Category Archives: Books

The enduring appeal of Lyle

The hardcover picture book is yellowed with age. Its corners are ragged and worn. It has survived endless cycles of packing, moving, unpacking — always managing to survive the sorting and purging process that accompanies such transitions.

I don’t remember when I received my copy of The House on East 88th Street. I don’t remember who gave it to me, or why that person chose this particular book. I don’t know if it was a Christmas gift or a birthday gift. It may just be that it was “the” new children’s book that year and someone wanted me to have it.

The story, written by Bernard Waber, was copyrighted in 1962. I would have been 6 years old, and newly enamored of the privilege of owning a book. I proudly printed my first name on the inside cover with a pencil — slow, careful, blocky letters reflecting my earnest desire to get it right.

I loved that book. I’m not sure why. It’s kind of a goofy story about a family that moves into a house in New York City and finds a crocodile in the bathtub of their new home.

I didn’t visit New York City until I was 25. I don’t particularly like crocodiles. Yet the story got under my skin and stayed there.

Earlier this month, I had an opportunity to revisit the story in the company of two young children I borrow from friends when I’m missing little-kid time. The renowned Childsplay professional theater company is performing a holiday version of “Lyle the Crocodile” at Tempe Center for the Arts through Dec. 24.

The characters of Lyle ( Adam Hostler) and Joshua Primm (Colin Ross) made an appearance at "Lyle's Pajama Party," which preceded the Dec 3 production of Childsplay's "Lyle the Crocodile" at Tempe Center for the Arts. The play continues through Dec. 24.

As the curtain rose on a scene of the street outside the recreated brownstone house, my 4-year-old companion cried out, “How did they get that building up there?” His sense of awe continued throughout most of the performance (except for a brief bit of time at the end of Act I when he drifted off to sleep, worn out from “Lyle’s Pajama Party,” which we attended earlier that afternoon). His 5-year-old sister sat on the edge of her seat during both acts, glancing at me periodically to share a wide-eyed smile.

The musical is enchanting, particularly a scene that recreates the ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center. The character of Lyle (played by Adam Hostler) doesn’t utter a word but communicates with great effectiveness through innocent, eager-to-please expressions and “many good tricks” he performs throughout the play. (Juggling, dancing and — most amazing to me — double-rope jump-roping while carrying a crocodile tail!)

It wasn’t until the end of the play that it suddenly occurred to me why I’ve always loved this story. My family moved a lot when I was growing up. Like Joshua Primm in the story, my brothers and I faced many anxious transitions into new cities, new schools, new friendships.

Like Lyle, I chose a strategy of frantic performance to prove my worth in each new community. I wasn’t as talented as he is but I made up for it with hard work, good grades, dutiful behavior and a conscientious attempt to read the landscape and react in ways I hoped would help me gain acceptance.

For today’s generation of children, there is a strong but subtle message in “Lyle the Crocodile” about accepting each others’ differences — and not making judgments until you really know someone. For today’s generation of parents (and grandparents!) there is nostalgia, clever dialog, inspired choreography, uplifting music and the chance to experience the magic of Christmas in New York City.

In our PJs at "Lyle's Pajama Party" earlier this month with my young companions. Photo and accessories provided by Childsplay.

Who is your parenting guru? (part 2)

Following up on yesterday’s post, the remaining five parenting experts recommended by Raising Arizona Kids e-newsletter subscribers:

KEVIN LEHMAN

Kevin Lehman, Ph.D. is an internationally renowned psychologist and New York Times bestselling author of more than 30 books offering techniques, tips and insights on parenting, marriage and relationship issuesMaking Children Mind Without Losing Yours is the one that first comes to my mind when I think about Lehman, the father of five children and a resident of Tucson. His other books explore topics like birth order, childhood memories, single parenting, the importance of dads and even marital sex.

“I have found sound advice, natural-consequence education, responsibility training and humor in reading Dr. Kevin Leman’s work,” a Valley teacher wrote. “His practical approach to child-rearing and even couples work as a unified entity in parenting is superior in my book. All of this work is presented in a straightforward and highly humorous way. He’s engaging and knows exactly what challenges we as parents face on a day-to-day basis. I have yet to see his presentation in person but hope to very soon.”

LAURA MARKHAM

Clinical psychologist Laura Markham, Ph.D.  is the founding editor of the website AhaParenting.com. Her relationship-based parenting model is based on the premise that children who feel connected want to cooperate, that children need guidance — limits with empathy when necessary — but never punishment.

“I follow her daily posts and receive emails,” wrote the mother of a 2-year-old son. “She is brilliant, and every bit of advice she offers is relevant and realistic. Many parenting advice experts are impressive and great but it is practically impossible to follow through on their advice. She actually relates advice to real people who have jobs and busy lives.”

Here’s an appearance Markham did on CNN’s Joy Behar Show, where she responded to questions about scare-tactics discipline:

KIM JOHN PAYNE

Kim John Payne, M.Ed. is the author of the book Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier and More Secure Kids.

Kim John Payne. Photo courtesy of SimplicityParenting.com.

The book blames “too much stuff, too many choices and too little time” for the fact that so many children become anxious, have trouble with friends and school, or are even diagnosed with behavioral problems. Payne has been a school counselor, adult educator, consultant, researcher, educator and a private family counselor for 27 years.

I have to admit that I’d never heard of Kim John Payne until I got this recommendation from a reader who happens to be a trainer for this approach. As someone who feels no small amount of stress from the constant struggle to simplify and prioritize my own time, tasks and overcrowded email queue, this philosophy sounded very appealing to me. As our world gets more complex and technology makes it possible for incredible amounts of information to reach our consciousness, I truly believe that the successful people of the future will be the ones who can quickly assess it, determine what to let in and know what to dismiss as irrelevant noise.

JOSEPH CHILTON PEARCE

Joesph Chilton Pearce‘s  book, Magical Child, was a national bestseller. Pearce focuses on the importance of emotional development, parent-child bonding and imaginative play.

From a 1999 interview with Journal of Family Life: “Children’s emotional experience, how they feel about themselves and the world around them, has a tremendous impact on their growth and development. It’s the foundation on which all learning, memory, health and well-being are based. When that emotional structure is not stable and positive for a child, no other developmental process within them will function fully.”

“Joesph Chilton Pearce is beyond recommendation or discussion,” one Valley educator wrote.

JOHN ROSEMOND

John Rosemond has worked in the field of family psychology since 1971. He has written 14 parenting books and his columns are syndicated in 225 newspapers nationwide. His mission, as described on his website, is “to help America’s parents claim loving leadership of their families.”  His first of four faith-based books, Parenting by The Book, promises that “any parent who so desires can grow children who [are] happy, emotionally-healthy children who honor their parents and their families with good behavior and do their best in school.”

“His books are timeless and he speaks directly to parenting issues with humor and examples,” one reader wrote. “The opportunity to invite a parenting guru such as John Rosemond to speak in the Valley would be an event not to miss,” wrote another.

That brings us to 10. After I’d already decided to limit the list to 10, I got an email yesterday from someone who was wondering if it was too late to suggest another.

“I’m curious to know if anyone suggested Larry Winget, the Paradise Valley author of Your Kids Are Your Fault: A Guide for Raising Responsible, Productive Adults,” she wrote. “I realize his style is significantly different from most ‘gurus’ but he speaks in a down-to-earth practical tone that is refreshing.”

Larry Winget. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

We actually have some experience with Winget, who appeared in our June 2010 magazine. Read Dan Friedman’s interview and listen to the podcast.

I decided not to take some of the remaining suggestions too seriously. I’m not sure I’d consider the Duggar family (from the TLC show, “19 Kids and Counting”) to be the best resource. And then there was this suggestion:

“My first choice would be God or Jesus, and…those two are definitely unavailable for a speaking engagement.”

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Who is your parenting guru? (part 1)

Two weeks ago I posed that question to the 15,000 readers who subscribe to our e-newsletter. It was wonderful to watch my in-box as many thoughtful responses came back.

It all started when Marketing Director MaryAnn Ortiz-Lieb came to me with a unique opportunity. One of her clients has proposed partnering with us to bring a notable parenting expert to the Valley to speak. We wanted to find out who, in an ideal world, that person should be.

As I reviewed the responses, I realized that the list of suggestions is in itself a tremendous resource for parents. So as we take the next steps — contacting these people to determine their availability and fees — I wanted to share our readers’ “Top 10″ list of parenting gurus, in alphabetical order. Five are listed today; five more will come tomorrow.

NAOMI ALDORT

Naomi Aldort is a self-described “parenting guide,” an internationally published writer and public speaker. Her book, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves: Transforming parent-child relationships from reaction and struggle to freedom, power and joy, promotes the idea that children need love and validation, not control and behavior modification. Her perspective is considered “attachment parenting friendly,” according to her website, though she does not use the word directly because of “its multiple and contradictory meanings.”

I watched the following video, where Aldort offers some insightful perspectives when a parent believes “my child doesn’t listen to me.”

JAMES DOBSON

James Dobson, Ph.D. founded Focus on the Family as a non-profit organization, established to strengthen Christian family values. What began with a radio program on a few stations in 1977 has grown to a network of more than 3,000. He gives advice on Christian marriages, families and parenting through the ministry of Family Talk radio.

ADELE FABER AND ELAINE MAZLISH

Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, authors of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will TalkSiblings Without Rivalry and several other books. Their work, based on the philosophis of renowned child psychologist Haim Ginott, Ph.D., suggest ways of communicating that make a profound difference in relationships with children. (Both MaryAnn and I are huge fans of these books, which were widely referenced back when we were both taking parenting classes.)

JIM FAY AND FOSTER CLINE

Jim Fay and Foster W. Cline, M.D. developed the Parenting with Love and Logic approach from 75 years of combined experience working with and raising kids. Like their books, Love and Logic seminars provides simple, practical techniques to help parents have more fun and less stress while raising responsible kids of all ages.

One of our readers, who has children 8 and 10 years old, wrote to share the fact that she is reading the Parenting with Love and Logic book. “It has really changed the way we parent and everyone in the family is more respectful to one another,” she write. “Our children are taking more responsibility and learning from their behaviors. [Fay and Cline] also have a website with an email newsletter that I receive weekly, which reinforces the book and reminds us how to parent. I would definitely go to a seminar led by these authors and I would tell my friends about it.”

Here is a sample from one of Jim Fay’s presentations:

STEVEN HUGHES

Steven J. Hughes, PhD, LP, ABPdN, is an assistant professor of pediatrics and neurology at the University of Minnesota Medical School and maintains a private practice in St. Paul, where he specializes in the assessment of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and other learning and behavioral problems.

A parent himself, he chose Montessori education for his own family and is a frequent guest lecturer at the Montessori Training Center of Minnesota and a Montessori schools around Minnesota and Wisconsin. In his talks, Hughes describes how Maria Montessori’s brain-based approach to education “provides an unparalleled foundation for the development of academic, social, and executive functions critical for advanced problem solving and lifetime success,” according to his website goodatdoingthings.com. A book is coming out soon.

Tomorrow: Five more parenting experts our readers recommend.

Father’s Day and finding my way

Where's Karen? I'm in there to the right of the tall guy in the blue shirt (my son David), in this picture I took reflecting off The Bean In Chicago earlier this month.

My husband was suffering from allergies (or a cold, we weren’t sure which) yesterday, so his Father’s Day was spent quietly. We opted out of our Sunday routine — which typically involves a hike or long bike ride — in favor of lazily lounging around. Dan’s only goal for the day was to make some progress toward finishing the third book in Edmund Morris’s Theodore Roosevelt trilogy.

Both of our sons called in — Andy from Washington, D.C. and David from his new home in Chicago — to enjoy catching up with their dad. All three of the men in my family are extremely knowledgeable about politics and government (which I am not), so I enjoy listening to Dan’s side of the conversation from my perch at the kitchen island, knowing that this is a special bond they share (along with a love of all things sports). My conversations with our sons typically take a different tack. I ask about household/daily life stuff and girlfriends. I share news about extended family members — their grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins.

Quiet Sundays give me a chance to make some small amount of progress toward catching up and getting organized for the week ahead. I spent several hours sifting through emails, writing to-do lists and tending to naggy, small tasks that always seem insurmountable when you’re in the midst of a busy work day. And with no small amount of initial hesitation, I dove back into my Ethiopia notes.

My motivation was an email I received from a mother in New Mexico. She has written a book, Finding Aster, about her own Ethiopia adoption journey. I found out about her because of all the Google alerts I have set up related to international adoption — part of my continued research for the story that began when I first met adoptive parents Brian and Keri deGuzman of Paradise Valley in the spring of 2009 and which, I hope, will find its own book form if I just keep taking small steps to make it happen.

When I found out about Dina McQueen’s book, I subscribed to her related blog. Anyone who writes a blog knows how exciting it is to find out that someone has subscribed to it. Every time I get a message that someone has subscribed to my blog, I click through to find out who that person is. Dina apparently does the same. She found me, found Raising Arizona Kids and wondered, no doubt, about my interest in her adoption story.

She called my office while I was in Chicago helping David settle into his new apartment earlier this month. So she followed up with an email:

When I called your magazine to inquire, I was told about your interest in Ethiopia, which led me to your feature article on your 2010 trip to Ethiopia. Which led me to the remarkable story you wrote about accompanying Brian and Keri to Addis Ababa as they met their two new children. What a beautiful and inspiring story. I was quite moved. Especially as I learned how much some adoptive parents are doing to support their children’s homeland. And how ‘stuck’ I sometimes feel without the resources to do more.

What I can do, however, is share my story and my platform with others who may be able to help me get out there and speak. My mission, basically, is to encourage adoption as a viable and vital way to grow a family. Concern about the environment and women’s health, as well, of course, as the massive issue of parentless children world-wide fuels my passion to keep on connecting with others.

I have ordered a copy of Dina’s book and I look forward to reading it. One of the reviews I read particularly intrigued me. The reviewer said that Finding Aster could truly be called Finding Dina, because of the magnitude of personal growth the author underwent during her journey to become a parent.

With Keri deGuzman as we checked in for our flight to Ethiopia last July. We were both wearing T-shirts promoting Acacia Village, an orphanage the deGuzmans support in Addis Ababa. Photo by Brian deGuzman.

Personal growth — and continued striving for it — is intrinsic to my ongoing connection to the deGuzman family and their continued commitment to the many children who remain orphaned in Ethiopia. It is time to stop hiding behind my fears of being inadequate to the task of telling their evolving story.

Finding Aster may well help me get back to the task of finding myself.

Reading tea leaves

Like many fans of Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time, I was glued to the TV Sunday night watching the “60 Minutes” broadcast reporting allegations that parts of Mortensen’s original memoir never happened.

Like many fans who have followed Mortenson’s story, I didn’t want to believe it was true. Even though it was CBS doing the reporting. Even though CBS interviewed Jon Krakauer, a renowned author whose own works of nonfiction are meticulously researched, who donated money to Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute and who now believes Mortensen made up some of the most dramatic and emotionally engaging scenes described in his first of two books about his experience building schools in desolate areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I’ve read The New York Times take on the story, and NPR‘s. I believe these media entities to be reliable vehicles for information that is presented with integrity, caution and care. And still I don’t want to believe it.

Continue reading

Two kinds of cookies from home

My husband is spending the weekend with our two grown sons, who live in Washington, D.C. His flight was leaving very early on Thursday morning, so I knew it would be a scramble to get out the door. That meant I had to get organized.

I wasn’t going along, but I had my own packing to do. I consider it my sacred duty to provide homemade cookies for “my boys” at every possible (and ever less frequent) opportunity. These particular cookies — a healthier version of the traditional chocolate chip — have a long history in our family. I made them nearly every Sunday night during our sons’ high school years, when their friends would come over to play basketball. When Andy and David were in college, I never visited them without bags of freshly baked cookies. (It won me big points with their roommates and friends.) I also make cookies when my brothers are around. There’s something hardwired in my brain about cookies and boys.

But hardwired doesn’t necessarily mean “top of mind.” And after a busy but enjoyable day at work Wednesday I came home exhausted and out of whack. All I could think about was food, bed and Unbroken, the wonderful work of historical nonfiction by Laura Hillenbrand, which I’m about halfway through.

I awoke Thursday morning at 5:30 (which is “sleeping in” for me). As soon as my feet hit the floor, my spirits sank. I’d  forgotten to bake cookies! Dan wanted to leave the house at 6:30. I had an hour.

I raced through the mixing, the plopping onto pans and the baking. At 6am I had cookies cooling on racks. But they looked … different.  In my haste and uncaffeinated morning stupor I’d forgotten to add an essential ingredient: oatmeal. So, as I heard Dan get in the shower, I pulled out my ingredients and started all over again.

By the time we left the house, there were two kinds of cookies from home packed up and ready to go. Two dozen with oatmeal, two dozen without. But all four packed with a mother’s love.

A celebration at Phoenix Children’s Hospital

Randy Christensen, M.D., autographs a book.

As we approached the table where pediatrician and newly minted author Randy Christensen, M.D. was autographing copies of his book, we joked about being his “groupies.”

The book-signing event in the airy, natural light-filled lobby at the new patient tower at Phoenix Children’s Hospital was the second event in the past three weeks that multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint and I have attended in support of Christensen, his new book (Ask Me Why I Hurt: The Kids Nobody Wants and the Doctor Who Heals Them) and his work with the Crews’n Healthmobile, a collaborative effort between Phoenix Children’s Hospital and UMOM New Day Centers.

Vicki and Randy at a March luncheon where he was the featured speaker.

Groupies? Well, certainly admirers. Vicki, who interviewed Christensen for a story we published in January 2008, has followed his journey with great interest. She even read an advance copy of his book, which is a memoir about his work spearheading medical outreach to homeless teens, and wrote a review that will appear in our upcoming May magazine.

I am looking forward to reading my own copy, which I purchased at the PCH gift shop and which is inscribed, “Thanks so much for your support!” by “Dr. Randy.”

The event, which carried on throughout the day and early evening, was a true celebration. Many of Christensen’s coworkers and medical colleagues from around the community were there. Everyone was beaming. Some were wearing handmade bracelets mimicking the one adorning the book jacket. Teresa Boeger, a child life specialist and director at PCH (with responsibilities encompassing The Emily Center and the gift shop, too),  found a couple of extra bracelets, which she promptly gave to Vicki and me. With the “Ask Me Why I Hurt” message so relevant for the hospital’s young patients, I would expect to see a lot more of these around the hospital in the days and weeks to come. Vicki urged her to market them at the gift shop, with proceeds benefiting the Crews’n Healthmobile.

Michelle Ray, who sought medical help from the Crews'n Healthmobile while living at a UMOM New Day Center, came to offer her support. Michelle, now the mother of a 4-year-old, is studying to be a nurse. Christensen is her child's pediatrician.

Before we left, we took a quick tour of the new Crews’n Healthmobile, a big upgrade over the original vehicle (which Vicki wrote about visiting in her Health Matters blog).

When Vicki first interviewed Randy, he wasn’t necessarily thinking about writing a book. And yet he first talked to Vicki he told her about the young woman who wore a bracelet saying “Ask Me Why I Hurt.” As I listened to the interview again recently, I got chills. The larger purpose behind this man’s life, work — and now, his writing — is plainly clear.

Listen to Vicki’s 2008 podcast.

Randy and Amy Christensen. Amy is also a pediatrician.

The Crews'n Healthmobile and staff. Photo by Vicki Louk Balint.

With Randy at the PCH gift shop. Photo by Vicki Louk Balint.