An expansive history, detailing the life of a Midwestern family, that’s best in small doses.

READ REVIEW

WHAT WE LEAVE BEHIND

FOUR GENERATIONS IN CICERO, ILLINOIS (NONE OF THEM KNEW AL CAPONE)

A family scrapbook that paints a vivid image of life in an Illinois town over four generations, using diary entries, photos and letters.

In 2013, when Eisen discovered a diary belonging to her great-grandmother Ellensohn, she set out on a quest to piece together her family’s history. Her debut provides readers with the fruits of her labor, spanning nearly a century of stories, correspondence and memories. Her retrospective of life in Cicero, Illinois, featuring dozens of old photographs, is impressively comprehensive. There are yellowed portraits of great-uncles and great-aunts from the late 1800s, grocery lists dating back to 1927, and ancient recipes for cream puffs that call for ingredients such as ammonia and lard. The author acts largely as a biographer, allowing her family history to unfold mostly without comment—but during particularly amusing stories, she can’t resist adding her two cents: “I warned you about the name recycling,” Eisen jokes, after she introduces yet another family member named Mary. “In fact, my alternate title to this book is, ‘So Many Marys, So Many Johns.’ ” When Eisen can’t provide specific information, she dramatizes events, filling in gaps with imagined diary entries based on stories she’d been told by others. However, the book is extensive enough without these fictionalized sections. Readers will often find it fascinating to be a fly on the wall in the Ellensohn household. However, because the book spans four generations in sometimes tedious chronological order, it also highlights mundane details that aren’t particularly gripping. For example, Eisen’s grandmother’s “chop suey,” made from watered-down soy sauce and celery and eaten during lean years, is worth noting; however, her great-grandmother’s diary entry about setting up a swing set is not. Although the author has undoubtedly created a valuable genealogical resource, casual readers may not find it as compelling as her own family might.

An expansive history, detailing the life of a Midwestern family, that’s best in small doses.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2013

ISBN: 978-1499502718

Page Count: 226

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2014

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Mostly conservative in its stance and choices but common-sensical and current.

HOW TO RAISE A READER

Savvy counsel and starter lists for fretting parents.

New York Times Book Review editor Paul (My Life With Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues, 2017, etc.) and Russo, the children’s book editor for that publication, provide standard-issue but deftly noninvasive strategies for making books and reading integral elements in children’s lives. Some of it is easier said than done, but all is intended to promote “the natural, timeless, time-stopping joys of reading” for pleasure. Mediumwise, print reigns supreme, with mild approval for audio and video books but discouraging words about reading apps and the hazards of children becoming “slaves to the screen.” In a series of chapters keyed to stages of childhood, infancy to the teen years, the authors supplement their advice with short lists of developmentally appropriate titles—by their lights, anyway: Ellen Raskin’s Westing Game on a list for teens?—all kitted out with enticing annotations. The authors enlarge their offerings with thematic lists, from “Books That Made Us Laugh” to “Historical Fiction.” In each set, the authors go for a mix of recent and perennially popular favorites, leaving off mention of publication dates so that hoary classics like Janice May Udry’s A Tree Is Nice seem as fresh as David Wiesner’s Flotsam and Carson Ellis’ Du Iz Tak? and sidestepping controversial titles and themes in the sections for younger and middle-grade readers—with a few exceptions, such as a cautionary note that some grown-ups see “relentless overparenting” in Margaret Wise Brown’s Runaway Bunny. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series doesn’t make the cut except for a passing reference to its “troubling treatment of Indians.” The teen lists tend to be edgier, salted with the provocative likes of Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, and a nod to current demands for more LGBTQ and other #ownvoices books casts at least a glance beyond the mainstream. Yaccarino leads a quartet of illustrators who supplement the occasional book cover thumbnails with vignettes and larger views of children happily absorbed in reading.

Mostly conservative in its stance and choices but common-sensical and current.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5235-0530-2

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Workman

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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Despite Meyer's unusual perspective, this journal contains memorable passages of joy and sorrow for parents and children of...

NO PALTRY THING

MEMOIRS OF A GEEZER DAD

A 70-something reflects on becoming the father of his sixth child at age 59.

Meyer fathered three sons during the Vietnam War era while married to his first wife. A journalism professor at California State University-Long Beach, he entered a second marriage to a student 27 years his junior, fathering two daughters and a son. After much agonizing about balancing career and family, Meyer took early retirement from his teaching to become a parent and a home-based freelance writer. Before his retirement, the first batch of his diary-like entries became a book, 1989's My Summer With Molly: The Journal of a Second Generation Father. After retirement, he became a regular journal-writer, musing about parenting and dozens of related threads. Just as Molly dominated the first collection of entries, son Franz dominates the second collection. At turns doctrinaire, old fuddy-duddy, self-deprecating, melancholy, humorous, even hip, Meyer is a thoughtful guide through daily life. The seemingly oblique title becomes clear in the context of the W.B. Yeats' quotation from which it is derived: "An aged man is but a paltry thing / A tattered coat upon a stick unless / Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing / For every tatter in its mortal dress..." Meyer sounds ageist at times, but throughout, he is determined to fight his own aging and to serve as a good husband and father. Eschewing sentimentality much of the time, Meyer can't help occasionally lapsing into teary-eyed territory. He concludes that "geezer fatherdom" is worth the costs, that "in the end, there is only love, active and remembered, to warm the chill of a cooling universe."

Despite Meyer's unusual perspective, this journal contains memorable passages of joy and sorrow for parents and children of all ages.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2005

ISBN: 0-942273-05-2

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2010

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