How to Choose a Children’s Book, Parts 1 and 2 – Subjective Appeal is Not Optional


It goes without saying that a child’s engagement with good books is important and valuable in the child’s development. Not only can reading good books expand a child’s cognitive abilities, but it can also spur a child’s emotional, moral, and spiritual development. However, a quick visit to one of the big online or brick-and-mortar book retailers is enough to make you realize there are zillions of children’s books. Some of these books are good, but many are not. So, if you are looking to buy a book for a child, you are left with a question: “How do I choose a good children’s book?”

In this article I will present the first two parts of a multi-part article series that I hope can go some way toward answering that question in a general way, such that after reading the series (or part of it) you will be more equipped to choose a children’s book, even if you do not have access to reviews or recommendations. I have chosen to write on this topic in a series of articles since I hope to treat the topic in some depth.

The roadmap for this series is as follows. In the first section of the series I will discuss the factors that make up what I call the subjective appeal of a children’s book. In other words, I will try to explain the considerations that might make a book appealing to the key person we have in mind, namely the child that will engage with the book. Simply put, these are the reasons that the child will like the book. So, for example, in the articles on subjective appeal I will be talking about things like humor and illustration quality. Some of these considerations will be general–i.e., they will apply to all children–and some will be particular to the child you have in mind. In addition to simply listing and explaining these considerations, I will try to emphasize the importance of considering subjective appeal when choosing a children’s book. Indeed, I will take up the topic of the importance of considering subjective appeal in Part 2 of this article, following the introductory Part 1.

After discussing subjective appeal, in the second section of the series I plan to take up the factors relevant to the developmental value of a children’s book. The factors I have in mind here are those that allow a book to contribute to a child’s cognitive, emotional, moral, and even spiritual development. The assumption here is that as an adult choosing a children’s book you have some goals for your young reader that go beyond sheer delight (though this is important, as I will emphasize); presumably you will want the book to educate or spur growth in the child in some way, or at least not to detract from this process. In my lingo, books that educate or spur growth in this way have developmental value. Moreover, you might think of a book with developmental value as possessing certain qualities that you hope your child will one day fully appreciate in a book, such as beautiful language, or creativity. Given this hope, you will want to choose books that exhibit these lofty qualities–even if the child doesn’t fully appreciate them now–so that she can develop a taste for them. As a bonus, some of the considerations that make a book developmentally valuable will also make the book attractive to you as an adult, which will help you want to read it to your child!

In the third section of the series I will discuss pitfalls to avoid when choosing a children’s book, such as books that slide by on marketing alone, and books that set particularly bad examples of adult-child interaction. In the final section of the series I will point out the value of “trusted opinions” in choosing children’s books. I am thinking here of such things as “top-100” children’s book lists and children’s book reviews, where authoritative voices weigh in and help you decide which books to choose.


With that introduction to the article series, I will begin discussing a book’s subjective appeal in more depth, and in particular I will argue for the importance of considering subjective appeal when choosing a book.

So, here is the central–and what I take to be very important–point: choosing a book with subjective appeal is not optional. Rather, it is a crucial, non-negotiable part of the selection. Now, this might go without saying for most of us: of course we aim to choose books that kids will like! However, this is not obvious to everyone. I have in mind here a certain kind of parent or caretaker that tends toward the “all business” approach to child education and development. This kind of adult might tend, at least sometimes, to read a book to a child because it is good for the child, regardless of the fact that the child would rather not be reading it.

I know that adults with this tendency are out there because I sometimes exhibit it myself! For example, my wife and I are trying to help our children learn French from a young age. Part of the way we encourage French language learning is by reading French language children’s books to them, such as a French translation of Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown, called Bonsoir Lune. My kids enjoy this to a certain extent, but they get tired of it pretty quickly, and when they do I sometimes turn into a book nazi, forcing them to attend to a book that they are not enjoying.

However, this kind of practice–where we neglect what is enjoyable to a child–can have disastrous effects. First of all, it tends to erode the child’s desire to be read to. (My children are definitely less inclined to go back to the French language books after an episode like that.) And that fact is, of course, terrible given all the amazing relational and emotional (not to mention cognitive) benefits that derive simply from an adult sitting down and reading a book to a child.

However, as if that were not bad enough, forcing a child to bear with a book they do not like also erodes a child’s desire to read at all. In other words, such a practice may well contribute to turning the child off of reading altogether. Keeping in mind that what we want to cultivate in a child is a love of being read to, and a lifelong love of reading in general, it will be crucial to choose books that a child will enjoy reading, i.e., books with subjective appeal. After all, do you consistently read things you find boring or unappealing?

There is one final caveat to my emphasis on the importance of considering subjective appeal when choosing a children’s book: simply choosing a book that a child will like is also not enough. Why? Because sometimes children like books that are not so good for them (so do adults!). For example, my kids love the Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey, which I do not think serves them well.

The implicit point here is that we, as adults, have certain developmental goals in mind for the children in our lives, so we also need to consider those goals when choosing children’s books (I will say more about what constitutes a book’s developmental value in future articles). So, given a child’s proclivity for certain forms of junky books, and given that we have certain developmental goals in mind for our children, that a book has subjective appeal for a child should not be enough to seal your choice, but it is a crucial start since it encourages a love of reading. Plus it is just plain great to see a child enjoying something!

In the next article in this series I will begin to discuss the particular factors that contribute to a book’s subjective appeal. Specifically, I will take up the topic of the themes of appealing children’s books.

The "Baby Mama Syndrome": Book Review

Robert Doyel is worried about the babies born to single mothers – so worried, in fact, that he’s written a book about the problem. His perspective is an unusual one: He spent 16 years as a Florida judge, mostly in family court, where he was involved in more than 15,000 restraining order cases, as well as thousands of dependency, custody, and paternity cases.

What worries him so much, he says, is that “there is no concerted effort anywhere even to report on the issue, let alone try to do something about it.” His concerns about “the prevalence of unwed births and identifying the problems they cause” led him to write The Baby Mama Syndrome (Lake Cannon Press).

This book is an eye-opener, exploring the problem of these “fragile families” from multiple angles, including the problems of abuse, neglect, and violence. Social workers, teachers, physicians, nurses, and other professionals who deal with these children and their parents will be interested in the sheer size of the problem (1.6 million babies each year) and the demographic data in this book.

Doyel notes that the birthrate for teenagers has been creeping down for several years, but the numbers are still daunting: In 2014, just over a quarter of a million babies were born to girls 19 and under. There were 2771 births to girls under 15, and most of these young mothers were unmarried.

Despite the widespread assumption that most of these single mothers are black, statistics show that unmarried white mothers have the most babies, followed by Hispanics and then blacks.

His thoughtful and well-researched book makes an important contribution to the national discussion about these babies, their mothers, and what happens as the children grow up and – all too-often – repeat the syndrome. Three features of the book are especially impressive.

Case Studies

This book offers many cases studies grouped in patterns: female rivals, fathers married to another woman, mothers married to another man, lesbian couples, and more – to name a few. There are also triangles, rectangles, and serial troublemakers. One chapter deals with a complex pattern that Doyel calls “Baby Mama and Boyfriend vs. Baby Daddy and Husband.”

Reading through the permutations and complications creates a picture of the problem that mere data cannot provide – and also opens a window into the causes. “Baby mamas” threaten and attack rival women who have had multiple babies by the same “baby daddy.” Married women and “baby mamas” battle over a “baby daddy” who has fathered their children.

Readers gradually become familiar with the reasons why these women keep having babies by men who won’t marry or support them: Jealousy, poor impulse control, unrestrained sexuality, and an inability to get a grip on their lives and their futures. The real victims, of course, are their children.

Legal Issues

Doyel’s second contribution to the “baby mama” discussion is his perspective as a judge. Laymen often think it’s easy to make a judgment in cases of violence and abuse: Issue a restraining order. Put him (or her, or everyone involved) in jail.

Writing from years of experience on the bench, he exposes some of the legal complexities a judge must deal with. “As far as the law is concerned,” he writes, “violence between two baby mamas or between two baby daddies is no different from violence between two strangers in a barroom brawl. That needs to change.”

Restraining orders have complexities of their own. According to Doyel, “Too many times when there is mutual aggression, one of the aggressors seeks an injunction and then uses it as a sword, not a shield.”

Mutual restraining orders seem to be called for, but they’re prohibited in Florida (where he served as a judge) because of another potential problem: Judges might be tempted to employ them as a way to avoid having to making a judgment in a complicated domestic violence case. Result: A conundrum for a judge dealing with rival “baby mamas” fighting over the man who fathered their children.

One feature of these “baby mama” hearings is especially poignant: In his experience, Doyel says, the fathers rarely show up for hearings. Staying away from court, he says, keeps the women focused on each other rather than on their baby daddy’s betrayal of both of them.

And then there are petitions, ex parte temporary injunctions, and other legal complexities – and the thinking processes judges use to hand down decisions in these “baby mama” cases. Doyel’s jargon-free explanations of various legal issues make this book especially valuable for professionals who intervene in crises involving “baby mamas” and their children.


The subtitle to Doyel’s book makes it clear that the baby mama syndrome affects everyone: “Unwed Parents, Intimate Partners, Romantic Rivals, and the Rest of Us.” Taxpayers pay medical bills, court costs, and other expenses for baby mamas and their children.

The most important victims, of course, are the children, who may be subjected to neglect, abuse, and violence. Even when there are no physical dangers, many of these children witness violent behavior between the adults who are supposed to serve as their role models.

“Cut off the money” is the battle cry of taxpayers who want single parents to take responsibility for the choices they have made. But two chapters in Doyel’s book argue that the problem is not solved so easily.

In “Generations,” he discusses what happens when children in “fragile families” grow up. “It is well documented,” he says, “that sons of fathers who commit acts of domestic violence are likely to be batterers too.” But the syndrome does not stop there. Studies show that child abuse, neglect, and baby mama rivalries also pass from generation to generation.

In his final chapter, “The Baby Mama Syndrome and the Rest of Us,” Doyel discusses remedies, including prevention, sex education, and contraception. He has promised two more books that will expand upon these topics. Book two will focus on violence, and book three will discuss the fate of the children who grow up in these “fragile families.”

The Baby Mama Syndrome is a readable and thought-provoking book. It will be particularly useful to professionals who deal with these “fragile families.”

Book Review: Rich Dad, Poor Dad

For this review, I discuss another great book on financial education. The first book Robert Kiyosaki wrote, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, presents simple, but powerful lessons on managing personal financial affairs using simple stories and easy to follow concepts.

Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money-That the Poor and the Middle Class Do Not!

This book does the wonderful task of explaining such dry accounting concepts of income statements and balance sheets in a very readable and understandable format. It shows the cash flow patterns of poor people, middle class people and rich people. It also shows how from a strictly financial standpoint that it is the middle class cash flow pattern that is the absolute worst one to have.

But more than the accounting concepts, it discusses that rich people just think differently about money, how to use it, the powers of it and virtues of it. I have long observed that the United States is a country which craves success, but hates successful people. Too often, I have seen people vilified whose only crime is that they worked hard and achieved success and wealth. When I was younger, I, too, shared many of these opinions.

Granted, there are a few people, who act as leeches and make a living sucking the financial marrow out of the lives of others (pay day loan people and many sellers of financial product come to mind), but by and large, most people who have achieved wealth have done so through hard work and being of service to others.

One of the most powerful concepts is the fact that you will only earn so much by working for a paycheck. It is possible to get rich working for others if you start early and manage your cash flow well. However, if you open your own business on the side, the potential for reward is much higher as a business owner. In addition, as an employee, you serve the employer in a designed role. This means that, most likely, the role was not designed specifically for you and consequently, wasn’t designed to take advantage of your unique gifts and talents. It is only when you have the opportunity to craft a role just for you, will you have the best opportunity for success. Finally, when you work for a paycheck instead of profit and you can count on a safe and steady stream of income, you often subconsciously turn off part of your creative centers of your brain. When your financial well-being is tied to generating new ideas, you will be surprised how much more you can dream up and give life to. Unless you are trained to look for opportunities, you will pass them by.

The most vital learning to gain from this book is a realization that the employee mindset is a limiting one. The employee as is largely understood today is a relic from the industrial era and the factory culture. Prior to the industrial era, money was generally earned by farmers and tradespeople buying and selling the fruits of their labor. In effect, everyone was self-employed. In the 1800’s and much of the 1900’s, roles were designed for people to act as cogs in the manufacturing process. Tasks were developed by managers into established procedures and the last thing the managers wanted was for an employee to use their brains to redesign the system or dream up ways to change things. In exchange for doing things exactly the way the managers told you to do them, the employee was paid a wage. The belief in the infallibility of management decision making has thankfully gone away in most workplaces, modern management thinking is moving much more in the employee designed workplace that is paid based on performance and production. But the factory/employee mindset is still alive and well. It is very dangerous to have in economic climate of the 2000’s. To remain competitive in a global economy, you need to be able to leverage the talents and creativity of your people and the employee mindset is a real obstacle businesses need to overcome.

By rejecting the employee mindset and adopting a self-employed mindset (even if you are an employee) you are not only going to distinguish yourself to your employer, you are also going to continue to exercise and grow your creative muscles and your ability to identify and capitalize on opportunities.

Rich Dad, Poor Dad is a great book that brings you several great lessons.

If I have inspired you to pick up Rich Dad, Poor Dad, I encourage you to click on the links in this post or on my page. is not only a great place to learn how to succeed financially, it is also a place that I am constantly leveraging my creativity and skills to bring you value. By clicking on links from here, you help reward me for bringing that value to you.

Beyond The Hole In The Wall: A Book That May Change Everything You Believe About Education

This story begins at the turn of the millennium with the well-known Indian educator Sugata Mitra literally used a pickaxe and shovel to create a hole in a wall separating his office from an area of neighboring slums in New Delhi, installing a networked PC in the gap thus created, facing the computer screen and keyboard toward the exterior alley, and then covering it all up with protective plastic material so that it could function rain or shine.

Then he left it there for the local children to discover and freely explore on their own, unsupervised. Using various technologies along with simple observation from his office, Mitra kept detailed chronicles of the interaction of the children with the computer and the Internet. Where did he get such an idea? I still do not know. But it was a brilliant experiment.

What these children learned from Mitra’s “hole in the wall” experiment was that kids from one of the most desperately poor areas of the world could, without instruction or supervision, quickly learn how a PC works — and much, much more. The children also freely collaborated with each other, exploring the world of high-tech online connectivity with ease. It was the dawning of Mitra’s introduction to self-organized learning, and it would shape the next decade of his research.

Sugata Mitra has written an inspiring though brief non-fiction book with Amazon’s Kindle Single program called Beyond the Hole in the Wall: Discover the Power of Self-Organized Learning with an introduction by Nicholas Negroponte, the chairman emeritus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab and the founder of the One Laptop Per Child association.

It is an important update on Mitra’s groundbreaking work (which many will not realize provided the inspiration for the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire). What I took away from my one-night’s reading of this work (it reads like a wonderfully written Atlantic Monthly or Harper’s piece of several decades ago) was that self-directed learning, meaning learning that occurs without a teacher present, can make kids smarter and more creative in environments that would seem, at first sight, to be utterly not conducive to any kind of learning at all. The fact is that human beings often learn under very difficult conditions. We must, or we don’t survive.

Sugata Mitra is a physicist, cognitive researcher, a gifted teacher and certainly one of the most intelligent and original thinkers the education establishment has produced in the last half century. He is now teaching at the University of Newcastle. At the time of the “hole in the wall” experiment, he was head of NIIT, one of the five biggest e-training institutes in the world.

The expropriate and internalization of the PC and the Internet by thousands of illiterate children, all without any direction or supervision from adults, delivered a body blow to long-held beliefs about what children can and cannot do on their own, along with unanticipated evidence about the high intelligence and capacity of illiterate children to acquire substantial computer skills and other knowledge without the help of teachers.

The experiment became a sensation. The World Bank president and other dignitaries personally made pilgrimages to Delhi to see it. Media hype started to build up. Soon the experiment was replicated in scores of other urban public spaces and villages around India and in a number of other countries like South Africa. They all delivered the same message: children have an uncanny ability and drive to learn to use the computer for learning, with or without the help of teachers.

This kind of learning has since been dubbed by Mitra as Minimally Invasive Education. The immense disparities existing in India’s school system and the magnitude of the challenge of educating the millions of India’s children takes on a less intimidating aspect in light of these new researches.

I highly recommend this long article (I don’t think it’s really a book) to anyone who has the slightest interest in how human beings learn. It was thrilling to see how much cooperation, sharing, discussion, and indeed courage arises spontaneously in places where we least expect it. This could well be one of the most significant books about education to appear in the last two or three generations. It is also a delightfully fun story to spend a night with.

Punished by Rewards – A Review of the Book by Alfie Kohn

There is a whole industry dedicated to the provision of rewards programmes for performance and almost every organisation on this planet in one way or another runs their business on the basis of providing rewards for performance. Lets be clear right here that the reward is something extra, something other than the wage that has been agreed as the going rate for the job.

Without reading “Punished by Rewards” it may be difficult to appreciate Alfie’s point but let me give an example from the book. Alfie tells us one story about a scheme sponsored by Pizza Hut in North America to encourage children to read. He tells us that in order to encourage literacy, children were promised a pizza for every book that they read.

On the surface it sounds perfectly laudable until you examine the detail of what actually happened. These children instead of being encouraged to read, now saw books as obstacles between themselves and a pizza, and that the obstacle had to be surmounted as quickly and with as little effort as possible. Thus instead of finding joy in the act of reading, the books these children read were selected by them on the basis of how thin they were and the size of the typeface so that they could qualify for their free pizzas as quickly as possible.

As Alfie notes, instead of encouraging children to develop an interest in books, this programme produced “fat kids who couldn’t read.” In the first five chapters of this book Alfie Kohn turns our understanding of what is accepted as a basic tenet of our management practice, on its head. He does it with such startling logic that it is impossible not to get it, and although his history is principally in education his experience as a behaviourist means that the lessons he learned in the field of education are as surgically relevant wherever we find one set of people trying to make another set of people work harder. He goes on to show us in a hundred different ways, through stories and example, how what we assumed was a way to get people to perform, actually has the completely opposite effect.

Alfie tells a brilliant story to illustrate the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and the effect one has on the other, in the case of an old gentleman who lived on the route home outside a local school in America. The children had taken it upon themselves to stop outside his house to fire abuse at him, safe in the knowledge that he could not chase them.

But the old man had a plan. One day he called to the children and asked them if they would come back the following day to abuse him again, if he paid them a dollar each. The children were delighted and duly turned up the following day to earn their dollar, and spent the afternoon hurtling more abuse at the man. The man waited until they had finished then apologised because he would only be able to pay them 50 cents for the same thing on the following day. The children agreed that fifty cents would be OK so they returned the following day. Again the old man waited until they had finished then apologised again, tomorrow he would only be able to give them 10 cents each.

At this the children turned up their noses and refused to abuse him any more.

The old man had taken something that these children were clearly enjoying and by rewarding them for doing it, he completely changed the way that they felt about what they were doing until they would not consider doing it unless they were paid. By rewarding them with an Extrinsic Motivator, he had robbed them of their joy, their Intrinsic Motivator. Alfie shows us how managers do this exact same thing to their workforces every time they attempt to influence performance by giving rewards. But still they do it because they know of no other way to influence the performance of their workforces. This is while the world is reeling under the current crisis caused by bankers who were blinded to the long term effects of their financial strategies by their short term pursuit of individual rewards.

If you don’t read this book you will be able to continue giving rewards for performance in the knowledge that what you are doing is improving the performance of your workforce. If you consider reading this book, be prepared to discover that almost all of the things that you ever considered to be good management practice, are not.