Here are some cool books that we own that you might like to own (or loan) too.
You Choose by Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart. Really cool because you don't have to read much! Great pictures to discuss, wonder about, imagine about, create little narratives about - you choose.
More and More Rabbits by Nicholas Allan. Very funny, but really nice. I love how "they loved each and every one" of their babies, whether planned or unplanned! And I love what happens after Mr and Mrs Tail grow lonely after the children grow up and go away.
Anything by Lynley Dodd. Surely New Zealand's pre-eminent poet.
Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek. Its genius is in its simplicity. Engaging - and Orla can read it to me already!!!
Zaza's Baby Brother by Lucy Cousins (who also does Maisy). What distinguishes this book from all the other "new baby arrives" books is its illustrations. I love how the Granny zebra has grey stripes! And with just one line under the eye, Lucy makes the mother zebra look realistically post-natal.
Traction Man is Here and Biscuit Bear by Mini Grey. Inventive, original and great art work. It's the details in the pictures that I love. In Biscuit Bear, a blindfolded biscuit stands facing certain doom while others flee shrieking, its body language saying "what? what's the big deal?". I don't have Traction Man in front of me, but my favourite is the bit where it reads (and I might have remembered the exact wording incorrectly) "Oh how lovely! An all-in-one knitted green romper suit and matching bonnet!". And the look of horror on the sister's face as she unwraps the pink socks with bows is priceless!
Which New Zealand Spider by Andrew Crowe. There's a whole series of these books - we own the spider one but would love to own any of them. A fantastic resource for curious people of any age.
The Baby's Catalogue by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. Full of things of much interest to babies, and things for bigger kids to spot. My favourite page is the one on accidents. Another priceless look on big sister's face as the wet patch left on her lap by little sister is revealed. (Actually the look on the baby's face is probably better!). And the keys being casually dangled over the drain by the toddler.... The final illustration, after all the babies have gone to bed, is of a father with shadows under his eyes walking up and down in his pyjamas, small daughter flailing in his arms.
Orange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett. Another book that charms with its simplicity. Young children learn the words by heart and love to repeat it - older children realise they know it and they really, truly can read the words too.
I finally got around to reading Raising Boys by Steve Biddulph. I’d been interested in this book for a while, partly because it is quite well known, partly because I, well, have boys, and partly because of an intriguing snippet I remember reading some place, some time ago.
That snippet was something like:
"There is actually very little evidence for the surge in testosterone that many believe occurs in four year old boys, but which has been popularized by the writings of Steve Biddulph".
I tucked that away in my memory banks thinking that I must read some more about that sometime.
I kept hearing about this 4 year old testosterone thing. It always seemed to be either anecdote ("Oh yes, boy did I notice that! He is so ready for school!) or in a book that would reference.....Steve Biddulph.
Finally last week I came to the bit about 4 year old testosterone levels in Raising Boys and....no references! (Very little is referenced in the book - it's written in a non-sciency accessible way).
There was one mention of testosterone that was referenced. It said that at birth testosterone = 250 mg/ml, and from 5-10 years old levels are as low as 30 mg/ml. At 15 they reach the full adult level of 600 mg/ml. (This is attributed to the esteemed scientific publication Esquire magazine). In the text (unreferenced), he says that a few months after birth it's about one fifth of birth levels (say 50 mg/ml) and doubles at four (say 100 mg/ml).
Google was not my friend - all roads led to Steve Biddulph, irrelevant material or people chatting on internet forums (anecdotes, sometimes referenced to…..Steve Biddulph).
So, to prove that testostorone increases at 4 in boys and that this has the described behavioural effect, you would have to know that the blood levels for testosterone quoted above are reliable, that individual variance isn't huge, and that the increase in four year olds is sufficient to have an effect ("doubling" sounds massive, but if it's coming off a low base, it might not be that big a deal). You would also have to factor in receptiveness to testosterone. And you need to link the hormone to behavioural change (there's lots of evidence that testosterone affects behaviour, but are 5 - 10 year old boys really less "testosteroned" in their behaviour than 4 year olds? Are they just more mature? And again, this would need to be verified by something other than anecdote). And you would also need to prove that what is happening (if anything) in 4 year old boys was significantly different from what (if anything) was happening in girls of the same age.
I posted all this on an internet forum to see if anyone knew of any verifiable references. Nothing concrete yet….
So this is the first criticism I have of this book. It makes heaps and heaps of claims, but has very little to back them up. There are limited notes at the back, but some of the references are newspaper or magazine articles (which are not primary sources). Not good enough I’m afraid – if you are going to write a book about something, I need to see that you have gone to the original source.
Interesting, these claims seem to have strong cultural resonance. They are the things that people keep repeating to each other at coffee groups, or as they watch their boys at a playground. However, repeating things many times over doesn’t make them true.
There are a couple of minor errors that, while not fatal, make me wonder about how reliable his facts are in general. He talks about “Claude Van Damme”. (Jean-Claude, Steve. Jean-Claude). And he quotes that African saying…’Women hold up half the sky’”. Yes, that would be from that famous African Mao Tse-tung.
Sometimes there are alternative explanations for things he puts forward as being all about gender. One mother writes about how she treated her son differently from her daughter with respect to housework expectations. Maybe it was a male/female thing. Maybe it was a birth order thing – change of parenting style over time, different expectations for the “baby” of the household. Maybe it was something else altogether.
In another example, Steve recommends single sex English classes. He does this on the basis of one experiment at one high school, where they got better results after segregation. (Umm, yeees, but they also had smaller class sizes in the experimental groups, an adjusted curriculum, and special writing and reading support for the boys. But the results were just a result of the gender separation, not any of these other factors? Hard to believe. And were the results resilient over time, once the teachers had done this for a year or two or six and the newness and shine had gone off? Could smaller class sizes, an adjusted curriculum and special writing and reading support have been as effective in a co-ed environment? )
I’m not saying Steve is necessarily wrong – just that I would like to know a bit more about the source information. He says in the foreword to my edition that “…it is based on state of the art research as well as long lost common sense”. So why not tell us what this research is? And I’m suspicious of non-referenced “common sense”, which is often shorthand for ingrained prejudice. I’m reminded of this from Kohn which I quoted in a blog post earlier this year:
There is a time to admire the grace and persuasive power of an influential idea, and there is a time to fear its hold over us. The time to worry is when the idea is so widely shared that we no longer even notice it, when it is so deeply rooted that it feels to us like plain common sense. At the point when objections are not answered anymore because they are no longer even raised, we are not in control: we do not have the idea; it has us.
Neither could I relate to the way that women apparently feel about their male offspring. Perhaps this is how Shaaron Biddulph feels (she is credited with co-authoring that particular chapter), but please, don’t project onto me!
Steve Biddulph also appears to make a key mistake (which is interesting because it is so ironic). Most of the book talks about boys being “different from”, “more than”, “less likely to” etc. The default which he is measuring them against appears to be…girls. So he is defining girls as the norm while simultaneously telling us to value our boys for who they are. This is curious.
(As an aside, a standard part of many feminist theories is that in patriarchal society, it is the male that is the “norm”, the subject, and the female that is juxtaposed as the object – the other. You see this in little ways, from sexist language, to things being described and viewed as male unless otherwise indicated. Think of a smiley face – male, right? Unless it has a bow on its head or lipsticked lips).
And yet – one little paragraph on pages 60 and 61 tells us to beware of sexism. I quote: “To say that ‘boys are different’ can very easily turn into an excuse for saying ‘they are defective’, or worse still, ’they can’t help it’ “ . He then asks us to take the following points on board “very seriously”:
- the differences are slight for most people; - they are only tendencies; - they don’t apply to every individual; and - most important of all, we don’t have to accept them as limitations”.
So why does every other paragraph in this book seem to forget about this? Is it a case of when making writing “accessible” actually dumbing it down?
We need to know about our boys and our girls, to understand them better, to create empathy and to enable us to have rich relationships with them, now and as they grow. But does stuff like how one human population’s brain differs from another human population’s brain in isolation assist us in building relationships with individuals? Or can it hinder it by unintentionally encouraging us to fall into stereotypes and sloppy thinking? The answer may lie in ensuring that we have a solid base of facts and a clear understanding about the predictive value of those facts in each case.
(For the avoidance of doubt, I’m not arguing for not researching these differences or hiding them).
It is such a pity, as about 50% of this book is very good (whether or not I agree with it). Steve Biddulph has interesting things to say, and is passionately on the side of healthy families and ensuring every child is loved and nurtured. Maybe it is just dated, but this book needs a total rewrite before I would recommend it to anyone. And please, please – references and fact checks!
Orla is interested in how things are positioned with respect to one another. She likes to stand on something tall and sing "I King Castle! You dirty castle!" (that's not a typo!). At the pool she carefully stacked flutter boards on top of one another. At home she takes pleasure and satisfaction in constructing towers.