Parenting book reviews


Book arms parents to fight the mass marketing war

CONSUMING KIDS: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood, by Susan Linn, New Press, 2004, $24.95.

The only thing Susan Linn, author of Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood, ever manipulates when she’s around children is a puppet. A Harvard psychologist and ventriloquist who’s pioneered puppet therapy for children, Linn is also a producer, an activist and mother who is outraged at a marketing industry that spends $15 billion annually to target children. Her book makes no qualms: She wants a complete ban on marketing to children. 

Some people might smirk at the premise, believing they survived an onslaught of commercialism growing up and so will their kids. But Linn feels that comparing advertising of yesteryear to today’s is “like comparing a BB gun to a smart bomb.”  What’s changed? Advertisers are smarter, using psychological research to exploit children’s “developmental vulnerabilities.” Advertising is more pervasive. Brands are splashed across television (including PBS), the Internet, movies, licensed products, video games and schools. The messages are more explicit and the consequences are more dire. Linn contends that increases in obesity, desensitization to violence, non-marital sex and materialism all have advertising origins. Kids are “getting older younger” and it all adds up to more money for the corporations that prey upon them.

Throughout her vivid and specific examples, Linn persistently questions: “How is this in the best interest of our children?” Can a show created for 1-year-olds (the “Teletubbies”) be in their best interest? How about endless beer commercials that run while families try to watch daytime ballgames? 

Linn offers parents sparse advice on how to shield kids, believing that a parent alone cannot match the wiles of the ad industry. She believes it will take coalitions and legislation, which is crucial because she argues that ads undermine parents’ efforts to impart positive family values, capitalizing on kids’ struggle for control by portraying moms and dads as dolts. Do we really think corporations want kids to stop nagging us for more stuff, since corporate greed is perpetuated by this “nag factor?” Will corporations ever consider abandoning the licensing of products, since doing so is “like printing money?”

No matter where your own beliefs fall, this book will spur strong conversations about whose values—society’s, the media’s or your family’s—you want your kids to adopt. Jill S. Browning Using fiction to illustrate life’s challenges for kids

BOOKS TO GROW WITH: A Guide To Using the Best Children’s Fiction for Everyday Issues and Tough Challenges, by Cheryl Coon, Random House, $17.95.

Often when you want to help your child through a difficult situation, you look for a book to read in which the character is experiencing the same problem. It isn’t always easy to find just the right book. Teachers, bookstore clerks and librarians usually can help. Or you can look in Cheryl Coon’s book.

Coon has put together a thorough resource with more than 500 entries and 100 topics.

When I was working in the library, the most-often-asked-for subject, by parents as well as children, involved the emotions of a family move. It can be very difficult for children to lose their friends. Two suggestions from Coon’s books are Alexander, Who’s Not Going to Move: Do You Hear Me? I Mean It, by Judith Viorst, which tells the story from the point of view of the child who is moving—whether he wants to or not—and Ira Says Goodbye, by Bernard Waber, tells the story from the perspective of the left-behind best friend.

Each entry that Coon gives includes title, author, illustrator, publisher with date, cost, type of illustrations, whether the book is out of print, (be sure to check your library for those, anyway), whether it is available in Spanish, a brief synopsis and recommended ages.

In the indexes you will find a complete list of books by authors and illustrators, by title, multicultural books and those available in Spanish.

As with other books of this type, the most recent published are not included and some that are listed will already be out of print.

Another similar book is A To Zoo: Subject Access to Children’s Picture Books by Carolyn W. Lima. The latest copy available is the sixth edition published in 2001. It lists 23,000 picture books for children ages preschool through second grade. Books are listed by subject, author, title and illustrator. Judy Belanger

Choosing the right toy is more than child’s play

TOY TIPS: A PARENT’S ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO SMART TOY CHOICES, by Marianne M. Szymanski and Ellen Neuborne, 2004, Jossey-Bass, $9.95.

You probably have already had enough television toy commercials for the holiday season. And we still have months to go. Your children may even have their lists ready for the big event. How are you going to make wise purchasing decisions? Szymanski and Neuborne have put together a comprehensive book that can help. They write about types of toys rather than referring to specific names. The exception is the chapter on classic toys and why they have remained popular over the years.

There are 104 different types of toys. Some of these types, and their appropriate age groups, are discussed in depth. Consider that age-old favorite, construction toys. They help build fine motor skills as well as encourage concentration and creativity. Smaller children should start with smaller sets and larger pieces. And, the authors say, when the masterpiece is finished, parents should resist the urge to ask, “What is it?” Instead, say “Tell me all about what you have built.”

Then there are the new-fangled technology toys. Talking bears, walking dolls, remote control vehicles, interactive books and computer games are available for children from an early age. With technology changing so quickly, it can be tough for parents to make appropriate choices. 

The authors suggest parents first decide whether the technology enhances the toy or is just a gimmick that wears off quickly. Is a singing doll better for your child than a duet between parent and child? Does the use of technology add to a child’s learning? Some technology is meant to be shared between a child and parent, some is simply a babysitting substitute.

Whatever toys you choose, the authors repeatedly emphasize that the best toys are those that are age-appropriate and encourage adults and children to play together. Check the author’s Web site,, for regular updates. Judy Belanger



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