Archive | book reviews

my book review of French Kids Eat Everything


I’ve wanted to read French Kids Eat Everything since it was first published.  The title seemed so promising and the subject  – encouraging my children to eat well – is a daily occupation in my home.  Finally, I got my hands on a copy and read the book from cover to cover.

It was ok.  Honestly, I think my problem was that I didn’t fall in love with the author.  She came across as too self-conscious, excited one moment about eating well and embracing a food culture and then lazy and unmotivated in the next.

Hmm… maybe she reminded me too much of me?  That could be my problem…

The book chronicles one year in the life of a Franco-Canadian family.  The author – Karen Le Billon – has always wanted to live in her husband’s hometown in coastal France and jumps at the chance to do so for a year.  During their year in France, she is alternately overwhelmed and inspired by the French food culture around her.  She has a hard time stomaching the unfamiliar dishes, as do her two young daughters.

Her older daughter is attending a local school, though, and her parents-in-law are watching the way she feeds and educates her children.  She is under enormous pressure to conform to the food culture around her.  Everyone is telling her how her children should eat and what they should eat.  Everyone is astonished when her children refuse food, throw tantrums at the table, or snack anytime and everywhere.

Meanwhile, Karen’s jaw is slowly dropping as she learns more and more about the way French children eat.  They love to eat.  Food is a delight, an experience, something to be savored.  Eating takes time.  It only occurs at a table, surrounded by others, four times a day: breakfast, lunch, a 4pm gouter (snack), and dinner.   All food should be tasted, and if children don’t like it the first time, they just try it again until they do.  Parents are deeply involved in their children’s food “education,” teaching them from their earliest days that all food is to be enjoyed, savored, and eaten on a schedule.


To Karen, it all seemed to good to be true.  Inspired (as well as pressured), Karen decided to try to overhaul her family’s approach to food and replace it with the French food culture.  Through a year of trial and error, highs and lows, and many hiccups, the author and her family completely changed their approach to vegetables, table manners, snacking, and food appreciation.

Truly, I was amazed.  Through going back to the drawing board, presenting food in new and interesting ways, and transforming her own attitude towards food, the author created a new food culture for her family.  By the end of the year, her daughters fit the description of French children I gave above.

In an interview by a Bon Appetit writer, Karen explains more about the French approach to food education.  I loved this summary: “The French believe that teaching a kid to eat is just as important as, and just as time consuming as, teaching them to read. When you teach a kid to read, you teach the alphabet, then words, sit with them, read with them. The French feel that way about eating. They have a long-term view. They also don’t get frustrated when there are bumps in the road. Some kids take longer to read than others, but they don’t give up and say, “This kid is a picky eater, she just doesn’t like broccoli.” You don’t treat fear of foods as a personality trait, you treat it as a phase.”

My two favorite takeaways from the book are Karen’s 10 French Food Rules and several simple, kid-friendly recipes in the back of the book.  Both of these resources put everything in black and white, making “eating French” seem much more doable.  Though I would rate the quality of writing at 3 stars, I thought these two resources redeemed the book for me.  Here are her 10 Rules:

FrenchKids-Food-Rules-color-no-isbn This list always gives me pause.  Even though we might be doing pretty well on Rule 4, we really need to work on Rules 7 and 8!   I’d like to use some of the recipes in the back of the book – especially her no-crust, 5-minute quiche recipe – to continue to help us enjoy real, fresh, and flavorful food.

Have you read this book?  Do you apply any of the 10 French Food Rules in your home?

12 :: in book reviews

thoughts on excess :: spending

7 book review

This is the final installment of my 3-part book review to evaluate media usage, waste, and spending in my own life.  See Part I : Media and Part II : Waste for the full series!


How many places do you use your credit card?  Jen Hatmaker looked at her family’s bills from a recent month and saw that they had used their credit card in 66 different locations, not counting repeat purchases.

Here on vacation in Virginia today, I was in the car watching strip malls go by out my window.  Chick-Fil-A… Michaels… a grocery store… Starbucks… CVS… a cute plant nursery having a sale on all their plants… a thrift store… Barnes & Noble… Target… one after another these glitzy names appeared on signs, lulling me in to browse, eat, enjoy, and spend.

Suddenly using my credit card in 66 different places in a month didn’t seem that hard to do!

For the month of cutting down spending, Jen decided that her family would only shop in 7 different stores (including gas, groceries, online bills, and for any medical emergencies.)  This chapter was a lot of fun to read, especially as her friends got creative with bringing her food or taking her out for meals.  In lieu of Starbucks and Chipotle, Jen also began to invite people into her own home for coffee dates, meetings over lunch, and family get-togethers.  She said she loved the impact on her friendships and her humility as she opened her home and let her friends see her mess, her real life, and shared what she had with them.

I loved this chapter for two reasons.  The first was that it inspired me to just say no to spending, a habit that Elliott and I have tried to cultivate together.  He’s better at this than me… surprise!  I do enjoy shopping; I love to find a good deal; I love new, pretty things. I have also found that reading magazines like Martha Stewart Living with home decorating suggestions or perusing blogs like Cup of Jo with beautifully curated gift lists only make it harder to say “no” sometimes.

But still, in real life, both Elliott and I do try to spend only after careful consideration.  I repair the holes in his socks before he buys new ones, our children wear almost entirely thrift and second-hand, and my designer jeans are hand-me-downs from my sister-in-law’s roommate.  (Wow, lots of hyphens in that sentence.)  Also, outside of routine purchases, we try to discuss any spending together before we lay down our cash.

The other reason I loved this chapter is because it made me grateful that I live overseas.  Life is simpler in semi-rural Sicily, far away from the cornucopia of retail in the States.  There just aren’t as many places to spend your money.

For example: eating out.  It’s harder to do in Sicily than in Virginia.  In our little town in Sicily, there are no fast food joints (unless you count pastries and gelato, which we sometimes do).  Very few places offer take-out.  Coffee is rarely served “to go”; Italians drink their espressos standing up at the coffee bar.  In our town, only one kind of ethnic food is available.  (Italian, in case you couldn’t guess.)  I find that shopping in another language and with different brands is a deterrent to my spending as well.

Contrast this to visiting the States, where I couldn’t wait to buy and eat Pizza Hut, Chick-Fil-A, Take It Away, and sushi!

Jen found that people offered these reasons when they wanted to spend their money:

  • It’s no big deal.
  • I can afford this.
  • I’ve worked hard for my money, so I can spend it how I want.
  • I want this, back off.
  • I deserve this.
  • Other people spend way more.
  • I still have money in the bank.
  • What’s the big deal?

Do any of these reasons sound familiar to you as you admire at a pair of shoes on sale or consider treating yourself to a milkshake?  (Note: I did both these things in the past few days!  And gave in to both of them, too!  I’m a work in progress here.)

As I look back over my life, I am amazed by how much money has come and gone through my fingers.  From my weekly allowance as a child to my nurse’s salary to our shared income now, a lot of money has been given to me and spent by me.

Where has that money gone?  So much of it has been frittered away rather than thoughtfully stewarded and budgeted towards real needs… both of my own and of others.  After reading this chapter of the book, I am more motivated to keep a careful account of our money, to say “no” to unnecessary or vain spending, to budget for things of quality and beauty that will last, to reevaluate our giving and tithing, and to:

Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,
yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

Luke 12:27


What about you?  Does your family make a habit of saying “no” to spending, or would you like to make this a habit in your life?  Do you live overseas?  Does this make spending less money easier or harder for you?

13 :: in book reviews, Uncategorized

thoughts on excess :: waste

7 book review-waste

[I started this mini-series last week as I reviewed Jen Hatmaker’s new book.  If you’d like to see some ways I am going to try to limit my phone usage for the sake of my family, check out my post about media usage from last week!]

During this month of her project, Jen decided to cut down on her family’s waste in 7 different ways:

  • Gardening
  • Composting
  • Conserving energy and water
  • Recycling (everything, all of it)
  • Driving only one car
  • Shopping thrift and second-hand
  • Buying only local

Several of these are already a part of our life in Sicily.  We recycle almost everything.  We are very careful about conserving energy and water… thanks in part to the enormous cost of electricity in Europe.  About 90% of our kids’ clothes are second-hand; in fact I went to the thrift store earlier today.  We buy almost all of our fruits, vegetables, and eggs locally in Sicily.  And we only drive one car.

Well, actually… more about the car in a minute.

With regards to recycling, my habits have changed a lot since moving to Italy.  Thanks to our town’s strict recycling program, I separate my glass, plastic, paper, metal, organic/biodegradable, and mixed trash.  Two different types of trash go outside my door for pickup every day of the week except Sunday.  For instance, Wednesday is organic/biodegradable trash (it goes out 3 times a week), Thursday is mixed trash and paper, and Friday is glass and plastic.

The system works well.   In fact, I’ve gotten so used to it that it bothers me when trash isn’t separated.  I was at a cooking class recently and watched the instructor dump everything — vegetable peels, a cardboard box, eggshells — into a trash can.  I found myself wanting to jump up and at least get her a separate organic bin.  All that good compost-able waste going to… waste!

Despite these lifestyle habits, I know these good habits can be undone with a single decision.  For instance, Elliott and I have always been a one-car family.  Elliott bought our used Honda Civic in 2008 and it has seen us through dating, engagement, marriage, a deployment, and life in Italy.  And, perhaps most notably, it also survived the traumatic process of me learning how to drive a manual transmission!

However, the times… they are a’changin’.   Looking ahead to this final year in Sicily, we realized that because of friends moving away, Elliott would no longer have a way to carpool home on days that I have the car.  We decided that we had finally come to the point where owning a second car will be less wasteful than sticking with one car: less time wasted, less stress wasted, and maybe even less gas wasted thanks to no more schlepping Elliott back and forth to work if I want the car for the day.

After patiently waiting for the best deal he could find, Elliott finally bought a little Fiat last week.   We have joined the ranks of two-car families.  It feels… great, honestly, for our situation.

To some degree, I think, reducing waste will always be an individual project and a work in progress.  I wonder whether we’ll go back to having one car in the future?  What do you think?  Are you a one-car family?

9 :: in book reviews

5 Ways to Improve My Parenting


I just finished an absolutely fabulous book called NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children.  This NY Times bestseller came out in 2009, so I’m a little behind the times.  Maybe you’ve already read it?  I picked up the book last week and — despite my sister visiting and my two small children — I could hardly put it down.

The book is an entertaining, highly readable review of multiple studies about child development that have not yet trickled down into common knowledge.  I love nerdy non-fiction like this, especially when it’s related to parenting.  (See my two other book reviews about books that have transformed my parenting: Simplicity Parenting and Bringing Up Bebe.)

After reading NurtureShock, I poured over the book for awhile and came up with five things that inspired me the most.  Then I sorted out five goals to help me turn that inspiration into action.  Here are my goals… maybe they’ll inspire you too!

1. I will praise my children for their efforts rather than their achievements.

Studies show that praising children for their achievements and intelligence (“Great job!  You’re SO smart!”) makes them work for the praise and thus become afraid of failing and showing they’re not “smart.”  Put another way, boosting self-esteem has not produced positive results. Inversely, praising children for their effort rewards them for the process instead of the result (“You concentrated on your homework today without getting distracted.  I’m proud of you for working so hard.”).   Thus they are motivated to work harder along the way rather than to be afraid of losing the praise if they fail.

For me, it’s a big mental shift to praise the effort rather than the result.  I’ve been trying, though, and one area is toilet training. Lena has been toilet trained for months but is learning to get herself to the toilet without damp underwear due to some dilly-dallying along the way.  I’ve been making an effort to praise her for going to the toilet quickly and to praise her for trying even when she doesn’t think she needs to go.

2. I will prioritize their sleep their entire childhoods.

Depriving children of the sleep they need has been shown to lead to ADHD, obesity, loss of emotional well-being, and lower IQ.  We work hard now to let Lena and Gil sleep as long as they need to and as much as research says we should, but what about when they are in elementary school and there are sports activities that push back dinnertime, homework, and bedtime?  What about when they are in high school and need more sleep than they did in middle school (surprise suprise!)?

After reading the compelling research in this book, I want to always be hyper vigilant of my children’s sleep needs, not just now as a sleep-deprived young mother.

3. I will talk about race with my children.

Studies show that many parents — white parents especially — think their children don’t notice difference in skin color.  Therefore they choose to take the path of least resistance and basically pretend that race, differences in skin color, and differences in culture don’t exist.  However, studies reviewed in this book show that children do notice differences and pick up on their parents’ response to them. “[Child development researchers] argue that children see racial differences as much as they see the difference between pink and blue–but we tell kids that “pink” means for girls and “blue” is for boys.  “White” and “black” are mysteries we leave them to figure out on their own.”  Conversations about race are often only initiated after a child makes an embarrassing public statement; research shows, however, that the most positive outcomes occur when parents and children talk openly about the differences as their children grow.

After reading this book, I want to read books with my children about skin color, civil rights, and world cultures.  I will aspire to talk frankly and thoughtfully about race.

4. I will nurture self-control and self-directed play in my children.

“[T]he predictive values of self-discipline in many cases are better than those of IQ scores.  In simpler words, being disciplined is more important than being smart.”  The authors used an example of a highly effective preschool and kindergarten program (Tools of the Mind) that encourages children to structure their playtime and uniquely cooperate in their reading, playing, and learning.  This program has had an amazing effect on classrooms by producing calm, well-behaved, self-directed students who score phenomenally better on standardized tests.

The discussion in this chapter reminded me a lot of all the reading I’ve been doing about Montessori education (a couple of blog posts about that coming soon!) and inspired me more than ever to encourage structure, routine, self-discipline in my home for my children.  I’m also inspired to learn more about several complicated educational ideas (like symbolic thought and executive function).

5. I will respond to my children’s speech… even when it’s just babble.

This chapter started with a fascinating discussion of two things we once thought were helpful: baby-targeted media (like Baby Einstein DVDs) that are supposed to boost language comprehension and talking non-stop so that your child hears as many words as possible.  Studies have shown that these methods are sometimes more harmful than helpful.  Instead, new studies have shown that infants’ vocabulary expands most quickly when parents respond either with a caress or with words to child-initiated speech.  An example: when a one-year-old is asking for a spoon, rather than just ignoring the child or continuing an unrelated stream of chatter, a child will most quickly pick up on language when the parent might respond, “Yes, Charlotte, that’s a spoon.”  Even just touching or kissing the child to affirm their attempts at language has also been shown to make remarkable differences in children’s language development.

After reading this, I am more aware of periods in Lena and Gil’s days when they are more vocally interactive.  They are looking for a response from me, whether it’s cooing and smiling back, hugging or kissing them as we babble together, or answering Lena’s new refrain of, “What’s that, Mama?”  I also want to follow their lead, watching what they are interested in and what they are asking about.  I want to be attentive to them and encouraging of their efforts at language.


There’s so much more in this book: why teenagers rebel, why kids lie, why siblings fight, and “why modern involved parenting has failed to produce a generation of angels.”  Have you read this book or heard of some of these studies?  Do any of these changes ring true with you, or have you tried them in your own home?

22 :: in book reviews, motherhood

our 10 favorite board books


In a world of smart phones and flat screens, it often seems impossible that a child will really learn to love books more than the latest Apple product.  As frequent users of screens ourselves (and with two blogs to maintain between us), Elliott and I feel the pull between paper and iPad very keenly.

Here at home we combat it by reading books to Lena and reading our own books in front of her, and then when she is awake our phones are generally out of sight and our laptops are closed.  Therefore, in Lena’s almost-two years of life, we have read a lot of books to her.  We read several stories to her before both her naps and another several stories before bedtime; we keep books mixed in with all her toys; her great-grandmother gave her some bath books; and we keep books in our bag for her to read on the go (car seat, stroller, during church, etc.).  Books books books… !

Today I polled Elliott and we came up with a list of our 10 favorite board books.  These are the ones that Lena asked for over and over again, and these are also the books that we didn’t mind reading over and over ourselves.  There are a few classics and a few obscure ones.  Here’s our list:

Peek-A Who?— A gift from my friend Heather, this is a great first book for a baby.  It’s small enough for little hands and only has about 10 pages.  There’s a cute, rhyming story and lots of bright colors and animals.  See Lena enjoying it at the end of this post.

Where’s Spot?— Lena has loved any lift-the-flap book since she was about 12 months old and could manipulate the flaps with her little fingers.  Spot is a special favorite, but I also recommend Karen Katz’s booksand Dear Zoo.

Goodnight Moon— The lulling rhythm of this children’s classic puts Lena and her parents to sleep!

Rocky Mountain Babies!— Lena’s Aunt Eden bought this for her in Rocky Mountain National Park when we were vacationing there with Elliott’s family in July 2011 (right before I started this blog!).  We’ve read this book to her hundreds of times by now and love the photos of baby animals from the American West.

The Big Red Barn— An unlikely classic, I thought, when I first read the book and looked at the pictures.  It isn’t as instantly aesthetically appealing as many children’s books.  Yet over time this book has become our family’s very favorite.  Perhaps it’s because there is so much to see and discuss on each page.  Perhaps it’s because of all the animal sounds we can make together.  Perhaps it’s because the musical rhythm helps us all nod off by the end of the book.  We love it.

Note: We received it as a boxed setwith Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny, and I highly recommend this set as a gift.

Freight Train— Lena got this Caldecott Medal-winning board book as a party favor because the hostess knew we didn’t want Lena to have candy.  Umm… best party favor ever, I think?!  This conceptual classic, with its bright colors and simple story, quickly became Lena’s new favorite book.

Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?— We love anything by Eric Carlein this house, but Lena seems to prefer this one most of all.  We love roaring like a lion and yelping like a peacock as we read the rollicking story aloud.

Hop on Pop— I find myself quoting this silly book all the time and somehow never tire of reading it.  “Three fish in a tree?  How can that be?”  I also recommend another short board book by Dr. Seuss called Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You?, and in fact Lena has loved any book we own in the Bright and Early Board Books series.

A Swim Through the Sea— This beautiful book was given to us by our friends in California, who first fell in love with it when they discovered it at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  Written and gorgeously illustrated by a 16-year-old, it’s a little-known classic and an unusually beautiful ABC book.

Blue Hat, Green Hat — Lena literally laughs out loud when we read this book to her.  Somehow Sandra Boynton nabs toddler humor with her upbeat rhymes and hilarious animal illustrations.  You can’t go wrong with anything by Boynton, but this one is by far our favorite.

And now it’s your turn!  Did you see any of your favorites on this list?  And which books do remember most fondly from your childhood?  We’re always looking for good suggestions for our home library!

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9 :: in book reviews, family, good reads, Lena

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