Book shelf


A guide that will get single parents on the road again The Single Parent Travel Handbook, by Brenda Elwell, GlobalBrenda Publishing, 2003, $17.95

If you are a single parent who is tired of reading travel books, brochures, Web sites and ads pretending there is no family unit other than mommy, daddy and two happy kids, this book's for you. Had I read this book in 1999 when I took my three boys at ages 5, 8 and 10 to Disney World, I would not have felt so frantic, angry or misunderstood.

Elwell, a single mom of two grown children, and the founder of and the newsletter, truly knows her stuff. Not only has she been a global travel professional for 30 years, but she took her small children to Europe, the Amazon and dozens of other places and lived to tell the tale.

This handbook is a sacred bible for any parent who dares to go beyond the water park resorts featuring chicken fingers and kiddie cocktails into fulfilling, educational, surprising and daring adventures with children of all ages in tow. Her advice goes beyond what to pack and how to design an itinerary. They include tips on how to manage emergencies, conflict between the children and you, as well as more heady advice on using the backdrop of a trip to talk to your kids about major life decisions. From Alaska to Egypt, Elwell has done it all and learned the lessons so you don't have to make the same mistakes.

In a tone that is informative as well as breathtakingly honest, Elwell delivers anecdotes from her family (including the one about her 16-year-old daughter who stayed out until 6 a.m. at a Canadian ski resort) and solid content-from phone numbers to menu suggestions and reminders that some two-hour hiking paths really take four hours with a 5-year-old.

I expected this book to be a robust, though superficial cheerleading session urging me to pack up and go with, “You can do it, yes you can.” I was surprised to see that it offered so much more. The section on “Recommended Destinations and Activities” has me thinking about all the places we can go now that I am equipped with answers to thousands of questions. And when everything we did on our trip last spring to Arizona was precisely what Elwell recommended, I felt I finally found an author who really gets it. Because of this book, I feel the road less traveled by me and my boys is a little safer because Elwell has already been there and done that. Michele Weldon

A father's story on college, football and his son's future RECRUITING CONFIDENTIAL: A Father, a Son, and Big-Time College Football, by David Claerbaut, Taylor Trade, 2003, $24.95

Got a potential blue-chip athlete on your hands? A promising NCAA Division I prospect? A prep all-star? Of course you do, and Recruiting Confidential is the book to help prepare you and your sports phenom for the wicked ride of college recruiting.

The NCAA Division I recruiting process isn't as sleazy and disingenuous as you might think. David Claerbaut, an accomplished author and former college athletic director, offers a sympathetic account of the journey. He witnessed it firsthand when his stepson, James Velissaris, a top-notch high school running back at Northbrook's Glenbrook North High School, was inundated with offers from some of the biggest athletic colleges in the country. Claerbaut spills all the pertinent details of what a high-profile recruit must endure-heartache, joy, agonizing indecision and failure-while being coveted by top schools.

Velissaris rushed for more than 1,400 yards during his senior year at Glenbrook North while also scoring above-average grades, a combination that caused quite a bit of hoopla. His 2001-2002 senior year was spent mainly contemplating where he wanted to continue playing football.

Recruiting letters inviting the duo to events pile up and stepfather and stepson set out to evaluate the intricacies of several football programs and academic standards. Claerbaut doesn't hold back when it comes to giving his opinion of certain schools. He considers the University of Wisconsin's recruiting style too haughty, and the University of Iowa's fluffy courting method is “the only one worth using.”

After visiting the Naval Academy it seems Velissaris has found the perfect fit for both academic and athletic reasons. However, during visits to the school there's a sense he's hiding a deep dark secret. It's not a lingering injury or a bout with depression. Just hours before the private swearing in and oath taking at the academy, Velissaris has objections that have nothing to do with football or academics. The book ends with a surprising twist worthy of a best-selling mystery novel.

Tinctured in with the specifics on college visits, actual recruiting letters, detailed interviews with coaches and a successful high school football season is the story of a burgeoning relationship between stepfather and stepson. Brad Spencer

A great way to help girls get the facts straight Ready, Set, Grow: A What's Happening to My Body? Book for Younger Girls, by Lynda Madaras, illustrations by Linda Davick, Newmarket Press, 2003, $12.

We've hit that certain age in my house-the age at which the questions get harder to answer and more details are demanded. Although we've always been open to answering questions about where babies come from and how they're made, now that we are dealing with the profound physical and emotional changes that accompany puberty, I was feeling in need of a little help. I had been looking for a good book that my 8-year-old daughter and I could read together that would explain all the wonderful changes ahead of her in a way that wouldn't seem too technical or scary-to her or to me. I was thrilled to find Ready, Set, Grow.

This book is part of a series of books by Madaras and is aimed at a slightly younger reader. The What's Happening to My Body? books are aimed at the 10-15 set, young people who need some guidance dealing with the volcanic changes erupting within them. Madaras has written separate books for girls and boys, although there isn't yet a Ready, Set, Grow for boys ages 8 and up.

Madaras, who teaches classes and workshops about puberty in addition to her books, has a warm, inviting, nonjudgmental tone whether she's explaining breast development, the onset of menstruation or masturbation.

Each chapter explains the concept (complete with phonetic spellings and definitions of all the unfamiliar terms) and ends with questions posed by real girls who have attended Madaras' seminars or read her books. My daughter learned just as much from the answers to those sometimes difficult questions (some of which might have made me blush had I not been focused on the book in front of me) as she did from Madaras' gentle explanations.

There are lots of books available to parents who want help with the Big Talk, but I have found few that do it as well as Ready, Set, Grow. Cindy Richards

Kids Eat Chicago

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