Children's books can be a big help to parents, too

August 29, 2004|By Susan Reimer

CHERYL COON THINKS parents should raise their kids by the book.

Not the Good Book. Not Dr. Spock's book. Not T. Berry Brazelton's book or any of the other how-to parenting books that flood the market.

She thinks parents should use children's books to help them raise their children.

When her children were growing up and they had a problem or an issue or they were anxious about some new experience, she would find them a book -- or a story -- in which the main character just happens to be experiencing the same thing.

"I would get these great books for my kids, and I would watch it work," says the Portland, Ore., author and mother of two.

"Yes, they would sometimes roll their eyes because they caught on to me. But even when they knew what I was up to, it still seemed to work."

For example: when her daughter, now 15, was 2 years old and just learning to use the potty, she refused to do so at night.

Coon found a book titled All By Myself, by Anna Grossnickle Hines, in which the main character has the same issue.

By the end of the story, the little girl finds a way to use the bathroom at night.

And so did Coon's daughter.

To help the rest of us find children's books that address children's issues, Coon has compiled Books to Grow With: A Guide to Using the Best Children's Fiction for Everyday Issues and Tough Challenges (Lutra Press, $17.95).

It recommends more than 500 books that address everything from learning to swim to divorce, from comfort objects to chores for children up to about age 10.

"It just so happens that while I was working on this project, one of my children was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes," Coon said. "She is a reader, and I wanted a book for her where diabetes was something in the character's life, but it didn't define her."

She found it in the Baby-Sitters Club series of books. One of the characters, Stacey, is a diabetic.

"It is handled in a way that doesn't call for pity. Just every once in a while it comes up as an issue."

The issues parents can address with books don't have to be tragic or life-threatening.

"It can be something like a loose tooth or an airplane trip or your first sleepover," Coon said.

Books can offer comfort or reassurance that the child is not alone, or specific ideas for problem solving.

And, Coon believes, they are a way to "get past the inadequacy of the language of parenting."

"Your child is hearing you through the book you have selected. You are talking to him, without preaching or lecturing.

"The book can do the talking for you in a way that might be more effective."

Coon is working on a similar compilation for middle school children, who face issues about friendship, bullying, the Internet and a host of other complexities.

At an age when they begin to seriously tune out parents, middle schoolers may find the guidance they need in fiction.

"I have often said, 'Everything I know, I learned from fiction,'" said Coon, and she makes a point any grown-up might understand.

Books can be diverting, even transporting, but they can also teach us things, especially about relationships, by allowing us to watch someone else experience them.

"I haven't reached the conclusion that there is an age group for which this doesn't work," said Coon.

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