Category Archives: Book Reviews

Children’s books on lying

Lying is an issue that every parent comes up against at some time or other. All children experiment with lying (see Why do children lie?). That’s perfectly normal and – although it can be quite shocking for parents – it is seldom the start of a slippery slope to immorality and delinquency. Rather than overreacting or giving a long lecture (both of which might inadvertently encourage more lying), why not reach for some children’s books on lying to make your point in a more accessible way?

Reading stories together can be a wonderful way to prompt discussions about right and wrong and to talk though moral dilemmas. Whether you have a persistent fibber or just want to lay the groundwork for good decision-making, there are lots of good children’s books on lying to choose from. Here is my pick of the best.

Hippo Owns Up

Hippo Owns Up by Sue Graves is a gentle, light touch introduction to the topic that focuses on an issue all young children can relate to – chocolate cake! Hippo’s dilemma revolves around the importance of telling the truth and owning up when you have done something wrong. It’s a great storybook for prompting discussions about right, wrong, consequences and morals using a situation that children may well have found themselves in. Plus the illustrations (by Trevor Dunton) and are really funny! (2-6yrs) Continue reading

The Work/Parent Switch by Anita Cleare

I am delighted to introduce you to my new book The Work/Parent Switch: How to parent smarter not harder which is published by Vermilion. The aim of the book is to empower working parents to build a family life which is low on conflict, high in warmth and good for children’s development. So you can be the parent your child needs, and still do your job. It is the essential parenting book for every working parent who wants to enjoy their family life more, shout a little less and raise happy, successful children.

What is the book about?

Anita Cleare, parenting expert, holding a copy of her book The Work/Parent SwitchMost working parents feel like we are running just to stand still. We want to be good parents. We want to get parenting ‘right’. We do everything we can to smooth our children’s paths and give them a good start in life. But we have limited time, limited energy and too much to do. Something has to give.

This book moves the goalposts. It’s about being a great parent by doing less, rather than always trying to do more. Parenting smarter rather than harder, by understanding what children really need from us. So we can use those bits of time left over when work is done to focus on the right things – connecting with our children and creating a happy family life.

The Work/Parent Switch outlines a totally practical way to parent actual children (not ideal ones!) in real families. It will give you strategies that fit into modern working patterns and which build happiness and well-being for the whole family – without stretching you to breaking point. So you can build a family life in which you and your children can truly thrive. Continue reading

Book Review: The Incredible Teenage Brain

It’s not often that I wholeheartedly recommend a parenting book. I can usually find something I disagree with… Or that I think could have been clearer/included/left out. But, parents of teenagers, this is actually a really good book! The Incredible Teenage Brain by Bettina Hohnen, Jane Gilmour and Tara Murphy is perfectly pitched. It’s an easy-to-read neuroscientific guide to teenagers with practical tips that parents and teachers can take away and apply. Will it make parenting your teenager easy? No. But it might help you understand him/her a little more and see how you can best be supportive.

Clearly, a lot of thought has gone into the physical side of the book – its size, font, spacing etc. The font is large and friendly, there are lots of spaces and subtitles, plus Q&As, illustrations and tables. All of which make it very easy to follow, despite the in depth neuroscience. The text is accessible without dumbing down the issues. Continue reading

The Ultimate Christmas Booklist

As regular readers will know, I review lots of books for children and parents on this blog. Which means I read a lot of books too! So, in my continual efforts to make your busy lives just that little bit easier, I have done all the hard work for you and come up with a Christmas list of the best books to buy for all the children and parents in your life. Think of it as my Christmas gift to you 🙂

For teenage girls

It has to be Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. It’s just brilliant, trust me. And while you’re at it, buy a copy for your sister and best friend too. It’s technically a ‘Young Adult’ book, but it was the best book I’d read all year when I discovered it. (See Best brave novels to inspire your teenage daughter for more suggestions). Continue reading

Book Review: The Board Game Family, by Ellie Dix

If you are looking for a way to tear your kids away from their tablets and consoles in order to have some quality family time, then board games are a great option. But where do you start? And how do you go about engaging your kids in a board game when the lure of computer games is so powerful? The Board Game Family by Ellie Dix has all the answers.

Ellie Dix is clearly a big fan of board games and her enthusiasm is infectious. But she is also a realist. There are no illusions here that your children will skip happily to the kitchen table for a three-hour Sunday afternoon board game just because Mum or Dad thinks it’s a good idea! There a some brilliant stealth tactics for how you can subtly get your kids interested by leaving games lying around (pretend you are having a clear out!). Or by solo playing to tempt their interest. These are ideas that might just work, too. Continue reading

Children’s books about divorce and separation (2-7yrs)

Helping children through divorce and separation isn’t easy and there are no pain-free solutions. Being strong and calm and rational at a time when emotions are running away from you can be a real challenge. Reading children’s books about divorce and separation can really help by introducing new ideas to little ones and normalising new living arrangements.

Snuggling up with a book is a good way to broach the difficult emotions that can come with family changes. It gives children a chance to ask questions and raise issues indirectly using the book’s characters. And it can reinforce key messages about children still being loved and not being at fault despite any big changes.

There are lots of children’s books about divorce and separation out there, so do have a good browse to find ones that will suit your family best. Here are a few of my favourites for children aged 2-7 years. Continue reading

Children’s books that celebrate diversity

Differences really matter to children. Young children have to make sense of the world in a very short space of time. To do that, they use a lot of categorical thinking in which they allocate people or things into groups. This has huge advantages in terms of being able to organise information efficiently in their brains but it can throw up some very direct questions (“What’s wrong with that boy’s hand?“) and some incorrect assumptions (“Amrita’s skin is brown because her mummy stayed out in the sun too long.“) while they try to work through it all.

Children’s books that celebrate diversity in an active and warm way are hugely helpful for An example of children's books that celebrate diversity: Different is Awesometalking to children about diversity issues and for promoting an inclusive mindset. Not only can these messages help children value the people around them, they also send a strong signal about their own personal value as uniquely different individuals, helping to build self-esteem and confidence as well as friendship and emotional skills.

Here are my personal favourite children’s books that celebrate diversity. (If I have left your favourite off the list, please do comment below and share it with us all!). Continue reading

Book Review: He’s Not Lazy (by Adam Price)

If you have a teenage son who is not doing as well as you think he should be at school, you must read He’s Not Lazy: Empowering your son to believe in himself by Adam Price. If you have one, you’ll know the type of boy I mean. The boy who doesn’t bother with homework or just dashes it off at the last minute. Who refuses to take responsibility for his schoolwork unless you trawl through his bag to make sure it gets done. The boy languishing in a lower set than his ability. The ‘could-try-harder’ boy who is too cool, too busy, or too engrossed in his Xbox to put in the hours on his academics.

If this is your son, then this is the book to help you step back, figure out what’s going on, and get yourself off the treadmill that is sustaining his behaviour. Continue reading

Book Review: Little Kids, Big Dilemmas (by Sarah Kuppen)

I had really high hopes when I started Little Kids, Big Dilemmas by Sarah Kuppen. The book’s sub-title is ‘Your Parenting Problems Solved by Science’ and, as you know, countering fads and fashions with solid evidence-based child development understanding and proven parenting strategies is exactly what I do and what I care about. This, I thought, is the book for me.

And, on many levels, the book does exactly what it says on the tin. Sarah Kuppen is a university lecturer in Developmental Psychology. She sticks firmly to her brief, rolling out the evidence on a range of parenting issues, debunking a few myths and addressing common parental questions. There’s a Q&A format to help keep it real and not too theoretical and some of the issues addressed (like toddler tantrums and supporting children’s learning) are near-universal concerns for modern parents. Continue reading

Books for helping children manage friendship problems

Learning how to recognise a good friend (and to be one) is an important part of childhood. All children experience some ups and downs in friendships. Parents can play an important role in helping children manage friendship problems helping children manage friendship problemsby helping them think about why their friends might be behaving in a particular way and discussing what qualities and actions show that someone is a good friend.

Snuggling up with a storybook can be a great way to talk through friendship issues sensitively with young children and introduce new ideas. And for older children, who want to think about issues for themselves, books can be a safe space to work through thoughts, scenarios and emotions. Here are my recommendations for really good books for helping children manage friendship problems.  Continue reading

Book Review: The Mother of All Jobs (by Christine Armstrong)

The Mother of All Jobs: how to have children and a career and stay sane(ish) by Christine Armstrong is either a hotchpotch of a book or a treasure trove, I’m still not sure which. It ranges from social campaigning to baby-planning to marital advice to childcare options with a single thread pulling it all together: how to combine children and a career with some semblance of sanity for all involved.

It’s easy to read and digest, and the breadth of topics kept me interested. Christine Armstrong’s dispassionate and unflinching honesty about the challenges in combining a career and motherhood quickly strips away all illusions about how easy it is to ‘have it all’. I imagine it would be a real wake-up call to anyone planning a baby or heading back to work after maternity leave. If you are struggling to combine work and parenting, this book will reassure you that you are not alone and not at fault. Continue reading

Children’s books about sibling rivalry

Sibling conflict can really spoil family time. Constant bickering or relentless competitiveness can really wear on parents’ nerves. Yes, there are parenting strategies you can use to tackle rivalry between siblings (see Sibling conflict: a survival guide for parents), but sometimes a more subtle approach is useful too. Like snuggling up with story books about sibling rivalry and seeing where the conversation leads you. Using children’s books to tackle sibling rivalry helps children think more deeply and independently about relationships, about how other people feel and how to manage their emotions. Here’s my list of the best children’s books about sibling rivalry.

(These are books for siblings who are already here. If you want to prepare your child for the arrival of a new baby, check out these Books for preparing toddlers for new babies.) Continue reading

Books for boys who dare to be different

Children’s books are jam-packed with gender stereotypes. Boys play football, fight dragons, get into trouble and marry princesses. If you want to offer the boys in your life a slightly wider choice of role models, it’s a good idea to seek out books which go against the grain. Especially if they are feeling a bit of an odd-one-out.

Here’s my selection of brilliant books that offer diverse male role models and emphasise the positives in taking a different route from everyone else.

Continue reading

Best brave novels to inspire your teenage daughter

Have you read any Young Adult fiction recently? Because, seriously, YA fiction is where it’s all happening. Strong characters, gripping plots, imaginative worldscapes – the best YA books are packed with all the juiciest elements of fiction. Perfect for inspiring teenage daughters to take on life at full tilt. Here’s my pick of the best!

(Obviously, all these books can be read by boys too. I just think that these particular books have strong female characters with the kind of bravery and resourcefulness that I would wish for every teenage girl to carry her through to adulthood and beyond.) Continue reading

Storybooks for children about working mums

A client recently asked me to recommend books she could read with her little one about going back to work. But I could only think of one book. I can recommend lots of books for helping children cope with change in general, and lots of books about issues in children’s lives (like starting school and making friends) but I couldn’t think of any storybooks for children about working mums. So I decided to do some research.

It didn’t take long to work out that a) there are not many books out there on this topic and b) that’s probably because it’s a complete minefield. After all, merely the act of writing a storybook about mums going to work presupposes that this is unusual or problematic, that it will cause issues for children that need to be dealt with. There are no books about dads going to work so why should there be storybooks for children about working mums? Mums work, end of story.

Indeed, the one book that does jump out on this topic (My Working Mom by Peter Glassman)has been widely vilified as insulting and offensive. The working mum character in this book is a witch who is either never there or turns up late and generally fails in all her child’s wishes and expectations (though the moral of the story is that her daughter loves her anyway). Do check out the reviews on Amazon if you fancy a bile fest!

But, having said that, the fact that a client had asked me to recommend something suggests that there is a need for storybooks that will prompt conversations with young children about the world of work and why adults go to work. Children are often baffled about what we do all day! And when things aren’t going well, due to separation anxiety or childcare issues for example, it’s easy to turn on the guilt and get trapped into emotional messages. Having a storybook to frame some blame-free conversations might really help sometimes. Continue reading