9 posts categorized "Sports" Feed

NurtureShock: Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman: Nonfiction Book Review

Book: NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children
Authors: Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman
Pages: 352
Age Range: Adult nonfiction 

NurtureAlthough I was vaguely aware of NurtureShock from mentions in the press, I was inspired to read it by a review at Book Dads. The idea behind the book, written by journalists Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, is that many common strategies for childrearing are backfiring, and that scientific studies do exist to explain why that is. Personally, I'm a sucker for things that seem counter-intuitive, but make sense on closer inspection. And I found this book fascinating.

After a brief introduction, the following ten chapters each tackle a particular aspect of parenting, from coping with kids who tell lies to encouraging multicultural acceptance. All of the chapters discuss scientific research studies, and are extensively referenced. The detailed notes and references are all confined to the end of the book, however, keeping the main text of the book accessible to the casual reader.

The first chapter includes what is probably the best-known claim of the book: that the modern-day practice of constantly praising children for being smart is counter-productive. Bronson and Merryman argue that being praised for being smart takes away kids' intrinsic motivation (why should they work hard when they're smart?) and sets them up for failure when they do run across something that they find difficult. They suggest instead that it's much better to praise kids for working hard, and to offer praise that is specific, rather than general. That way, you help kids to develop the confidence to try increasingly difficult tasks, and give them the skills that they need to develop. I have to say, this just plain makes sense to me.

The other chapters are full of interesting ideas, too. Chapter 2 discusses sleep deprivation in teens, and makes a strong case for shifting high school schedules to run a bit later. The authors also cite research tying sleep deprivation to obesity. Chapter 3 talks about why white parents generally don't talk about race with their children at all, and how that can backfire. There's also research that suggests that in more diverse school environments, kids are actually less likely to form friendships with students of other races (they self-segregate). Chapter 4 investigates the reasons that kids lie, and finds that many of the strategies that parents use to encourage honesty actually encourage kids to become better liars. And so on.

Readers of this blog may be particularly interested in Chapter 10, about language development in infants and toddlers. The authors discuss the reason that so called "baby videos" (like Baby Einstein) were found to actually impair infants' vocabularies (because they tend to show images that are disconnected from the audio track, and babies need the reinforcement of seeing someone's face while words are being formed).

Bronson and Merryman also take on the famous Hart and Risley study, which looked at how many words per hour kids in different families heard, and the resulting language deficit of preschoolers from working class families vs. kids from professional class families. They cite more recent studies that suggest that it's not so much the flow of words circling around a young child that matters, but rather, the responsiveness of parents to the child's early attempts to verbalize. Here's a quote:

"The variable that best explained these gaps (in developmental language milestones, among children who were all from parents with high vocabularies) was how often a mom rapidly responded to her child's vocalizations and explorations. The toddlers of high-responders were a whopping six months ahead of the toddlers of low-responders. They were saying their first words at ten months, and reaching other milestones by fourteen months". (Page 208)

As you can imagine, this isn't a book that all readers are going to be comfortable with. It challenges a lot of widely held ideas, and presents some unpalatable statistics (for instance, that 96% teens lie to their parents). But me, I flagged dozens of passages with post-it flags (turning my copy into a "porcupine book", though I cannot, alas, recall who coined that phrase).

While I found some chapters more interesting than others, I thought that the overall premise of the book was compelling. NurtureShock was a book that I thought about, and wanted to get back to. I was tripped up by awkward phrasing here and there, probably a result of much of the book's content having been originally published as magazine articles, and then re-edited for the book form. But for the most part, I found NurtureShock to be an engaging, enjoyable, and thought-provoking read. I recommend it for parents, or anyone interested in social sciences and child development.

Publisher: Twelve
Publication Date: September 3, 2009
Source of Book: Bought it
Other Blog Reviews: Book Dads, Kari Henley, The Cardinal House (not a review, but lots of excerpts)

© 2010 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).

Manny Ramirez and the Boston Red Sox: Michael Sandler

Book: Manny Ramirez and the Boston Red Sox
Author: Michael Sandler
Pages: 24
Age Range: 7-12
Category: Nonfiction (this post is included in the Nonfiction Monday roundup at Picture Book of the Day)

Manny Ramirez and the Boston Red SoxBackground: I don't review much nonfiction on this blog. This is because I'm a story person - I live and breathe stories, the longer and more complex the better. However, what I've come to realize is that if the true goal of my blog is to help people to grow bookworms, then I need to highlight more nonfiction titles. Because many readers, especially boys, prefer nonfiction. So I was feeling fairly receptive when someone from Bearport Publishing approached me about receiving review titles. Especially when she said that the books were "written and designed for reluctant readers in grades K-8". I checked out Bearport's website and their books did look engaging. And then I saw that their new series, World Series Superstars, features a book about Manny Ramirez from the Boston Red Sox. And I was sold.

NonfictionmondayI was inspired to save this post and publish it on a Monday, as part of the new Nonfiction Mondays championed by Anastasia Suen. You'll be able to find a roundup of nonfiction reviews every Monday at her blog, Picture Book of the Day. I'll be back next week with another Bearport title.

Review: Manny Ramirez and the Boston Red Sox, by Michael Sandler, is a nonfiction picture book aimed at elementary school kids. The book begins with a key moment in the career of slugger Manny Ramirez, as he faces the Cardinals in game three of the 2004 World Series. The author quotes Manny saying: "When I'm going things right, I have no fear". The story then moves back to Manny's childhood, his days playing high school baseball, and his early days playing in the major leagues, before arriving at Fenway Park. Some context is given for the 2004 playoffs and the Red Sox - Yankees rivalry, before the book concludes in triumph and a victory parade.

As a fan, I enjoyed seeing the historical details in this book, like a photo of high-school-aged Manny sliding into second base, though the later facts were well-known to me. I think it's wonderful that the book shows kids how hard Manny worked to make it to his level of success. I also enjoyed the well-chosen pictures, and the brief mentions of some of the other key players from the 2004 team (though the absence of Jason Varitek's name is a sad omission).

As a fan, I would have liked to see more detail in the book, especially for the author to have conveyed to the kids what an epic event that 2004 victory was for all of New England. Then again, I'm not sure if anyone could get that across in a few short pages. Sandler definitely hits on the highlights. I think that kids, whether Red Sox fans or not, will enjoy this title.

Content aside, Manny Ramirez and the Boston Red Sox is a beautiful production. Chock-full of vivid photos, it features several easy-to-read paragraphs on each page spread, as well as information nuggets displayed in text boxes adjacent to the photos. The baseball theme is carried throughout, in even the smallest of details. The text boxes have a scoreboard-like border, and patterned grass in the background. The page numbers are set inside baseballs. Some of the pictures have frames, and are set at unusual angles, like baseball cards dropped on the page. It's a very inviting publication.

One thing that I really liked about this book is that at the end there is a glossary, a bibliography, and an index. The words included in the glossary are bolded in the main text, and include both difficult words and baseball-specific jargon. Pronunciation guides are included. The bibliography and index are short, but they are a wonderful introduction for kids to what it means for something to be nonfiction. When we write nonfiction, we reference where our facts came from. We give people sources of further information. We index what we're doing, so that readers can look up particular facts quickly. Even in this, a book in which the facts are fairly well-known, the author both sets a good example for and shows respect for his audience, by taking the attribution and indexing seriously.

Recommended for early elementary school-age fans of sports, especially baseball, and for Red Sox fans of all ages. This book would make an excellent library purchase.

Publisher: Bearport Publishing
Publication Date: January 2008
Source of Book: A review copy from the publisher

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

The 2007 Red Sox...

...have won the World Series!!!! It's not the same thing emotionally that the 2004 win was (that was epic and life-changing, and a gift to long-gone grandparents). But this one was still an awful lot of fun. Going down three to one against the Indians just made the eventual win that much more satisfying. And after the season that they had, it would have been pretty devastating to see them not win. But they did. Yay!

Did you see Jason Varitek crying in his interview after the game? Did you see the rookies Ellsbury and Pedroia play their hearts out this entire series? Does Jonathan Papelbon rock, or what? (And in more ways than one.) How about those home runs by Mike Lowell and Bobby Kielty? And John Lester... and Josh Beckett .... and Dick-K .... and Curt Schilling ... and the bullpen... Wow! I'm thrilled to see Mike Lowell as the World Series MVP. I hope that's an omen that he's going to stay for next year.

What's really amazing is to look at all of the young players, and think about how all of them are going to do next year! It is a fine time to be a Boston fan, that's for sure. The curse is really dead and gone now, isn't it?


© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

The 2007 Red Sox...

... are in the World Series!!! With Josh Beckett rightly named MVP of the ALCS. We would certainly never have gotten here without him. Jonathan Papelbon rocks, too (both figuratively and literally - he's a crazy man when he celebrates - go here, click the photo gallery for Celebration, and go to the second photo, if you don't believe me).

And how about Dustin Pedroia? Should he be Rookie of the Year, or what?

And Kevin Millar throwing out the first pitch, in his cowboy boots? So fun!

The Patriots are looking pretty good, too... ;-)

It's a fine day to be a New England sports fan.

GO SOX!!!!

Dairy Queen: Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Dairy Queen, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, is not a book that initially called out to me from the shelf. The cover of the hardback edition shows a cow wearing a tiara, which, while interesting, didn't immediately grab my attention. I also knew vaguely that the book was about high school football, which isn't a topic that ordinarily jumps to the top of my "to read" pile. But the reviews kept piling in, all very positive, and I eventually figured out that there must be more to this story than high school football and cows. So I finally read it on a recent trip, and found myself staying up until late into the night, because I simply had to finish it. I'm now completely in love with D.J., the main character, and I have the sequel, The Off Season, next on my "to read" list.

D.J. Schwenk is the third child, and only daughter, of a small-town Wisconsin dairy farmer. The summer she turns sixteen finds her shouldering much of the load of the farm, because her two older brothers are off at football camp, and her father has an injured hip. She doesn't complain much, and struggles to meet the expectations of her demanding father, but inside, she's not happy. She's doing poorly in school, because of the farm work, and had to quit the basketball team, where she was a star. She has a best friend, Amber, but things aren't perfect between them either. And she worries about her younger brother, Curtis, who hardly ever talks.

A family friend, the football coach of the rival high school, sends one of his star players to help out on the Schwenk's farm. Brian Nelson has a great arm, but has been spoiled by his father, and doesn't have much discipline or team spirit. Before she quite knows what's happening, D.J. agrees to train Brian, to help him get ready for the fall season. They have to keep this a secret, because the towns are such strong rivals, and Brian ends up helping out on the farm quite a bit as camouflage for what they're really doing. After a prickly start, Brian and D.J. learn to talk to one another openly, and both grow as a result.

The story is told in D.J.'s first-person voice, which is necessary, because she's so quiet that we could never get to know her in third person. But inside her head, D.J. has a lot to say, and a thoughtful, sometimes sarcastic, voice. Here are a few examples:

"If there ever was a TV show called People Who Are Crazy and Need to Have Their Heads Examined, I'd be the very first guest. They'd put me on one of those couches and a guy with a beard and funny accent would ask me questions, and the audience would ooh and aah as they realized this girl was crazy. What else would explain what I had just done?" (Chapter 8)

"I kept eating, my head down. Mom kept talking, but I didn't say anything else because that's what we Schwenk's do. If there's a problem or something, instead of solving it or anything, we just stop talking. Just like cows." (Chapter 9)

"Amber was pretty good at making fun of people, but Brian -- well, he did make fun of other people, like me not being able to talk or his mom and sunblock, but it wasn't mean. It was just fun. If I had to make a list of the very best qualities someone could have, that would be right at the top. Being nice-fun instead of mean-fun." (Chapter 12)

D.J. does think a lot about football, and about cows, but for the most part she uses them as metaphors to think about larger questions. For instance, she draws analogies between people's rote actions and the day to day existence of cows, wanting to not be like a cow (someone who doesn't make choices) herself. She made me think about my own life, and times when I go through the motion on a day-to-day basis vs. displaying initiative.

Dairy Queen is a romance, in a sense, as we explore the growing friendship between the awkward farm girl and the spoiled quarterback. But that aspect of it never comes close to dominating the real story, which is about the coming of age of a girl in difficult circumstances, trying to find her own voice. I identified with D.J, despite our very different backgrounds and interests. More importantly, I cared about her, and wanted her to be ok. When I finished the book, all I could think about was getting on to the sequel, so I could spend more time with her.

I loved Dairy Queen, and I highly recommend it for upper middle school and high school readers. It's quite clean, except for some references to underage drinking. While I think that boys could enjoy it, given all of the football and training references, the female protagonist might keep them away. But I hope that the football aspects of the story won't keep non-athletic girls away. Because once you give her a chance, D.J. has a lot to offer.

Book: Dairy Queen
Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (Graphia imprint for paperback edition)
Original Publication Date: May 2006
Pages: 288 (paperback edition)
Age Range: 13 and up
Source of Book: A review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Chasing Ray, bookshelves of doom, Bildungsroman, Mrs. F-B's Book Blog, Not Acting My Age, Patriot's Read, Tea Cozy, Sara's Hold Shelf

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

2007 Red Sox Schedule in Outlook

OK, this isn't book related, but I think that it's cool. I just paid $2 to Calendar Updates to download the 2007 Boston Red Sox schedule into my Outlook. I've used this service before, and found them quite reliable. (And no, I don't have any kind of commission arrangement with them - what percentage would I have to get for your $2 purchase to make that worthwhile?)

Each game shows up as an appointment, color-coded in red so that I can easily see them all. Now, the truth is that because there are so many games, they take up a lot of space, and I might have to delete the "less important" games later. But for now, it's fun to see all of the games on my calendar. We have Directv with the MLB Extra Innings package, so that we get nearly all of the games despite being in San Jose (and it's nice because there are very few late games out here). Monday is Opening Day!

Heat: Mike Lupica

I was a bit lukewarm about Mike Lupica's previous children's book, Travel Team. I'm happy that Heat was shortlisted for the Cybils in middle grade fiction (the category I was judging in). Because otherwise I might not have read it, and I LOVED LOVED LOVED Heat. It's about a twelve-year-old boy named Michael Arroyo, who is a baseball pitcher. And he's not just any pitcher. He has "the heat" in his arm that makes great pitchers stand out. His team has a chance to make it to the Little League World Series, in large part because of his pitching ability. Making it to the World Series is critically important for Michael, because it will fulfill a dream of his father's, and his own.

But Michael has problems, too. His mother died when he was younger, and his father has been absent for several months. Recently, some of the adults in the community have begun asking Michael and his older brother Carlos difficult questions. Carlos is working multiple jobs to support them, but if word gets out about their father, the brothers fear that they will be separated, and put into the foster care system.

Things get worse when a rival player accuses Michael of being older than his 12 years, and hence ineligible to play Little League. Michael can't prove his age because his birth certificate was lost when he emigrated from Cuba. And without his father to help, he and Carlos don't know where to turn. As the playoffs begin, Michael finds himself on the sidelines.

The story isn't all gloom and doom, of course. Michael has several things going for him. He has his love of baseball, his loyal best friend Manny, and a grandmotherly neighbor who cooks for him. And he meets a girl, a very special girl named Ellie. With help from his friends, Michael is able to confront his demons. The ending is heart-warming, and may require tissues.

I loved the characters in this book, especially Michael, whose loneliness in the absence of his parents is palpable. His usually empty apartment serves as an image of his solitude, when he's not with Manny. Manny is one of my all-time favorite sidekicks (though some have called him too good to be true). He's completely loyal to Michael, a catcher willing to take second place to his pitcher. Manny's optimism provides a nice counterbalance to Michael's angst. Here's an example:

Michael mumbled his reply on purpose.

"I didn't quite catch that," Manny said.

"I said you're right."

Manny Cabrera, light on his feet as always, more graceful than all the people who called him No Neck knew, danced now on the Bronx street corner, Michael's catcher celebrating as if he'd just scored a touchdown.

Here's another example, after Michael has an experience that turns out expectedly well. Michael thinks:

Maybe that was the way you should go through life, if you really thought about it. Maybe if you didn't expect good things to happen to you, well, when something did, it would seem much bigger and better than it actually was.


In Manny's view of the world, there was always another sundae coming along that needed another cherry, just because Manny believed every single day was going to be the best of his whole life.

Michael tried to remember the last time he had felt that way about stuff.

But he couldn't.

Thank goodness he has Manny! I also enjoyed Michael's romance with Ellie in this book. It's a very PG sort of romance, boy likes girl, girl runs away, girl comes back and torments boy a little bit, etc. Misunderstandings ensue. The way that the two circle around one another, approaching and retreating, feels real to me.

This book is also a love letter to baseball. People who aren't baseball fans might find that some of the play by play scenes describing games are too detailed (though they are skimmable). But if you enjoy baseball at all, then Heat is not to be missed. I haven't researched this, but I suspect that the names of many of the characters in this novel are deliberately chosen because they are the names of baseball players.

Heat touches on several themes, without ever feeling heavy-handed about it. Friendship, sportsmanship, loyalty to one's teammates, what it means to be a family, how hard it is for kids who don't have parents in our society, and the immigrant experience. Cops and social workers are portrayed as wanting to genuinely help kids, as are several other adults in the story. The family bonds between Michael and Carlos are strong.

What more can I say, without giving too much of the story away? This is a book with a lot to offer to any reader. Strong characters, humor, and a well-drawn plot. For baseball fans, it's not to be missed. (Although, I personally think that the book could have been improved by talking more about the Red Sox, and less about the Yankees, but I recognize that as a personal bias.) But the main reason to read it is that Heat is a story with heart.

Book: Heat
Author: Mike Lupica
Publisher: Philomel (Penguin)
Original Publication Date: April 2006
Pages: 220
Age Range: 9-12
Source of Book: Purchased it. This is a Cybils short list title for Middle Grade Fiction.
Other Blog Reviews: Semicolon, Big A little a, Rave Reviews Log. See also a post about Mike Lupica at Book Moot.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Reading and the Red Sox

OK, this is a story that I couldn't resist, because it lies at the intersection of two of my strongest interests: children loving books, and the Boston Red Sox. Publisher's Weekly Children's Bookshelf published a story today called Books in the Ballpark. Here's the opening line: "Yesterday Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Red Sox outfielder Gabe Kapler spoke to children from four Boston area schools at Fenway Park about their love of books." Now, you can be a Kennedy fan or not, it's of no great importance to me. But I LOVE the idea of Gabe Kapler talking to kids about books and reading.

What you have to understand (this may not be obvious if you aren't from New England) is that the Red Sox are superheroes to local kids. Especially the Red Sox who, like Gabe Kapler, played on the 2004 World Series Championship team, and then came back to the team (he left for Japan for a little while, but he's back). Kapler has been out all season with an achilles tendon problem, but should hopefully (per a recent MLB.com story) be back playing at Fenway Park in about a month. His temporary absence from the field in no way diminishes his celebrity in Boston. Little kids walking down the street absolutely know who he is, and look up to him, and want to be more like him. To have Gabe Kapler out there talking to kids about the importance of reading is a truly wonderful thing. It makes me want to jump up and down a little bit.

And it gets better! I learned from the Children's Bookshelf article that Gabe recently launched Gabe's Reading Group at New England Mobile Book Fair in Newton Highlands. Gabe's Reading Group includes a monthly essay contest for kids up to 15 years old "designed to encourage, promote and foster the important values of reading and literacy", with prizes. Prizes will include items autographed by Gabe Kapler, and the First Prize winner at the end of the season will get to have lunch with Gabe. How cool is that? So, if you know any kids 15 and under who are Red Sox fans, be sure to tell them about Gabe's Reading Group. How could they possibly resist?

Thanks for doing this, Gabe! Now I'm really a fan. I think that you could make a lasting and positive difference for kids through this program. And I join the rest of Red Sox nation in wishing you a speedy return to the field.

Johnny Damon Returns to Fenway Park

This post isn't about books (though there are some great books about the Boston Red Sox, especially Fenway Park From a to Z, a Childrens Book By the Red Sox Wives and For the Love of the Red Sox: An A-To-Z Primer for Red Sox Fans of All Ages, both of which all Red Sox fans with small children should own).

No, today's post is about Johnny Damon, the traitor who left the Red Sox to go play for the evil empire, the Yankees, leaving behind many devastated fans. Today, Johnny Damon will  return to Fenway Park in his Yankee's uniform for the first time. I'll be interested to see how the fans greet him. Red Sox fans often remain on perfectly friendly terms with former players (Orlando Cabrerra comes to mind). We understand that baseball is a business, and that people get traded away. But this is a special case. Johnny was a tremendous fan favorite, and he abandoned us over money, to go to the Dark Side.

Mheir and I don't know what to do with our signed Johnny Damon ball (acquired during the 2004 season, after the Red Sox swept the Oakland A's). We remain convinced that our mystical devotion to this ball helped the Red Sox to win the 2004 World Series (you have to be a Red Sox fan to even begin to understand that). We put it in a special case, prominently displayed in our living room. What do we do with it now? I'm not sure of the answer to that, but I'm sure that I'll be watching at 4:00 PST (thank goodness for satellite TV) to see how the fans who are fortunate enough to be at Fenway respond. At least we were able to snatch Doug Mirabelli back from the precipice, and I know that Mirabelli get a tremendous welcome today (especially from Tim Wakefield)!

Anyway, since this is a blog about books, here are some books that Mheir and I have picked up since the 2004 World Series:

Happy Summer!