There’s no one way to successfully parent (if only there were—this whole parenting thing would be so much easier!). While the best advice is probably to follow your instincts and cut yourself a break when you make a mistake, these new books offer fresh, sometimes funny insight into the world’s hardest job.

I’m not going to lie—I fully expected to dislike The Brainy Bunch. Kip and Mona Lisa Harding have gotten a lot of media attention for homeschooling their children and getting six of their 10 kids into college by the age of 12. What’s the rush? I wondered indignantly. Why can’t you let your kids be kids?

But the Hardings’ story is very much one of putting love and family first. They are not pushing their children to overachieve—they are helping them find their own unique potential. The book is filled with useful tips, sample schedules and fun projects—and even sections written by some of the children themselves. (Chapters also start with Bible verses, so if that’s not your thing, this may not be the book for you.)

“Our children were not joining fraternities and sororities or going to the weekend parties,” they write. “Instead, they were actually spending more time with our family than if they had been attending a public high school. Our kids actually get to experience more of their childhood because they have more freedom in their education and lives.”

In How Not to Calm a Child on a Plane, TV writer Johanna Stein offers a deliciously funny reminder that parenting doesn’t have to be so serious. To wit: When her child was born, Stein took the placenta home from the hospital in order to play a joke on her best friend. That story alone is worth the price of the book.

Chapter 17, written in all caps, enumerates the many ways her preschooler has insulted her. Favorites include, “Mommy, your tummy looks like a bagel” and “Clara and I were playing in your underpants. They fit both of us at the same time, ha ha!”

Stein is definitely not trying to replicate What to Expect When You’re Expecting. If anything, she is the anti-parenting guide, subtly using funny anecdotes to demonstrate that we can have fun with childrearing. She might not bestow nursing tips or ideas for planning the perfect playdate, but she will make you laugh—a lot—about the sweetness, messiness and absurdity of parenting.

La Leche League International’s newest book on how to breastfeed and still get some shut-eye is chock-full of advice and information. Maybe too chock-full? At more than 500 pages, one could argue that Sweet Sleep might be a little overwhelming for a sleep-deprived new parent. But the editors smartly break the information into digestible bits organized by topics and age ranges. And for any parent desperate for an uninterrupted few hours of sleep, the advice is worth the read.

Sweet Sleep includes extensive information on creating a safe sleep space, helping children learn to sleep on their own and defusing criticism of your family’s choices. La Leche League sometimes is (undeservedly) portrayed as an extremist group, but this book is nothing but supportive of whatever your choices are about nursing and sleeping.

Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age
, by former Mediabistro editor Jason Boog, is a book that couldn’t have been written even five years ago. Used to be, you grabbed a copy of Pat the Bunny and maybe a Dr. Seuss, and you were good to go for several years.

But new research and technology have made the seemingly simple topic of reading with your child much more complicated. Who hasn’t watched a toddler master an iPad faster than her parents? How can a print book ever compete with the newest Disney app?

But we now know just how important reading from birth is—it can help build vocabulary and strengthen adult-child bonds. Boog offers straightforward advice—based on his research and conversations with experts, and on his own parenting experience—about how to make the most of time spent reading with your child. Sing, ask questions, use the book to springboard to conversations about bigger issues. Boog shows you how in this fascinating and user-friendly guide to helping develop a lifelong reader.

Keep Calm and Parent On, by child development specialist Emma Jenner, is a no-nonsense guidebook for even the most unsure parents among us. Her message, delivered in a brisk, British, stiff-upper-lip manner, is that saying no to your kids doesn’t mean you don’t love them. In fact, it might be just what they need to hear.

“You do not have to cater to your children and be an on-demand cook,” Jenner writes in a chapter called—of course—A Tale of Porridge and Pudding. “Your family kitchen is not a restaurant, so don’t let your children treat it like one!”

Jenner has appeared on TLC’s “Take Home Nanny,” and her years of experience are apparent on every page of this wonderfully practical tome. Like a British nanny, Keep Calm and Parent On is gentle but firm, a reminder to this generation of parents that we really are in charge of our children, not the other way around. With Jenner’s advice in your pocket, you will feel equipped to parent on, indeed.


This article was originally published in the August 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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