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Wednesday, 28 December 2016 16:39

From cradle to grave: books for growth and health

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Visit any bookshop or library and you will find loads of books telling you how to live a better life, how to take care of those around you, how to do everything from fighting drug addiction to getting accepted by the right college, from winning your fortune at the blackjack table to making out your last will and testament.

Many of us seek out such books for specific reasons of health and self-improvement. Experts have written most of these guides, and though lately we as a culture have lost some of the trust we once placed in our experts, we nevertheless require at times others more experienced than ourselves to help and encourage us in times of difficulty and change. 

Let’s look at three such books here.

First up on the starting line is Baby Care Basics (Robert Rose Inc., 2015, 224 pages, $19.95). Written by three pediatricians — Dr. Jeremy Friedman, Dr. Natasha Saunders, and Dr. Norman Saunders — Baby Care Basics is a guide to pregnancy, birth, and the events taking place in the first year of an infant’s life. These three Canadians offer new and expectant parents information in a logical, easy to understand format. Amply illustrated with many sidebars, Baby Care Basics includes tips on hundreds of topics ranging from the sleep patterns of infants to medical emergency procedures like choking.

As a parent and now a grandparent active in the lives of my growing tribe, I was highly impressed by the organization of this book. The Table of Contents and the Index together make finding certain topics an easy task. Chapters like “Caring For Your Sick Baby,” which offers help for new parents on such symptoms as fevers, rashes, oral thrush, and other ailments, also make this book a valuable addition to the library of anyone involved in childcare.

In UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed In Our All-About-Me World (Touchstone, 2016, 262 pages, $25), Michele Borba, a recognized authority on child development, argues for the importance of empathy in the mental and emotional development of children and teenagers. Unlike Baby Care Basics, which is more a reference book, UnSelfie offers parents, educators, and mentors advice on how to instill empathy in children, advice backed up, by the way, with numerous studies and experiments. 

Borba first shows readers how to develop empathy in children, a trait she firmly believes can be taught. She stresses teaching kids the importance of “stepping into other people’s shoes,” the ways in which literature can help them develop a moral imagination, the developmental importance of play and teamwork, and the practice of kindness and how to instill that in children. 

In “Part Three: Living Empathy,” Borba writes of ways children live out the empathy taught them by parents and others. In one vivid example, she tells us about Lucy, a girl who steps to the defense of a young person being bullied. The bullying was part of an experiment done with actors, with middle-schoolers who were not aware of the experiment auditioning for what they thought was a “tween reality show.” Most of the auditioners did not confront the pseudo-bully because they were afraid interference might hurt their chances for winning a part. Lucy, however, “told ‘the bully’ in no uncertain terms to stop, that his behavior was ‘not cool,’ and then she comforted ‘the victim.’ All the while she was calm, courageous, and just plain glorious.”

In addition to discussions of such topics as discipline and the damage done by the overinflated praise of our children, UnSelfie reminds us, as the jacket cover states, that a self-control, a key factor in empathy, “is a better predictor of wealth, health, and happiness than grades or IQ.” 

A fine book loaded with valuable ideas and suggestions.

Finally, we come to Prepare To Defend Yourself …  How To Age Gracefully & Escape With Your Dignity (Texas A&M University Press, 2016, 368 pages, $28). Here physician Matthew Minson, author of Prepare To Defend Yourself … How To Navigate The Health-Care System And Escape With Your Life, takes aim at those of us in what used to be called the “twilight years.” Minson covers a wide array of topics having to do with aging: healthcare, exercise and diet, physical environment, abuse, and sexuality.

The key idea behind Prepare To Defend Yourself is to “make life more bearable — and dare we say it — fun” for those getting on in years. Some of the topics Minson addresses have to do with the population at large, his observations on the dangers of mold in a household, for example, or on diet. More pointedly directed toward older people are his thoughts on such things as Social Security, Medicare, and exercise.

Minson is a storyteller with great wit, qualities that enhance this excellent manual. He uses examples from history and popular culture to help drive home his points, and his loose, breezy style should appeal to a wide group of readers. Like Baby Care Basics, Prepare to Defend Yourself is more a reference tool than a book to read from cover to cover; like UnSelfie, Prepare To Defend Yourself makes heavy use of various studies and findings from academic or government sources. 

Prepare To Defend Yourself is entertaining and at times instructive, but some of the points of the author — his sections on drinking water, for instance, or on climate — seem out of place in such a book. 

(Jeff Minick can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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