The books we love coming out this week include new titles by Melinda Wenner Moyer, Alexander McCall Smith, and Richard Culatta.
How to Raise Kids Who Aren’t Assholes: Science-Based Strategies for Better Parenting from Tots to Teens
Journalist Wenner Moyer debuts with a winning strategy for cultivating kindness in kids and guiding them toward a “happy, successful life” from toddlerhood through adolescence. Parents are facing a “crisis of kindness,” she writes: while a vast majority of parents wish to instill kindness in their children, the same majority thinks most children are disrespectful. As such, Wenner Meyer lays out a science-based approach to instilling empathy, helpfulness, and honesty in kids. She candidly translates psychological frameworks (for example, the theory of mind is “the ability to put oneself in someone else’s shoes and understand their perspective”) and shares plenty of advice that sounds like sheer good sense—she recommends authoritative parenting, for example, which combines nurturing with rules and limits. At the root of things is simple communication: “Sometimes,” she writes, “we really do need to spell the obvious things out to our children.” Blending an upbeat, humorous tone (“If all of this makes you want to throw up your hands and drown yourself in wine, I get it”) with straightforward advice, Wenner Moyer crafts a winning guide for parents who wish to build a “better, fairer, stronger world.” This delightful mix of strategy and humor shouldn’t be missed.
In Smith’s delightful third mystery featuring Malmö, Sweden, police detective Ulf Varg (after 2020’s The Talented Mr. Varg), art historian Anders Kindgren has been plagued for months by a series of “nasty little events,” starting with someone stuffing rotten fish into his car hood air vents. Now the stakes have risen. A painting he recently authenticated has been discovered to be a forgery. Certain that a forgery was substituted for the original after his evaluation, Kindgren wants Ulf, the thoughtful, tolerant head of the Department of Sensitive Crimes, to catch the person trying to besmirch his reputation. The gossamer-thin plot is almost irrelevant. The novel’s pleasures lie in Ulf’s philosophical asides and comments on how to live a good, just life: “It was hard to remain tolerant; it was hard to do the right thing; but we simply had no alternative. Oppression and violence brought sorrow—and more violence.” Smith’s gift is to use crime as a structure for writing about morality and making it such a pleasure to read. This is a refreshing change from the standard Scandinavian noir fare.
Adam and Lisa Murphy render history accessible in this high-octane third volume, following Groundbreaking Women. Adam Murphy, an avatar for the comics creator in square glasses and five o’clock shadow, serves as host for “Corpse Talk, the show that brings the dead famous to life!” One by one, 18 narcissistic royals—among them “Byzantine buttkicker Justinian II,” “Tudor rudeboy Henry VIII,” and “superstar sovereign of South Africa” Shaka Zulu—debate the historical record with the skeptical showrunner. Though the guests hail from varied centuries and continents, all boast about their grandiose deeds in colloquial terms. “Singing emperor” Nero argues with a surprise walk-on—his mother, Agrippina Minor, whom he ordered murdered—and denies Murphy’s accusation that he “fiddled while Rome burned”: “OK, first off, fiddles hadn’t been invented yet.” Vibrant full-color art in dense comic-style panels highlights fine-lined, expressive characters. Between interviews, contextual double spreads, including play-by-play exposition added to the Bayeux Tapestry and a factual study of the guillotine, suggest fresh ways of analyzing museum pieces. Hilarious and horrific by turns, this graphic novel magnificently resurrects outsize personalities, seamlessly interweaving factual material with plentiful laughs.
Culatta (Stuttering Therapy), former head of the Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, examines the promises and perils of the digital world in this stellar survey. It’s time to move beyond strict limits on screen time, he writes, and instead details how children at any age can learn to become responsible digital citizens. To that end, he offers “five practical digital citizenship skills that all kids need to learn: being balanced, informed, inclusive, engaged, and alert.” Culatta suggests parents ensure their children use technology to do more than simply “watch content,” balance recreational time with time spent building skills or maintaining personal connections, and help children to intelligently assess the vast amount of information on the web. Parents are also encouraged to make a list of “do’s,” not “don’ts,” for online time (such as being kind and honest), be more specific than “you’re addicted to your phone” if screen time becomes a problem, and facilitate nonpunishment technology breaks. His advice is easy to implement and leavened with humor: “We also found that without some structure, our well-intentioned Sunday family time quickly turns into fight-with-your-brothers-all-afternoon time (shoot me now).” The result is a trenchant and hopeful guide for parents anxious about the impact of technology on their children’s development.