit suspect, I read this book cover to cover. Would I recommend it to a friend? If you’ve already read Bringing up Bébé and How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm and are still craving something in this genre, then yes, I would. But it’s not as good.

Book Review: How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm

Before I bought this book, I read some of its negative reviews on Amazon. I particularly enjoyed the review titled “Not worth the money if you actually want to learn something”. This reviewer informed me that this book is “laid out as part memoir part light (very light) cultural anthropology.”

Very light cultural anthropology was exactly what I was in the market for, so I ordered the book and I was not disappointed. It was an enjoyable read. It did not contain a bunch of concrete parenting tips (perhaps what the Amazon critic was looking for) but it was pleasant armchair travel and helpful for me to get more of a sense that some of my difficulties with North American-style parenting are not necessarily because I’m a failure, but perhaps because different cultures have different strengths (and weaknesses!) that we can learn from in order to make this whole parenting thing a little more… fun? Smooth? Survivable?

I appreciated that Mei-Ling Hopgood talked about experimenting on her own child with some of these parenting practices, especially hearing about the times when it didn’t go well. Not that I took pleasure in hearing about her struggle, but rather it just made the book very relatable for me.

I would recommend this book to a friend.

Book Review: Bringing up Bébé

Vive la France, a nation of formula-feeding, makeup-wearing, relaxed mommies who sleep through the night, according to Pamela Druckerman, an American expat living in Paris. This book was recommended to me by a mommy friend and it might be the best parenting book I’ve ever read. I got this from the library at the same time I got a book about attachment parenting. Let’s just say I did not finish reading the attachment parenting book, but I devoured this one which is both informative and entertaining.

One of the most striking things about French parenting (the way it is described by Druckerman) is its emphasis on pleasure. At one point in the book when Druckerman consults Pierre Bitoun, a French Pediatrician and breast-feeding advocate, to find out more about his work promoting breast-feeding in a country with high rates of formula feeding, he tells her that

“he’s found that French mothers aren’t generally won over by the health arguments involving IQ points and secretory IgA. What does persuade them to nurse, he says, is the claim that both they and the baby will enjoy it.”

(Druckerman also mentions, by the way, that “even though French children consume enormous amounts of formula, they beat American kids on nearly all measures of health.”)

Reading Bringing up Bébé opened my eyes to how a lot of our North American parenting practices are not the only way to parent. Looking at our extreme self-sacrificing parenting methods through the lens of another culture gave me some much-needed perspective (because the other book I was reading on attachment parenting absolutely terrified me).

This book made some excellent points about finding balance in one’s life as a parent, prioritizing one’s relationship with their spouse and their own personhood. I greatly admire the idea that rather than focusing on RJ’s IQ or her acquisition of skills that will give her a competitive edge in society, we might focus on enjoying life together as a family, cherishing small pleasures and allowing ourselves to live fully in this time without trying to rush her through milestones.

Classical Music for Children

Yesterday at mommy group one of the other ladies who is a music teacher gave a presentation about doing music with your kids. One of the memorable parts of the presentation for me was when she played a few songs from Le Carnaval des Animaux. Some of the songs were familiar but I didn’t realize that they were from an entire musical suite. This work is a good find for anyone like me who wants to introduce their child to some classical music that isn’t Pachelbel’s Canon in D.

French as a Second Language resources for my anglophone baby

I have a few baby-related topics that I obsess about. One is giving RJ early exposure to French. C’est compliqué because neither hubby nor I is a native French speaker. I started learning French more seriously at age 13 in an extended French program at school (where about a third of subjects are taught in French and the rest in English).

Second language researchers will tell you that the sooner a second language is introduced, the easier the acquisition of that language will be. So I try to speak a little bit of French to RJ every day. And I’ve started to take an evening conversational French class to brush up my abilities as much as possible so I don’t wind up teaching her some kind of horrible stilted anglicized version of French (something I worry about).

Most advice about raising bilingual children that I’ve found is geared towards parents who are native speakers of two different languages. In those cases, it is recommended that each parent attempt to speak exclusively to the child in their native tongue.

In our own unique case, I try to get some simple French books from the library and read them on an almost-daily basis to RJ. I have also been putting a lot of effort into learning French nursery rhymes. RJ and I have been enjoying that very much.

This youtube video could keep us going forever. We’ve only learned three songs from it.

I also wanted to play some French radio during her naps, but I’ve found that the daytime music on our local French station is not to my liking. So I ended up purchasing this album by Francine Chantereau on iTunes. I would highly recommend this album because the instrumentation on the tunes is nice (I often find that the settings of recorded children’s music sound like terrible cheap midi files). In addition, it has a half hour at the end of Peter and the Wolf.

Bref, RJ and I both enjoy these little practices. And that joie de vivre is the most important French lesson of all.