Books, Music & Films

Van Gogh in Action

May 18, 2016

I thought this art installation reportedly by students from the Institute of Fine Arts in Beirut, Lebanon, was super cool. It really does look like a moving painting, doesn’t it?

Are you a van Gogh fan? Vermeer? Who are some of your favorite artists from days gone by?



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Empathy vs. Sympathy

April 28, 2016

Everyone loves Brené Brown and I must say, I like her stuff, too. In this lovely animated RSA Short, Brown talks about the difference between empathy and sympathy and how we can only create an authentic empathic connection if we’re brave enough to get in touch with our own vulnerability.

But when I watched this, I wasn’t sure I agreed with Brown’s definition of sympathy. She totally disses it. I guess it all  depends on how you define the word. I’ve always thought of sympathy as an early step to empathy, or a simple but valuable way to convey concern or care to someone. For instance, when you offer or send words of sympathy to someone who’s lost a loved one it’s a caring sentiment and conveys thoughtfulness. No, it’s not empathy — empathy is something else, more important, more involved. But that doesn’t mean sympathy is the opposite of empathy.

What do you think? Do you agree with Brown in this video? How have you understood the term sympathy?



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Have you seen Pixar’s latest animated film, Inside Out? Parents on my adoption and parenting boards have been raving about it, so when B’s mom was in town recently we all went. It was the girls’ first time at a movie theater (if you don’t count the IMAX at the Maryland Science Center).

For an adoptive parent with degrees in psychology and counseling (and someone who’s fascinated with brain science generally), this film could not have been more up alley.

The story focuses on an 11-year-old girl named Riley who has loving parents and a happy life in Minnesota: She’s crazy about hockey, likes to be silly, and enjoys hanging out with her friends. Then Riley’s family moves to San Francisco so her father can take a new job, and Riley finds herself struggling with sadness, fear, and anger.

A lot of the movie takes place in Riley’s brain, where five of her dominant emotions are played by cute little characters named “Joy,” “Sadness,” “Anger,” “Disgust,” and “Fear.” Joy has been running the show for most of Riley’s life, but since the move to California, Joy is having trouble hanging on to the controls. Riley’s core memories, which haven’t been touched by any sadness, are beginning to turn blue, and her “personality” islands (Family Island, Honesty Island, Hockey Island, Goofball Island, etc.) are starting to crumble. Much of the story follows Joy as she tries to find a way to become the dominant lens through which Riley views life again — and a very important lesson Joy learns along the way.

The story is such a clever way of showing what goes on inside us — the things that make us us. I totally understand why this movie made a lot of parents cry, especially the parents whose children’s core memories have been sad from the beginning, whose “personality islands” are in rough shape or have not been formed by loving, life-giving situations and people. I got teary in a couple of places myself.

And then I read this short article and wish every parent would read it, especially if you’ve seen the movie and know any adoptive families, foster families, or children who’ve had difficult childhood experiences. It’s really insightful, even if you just want to understand how your own well-adjusted, healthy, happy children came to be how they are.

Inside Out has given parents and children a great story and fun characters to use as a launching pad for hard conversations, as well as a language to talk about complex emotions and behaviors. Kudos to Pixar and Disney for creating a touching movie that is speaking to so many parents and children.

Have you seen Inside Out? Any thoughts about that article?


The Wireless Generation

February 4, 2015

The Wireless Generation
For about a year or so, I’ve been following a travel blogger named Christine Gilbert. I love her writing and I’m fascinated with her life. I started reading her blog Almost Fearless when she and her husband were cycling around Spain with their two young children, working via their computers along the way — from campgrounds, hostels, and airbnb locations — and I don’t think they’d ever really been cyclers before.

While Christine has been busy parenting, traveling the world, running a successful blog, giving courses, working on a book, planning new projects, and being named one of National Geographic‘s travelers of the year, her husband Drew finished up a documentary called The Wireless Generation, a film about people who work exclusively on the internet and use it as an opportunity to travel and live differently. If you live in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Austin, Boston, or New York City, consider attending a screening of the film. (You can also purchase a digital download, if you want to help support a great project and inspirational people!)

By the way, while her husband is touring the U.S. with his new documentary, Christine decided — last minute, mind you — to head to Istanbul for three months with her two little ones to see what life holds there. I’m telling you, her blog is aptly named.

If you had the flexibility to work on the road, would you try something like the Gilberts have? Where would you go?

Image: The Wireless Generation promo site


How’s your December going so far? Have you made progress on your holiday gift lists, or are you still trying to find time to even think about it? Before it gets too close to Christmas, I wanted to mention a few companies I really like for holiday gifts for kids, in case you need some ideas…

Barefoot Books

Barefoot Books Christmas
I love Barefoot Books. Started by two moms in 1992, Barefoot is all about combining beautiful art with captivating storytelling. What also drew me to their products was their attention to cultural and social diversity. It’s not always easy to find books that I’m excited to give my daughters, and Barefoot delivers.

Under the tree for S and H this year will be two books from this new princess series, as well as the award-winning World Atlas, which I can’t wait to see. Barefoot’s Greek Epic Book set with CD would be perfect for a child over 8, and I love their Greek Myths set, which is on sale right now. Barefoot has lovely bedtime books for little ones, too. (I’m eyeing a couple for my two-year-old nephew.) Here’s their Holiday Gift Guide, if you want to check it out.

(For Christmas delivery, be sure to order before 11 a.m. EST on December 15; after that you’ll pay extra for faster shipping. Shipping is free on orders of $60 or more.)

Prima Princessa
Prima Princessa
Prima Princessa sent me one of their DVDs a couple of months ago, and I was curious if my daughters would like it. They did–and many other kids apparently do, too. Another company created by two moms (moms run the world), Prima Princessa focuses on teaching children ages 3-6 dance steps while exposing them to professional ballet performances. In each show, a ballerina fairy named Prima Princessa takes a group of preschool age children to see a condensed version of a classical ballet, and in between acts the children practice ballet steps they’ve just watched.

The DVD we saw, “Prima Princessa Presents The Nutcracker,” would be a perfect stocking-stuffer for a little dance enthusiast. It features England’s Birmingham Royal Ballet and includes mini-ballet lessons from students at the School of American Ballet, the official academy of the New York City Ballet. The show has aired on more than 400 PBS and public television stations nationwide, and you can find it on Amazon both as a DVD or instant download.

Princessa Productions also has DVDs for Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, and on their website you can find a Ballet for Beginners book, a ballet dictionary, ballet coloring pages, crafts for kids, preschool games, and listings of ballet schools and ballet companies nationwide.

Tea Collection

I’m currently a little obsessed with the children’s clothes at Tea Collection. (I managed to snag a few dresses for my girls online during the Black Friday sale.) Founded by (yet again) two moms, Tea’s mission is to “bring worldwide culture and modern design to children’s fashion.” And they seem to do it well. I was impressed with the quality of the garments when they arrived and love the way they mix colors and patterns.

Their new Citizen Blue line is sweet — I love this Java Garden Keyhole Dress. And this Backpacker Happy Hoodie would look adorable on any of my (many) nephews.

I’ll be sticking to the sales at Tea Collection — especially since I usually need two of everything — but it’s great to know about ethical clothing companies for kids that do high-quality stuff. If you’re looking for some special clothes this season, you may want to check them out.

Any companies or products your eyeing for kids’ gifts this year? I’d love to know!

Images: Barefoot Books, Prima Princessa, Tea Collection


Into the Woods

November 12, 2014

I’ve got a weakness for movie musicals. (Well, the good ones, anyway.) One of my all-time favorites is Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge. Many people thought it was strange, but for me it had just the right mixture of everything. I love it.

Along with the rest of the world, I’m also a huge Meryl Streep fan. Is there anything that woman can’t do in front of a camera? I’ll watch anything she appears in. So you can imagine my excitement when I saw the trailer above for the upcoming movie musical Into the Woods.

I’ve never actually seen a live performance of Into the Woods, but I know some of the music by Stephen Sondheim. You either like Sondheim or you don’t, and I’m in the former camp. Maybe because I was introduced to his work in my early 20s when I worked as a musical theatre actress. I’m super curious to see how this new film interprets the musical. It looks like a visual feast to be sure.

Are you a fan of movie musicals? What’s your favorite?


Ben and Holly's Little Kingdom Image
We keep TV time to a minimum around here (in fact, we don’t even have a television: We download and stream things on our iMac), but when S and H arrived, we noticed that watching programs helped them to learn English more quickly and was (still is!) a lifesaver for me when I was trying to get dinner on the table.

It didn’t take long for B and me to realize that the best kids shows are the ones that don’t make the adults want to commit harakiri. (It’s no fun to have the Strawberry Shortcake theme song playing in your head over and over again when you’re trying to fall asleep, believe me.) Thankfully, there are a few shows that our daughters have loved that we’d be tempted to watch all on our own.

The first one that comes to mind is Peppa Pig, a British animated series for preschoolers that is created, directed, and produced by Astley Baker Davies. Each episode is about five minutes long and features a young female pig named Peppa and her family and friends — but the writers clearly throw a lot of bones to the grown-ups they know are watching. This is one of the very first shows our daughters watched, which would explain why they still call Santa Claus “Father Christmas.” (If you watch it, keep your eyes out for Miss Rabbit, voiced by Sarah Ann Kennedy. Her inflection is a work of comedic art — indescribable, really; it has to be heard.) Here’s a favorite episode:

Next up is Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom. This is B’s all-time favorite. Another British animated series created for preschool-aged children, it’s set in a magical kingdom of fairies, elves, and insects. The characters are sweet, the art design is charming, and the humor works both for kids and — at a different level — for adults. One of the highlights is the hysterical rivalry between the rationally minded Wise Old Elf and the air-headed fairy Nanny Plum (whose is also voiced by Sarah Ann Kennedy). So many quotable lines in this show… Here’s a fun episode:

Last but not least is Doc McStuffins. A Disney Channel program produced by Brown Bag Films and created (and executive produced) by Humanitas Prize and Emmy Award–winner Chris Nee, it chronicles the adventures of a six-year-old girl named Dottie “Doc” McStuffins who wants to be a doctor like her mother. She sets up a clinic to fix broken toys and dolls, who come to life when she puts on her stethoscope. With help from her best stuffed animal friends — Lambie, Hallie, Stuffy, and Chilly — Doc helps toys get better by giving them check ups, diagnosing their illnesses, and fixing their boo-boos. Each episode is 11 minutes.

The characters and story lines in Doc McStuffins are cute, but our favorite part of this show is its original songs, which are super catchy (check out Everybody Gets Hurt Sometimes). Doc McStuffins now has lots of spin-off products (and yes, we have a few), but it’s screaming for a musical; you can easily imagine many of these songs in a Broadway show.

The other reason we love Doc is that she’s a brown-skinned girl, and we’re always looking for good shows with main characters who look more like our daughters. Here’s an episode, in case you’ve never seen it:

Any kids’ shows that you secretly (or not so secretly) enjoy?

Image: Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom via uk.eonefilms

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Beachside Reading
Summertime calls for a stack of good reads, whether it’s the latest bestseller at your bedside, e-books in the kitchen, novels at the beach, or browsing favorite magazines while waiting in airports. My contributors and I love to read and wanted to share what’s on our own book lists right now as we look forward to a little R&R this summer:

Zoe’s List

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese

I’ll feel like less of a loser if you haven’t read this book, since it was beginning to feel like I was the only person on the planet who hadn’t. It’s a national bestseller and a gazillion people recommended it to me, but for some reason it took me forever to get around to it. Anyway, I’m so glad I did. The book focuses on twin brothers born of a strange and secret union between a British doctor and an Indian nun; the boys are orphaned and raised by two Indian doctors in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, before one comes to the United States. While I stumbled a bit on the brief romantic and sexual parts of the book (they were a bit stilted and not equal to the rest of Verghese’s prose), I loved the historical and cultural context of the story as well as the creativity of the plot. This is a perfect beach or vacation novel — an easy read, compelling story, and full of interesting characters.  If your book club hasn’t done this one yet, stick it on the list! (Paperback edition; Kindle edition.)

Humans of New York, by Brandon Stanton

You may already be familiar with Stanton’s work from his hugely popular website Humans of New York (HONY), and last year he (smartly) put together a coffee table book of some his photos. B picked up a copy for me, and every night we’d look at a few pages together, mesmerized by the images Stanton has captured. I love the short descriptions with each photograph almost as much as the photographs themselves. This book brings home what makes New York City a one-of-a-kind place, and what makes people so unique while at the same time so similar. If you giving this book as a gift to someone who loves photography, NYC, or people-watching, it will definitely up your cool factor. (Hardback edition.)

The Telling Room, by Michael Paterniti

This is an unusual story about a larger-than-life Spaniard, a family legacy, a betrayal, an obsession, and a piece of cheese. It’s also about the writer — a journalist who, after eating a sandwich in Ann Arbor, Michigan, wound up in Spain living among the people and mystery he was intent on investigating. Given its best-seller status, I’m far from the only one who’s grateful that the talented Paterniti finished his book (though it took him many years). If you’re drawn to travel and food stories, crazy characters, and great writing, this one’s for you. (Paperback editionKindle edition.)

Cooked, by Michael Pollan

I finally started this book (got it last Christmas), so I can’t say with certitude what I really think just yet, but so far, I’m a fan. I’ll pretty much read anything by Michael Pollan: His work is always engaging and informative — and hey, it’s always about food. This one is no exception: In Cooked, Pollan explores the four classical elements of fire, water, air, and earth and how each has been used to transform “the stuff of nature” into delicious food and drink over the centuries. Pollan travels the country learning about grilling, fermenting, and baking from some of the best cooks, and he has a lot to thoughtful things to say about how food is the pinnacle of culture. (Paperback editionKindle edition.)

The Telling Room and Cooked

Ann Waterman’s List

All the Money in the World, by Laura Vanderkam

Unlike most books about money, this one focuses on spending money, not just saving it. Money is a tool, Vanderkam explains, and spent intentionally, it can help to bring us happiness. What does “intentional” mean here? Well, Vanderkam encourages us to think about what makes us happy: For instance, would you rather have a large wedding with all the bells and whistles, or would some of that money be better spent on things like a housecleaner or regular evenings out with your husband later in your marriage? Neither choice is necessarily good or bad in itself; Vanderkam’s point is that you should think hard about what your money can be used for and whether it’s bringing you closer to what truly makes you happy. (Paperback edition; Kindle edition.)

The Spaghetti Shots, by Courtney Westlake

Do you have an SLR camera and keep telling yourself you’ll read the manual one day and really learn how to use it? Forget the manual and download this e-book that explains your camera’s functions and settings in the simplest of terms and helps you catch those everyday moments that really capture your family’s life. I promise you’ll be taking better pictures in no time! (Kindle edition only.)

Manage Your Day-To-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind (The 99U Book Series)

Do you have a hobby, passion, or side business that you never seem to have time for? This collection of essays is a quick read and shows you how to organize your day to make the best use of your time and maximize your creativity by finding ways to make it a priority. After implementing a few ideas, not only did I have more time for one of my favorite creative outlets (writing), but I was more productive in general. The best part about this book? You can borrow it for free on your Kindle device. (Kindle editionpaperback edition.)

Margaret Cabaniss’s List

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

The backlash has begun against this Pulitzer Prize winner, but I’m sticking with my initial impression: It’s gorgeous and I loved it. (I even did the “read something else halfway through to drag out the ending” trick.) The story follows the life of Theo Decker, beginning with the moment that he suffers a sudden, violent loss as a 13-year-old, and through his many wanderings (literal and otherwise) in the years that follow. It’s sprawling and messy but undeniably powerful in the way it describes love and loss, beauty and suffering, and (most of all) our desire for meaning and transcendence in the face of…well, life. My favorite thing I’ve read so far this year; highly recommended. (Paperback editionKindle edition.)

However: If you’re not up for an 800-page doorstop this summer, try Tartt’s first novel, The Secret History, instead: A sort of Gothic “murder mystery in reverse,” it was the first time I encountered Tartt’s writing and knew she’d be one to follow — and it’s a much quicker read.

Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter

I’ll admit, I had to pull up some reviews of this one to remind me of bits of the plot (in my defense, I read it last summer) — but its portrait of a crumbling Italian port town in the 1960s, and the sweet love story that blooms there, definitely stayed with me. Of course, in between the gorgeous flashbacks are smash cuts to the modern-day reality-TV world…links that I promise make more sense in the context of the book. There are too many characters and places and even eras to recall them all here, but through them all, Walter does an excellent job weaving the touching with the hilarious. The perfect thing to read at the beach while pretending you’re on a beach in Italy. (Paperback editionKindle edition.)

Bonus selection: Walter’s The Financial Lives of Poets — a “you have to laugh, otherwise you’ll cry” take on the 2008 financial crisis — isn’t so picturesque as Beautiful Ruins, but it’s every bit as funny, and might have even stayed with me longer. For a story about one man’s misbegotten plans to develop a website that delivers the financial news in free verse, it’s surprisingly moving.

The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis, by Thomas Goetz

I recently saw this recommended somewhere else and decided I had to add it to my reading list for this summer. While I’m only a few pages in so far, I have high hopes, since it’s got everything I love: pop history, Conan Doyle, infectious diseases… The combination of Sherlock Holmesian suspense and mystery surrounding the birth of modern germ theory just sounded too intriguing to pass up. I hope to have a full report soon — but if you’ve read it, tell me about it in the comments! (Paperback edition; Kindle edition.)


Well, friends, there you have it! We’d love to hear what you’re reading (or hoping to read!) this summer; leave us all some suggestions in the comments!

(I am an Amazon affiliate, so if you purchase one of the above books using the links provided, you are helping to support this blog. Thank you!)

Image via Pinterest


When I first heard of The Dolphin Way: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy and Motivated Kids — Without Turning Into a Tigera new parenting book by Dr. Shimi K. Kang, I expected it to be just another forgettable parenting advice book. It was clearly capitalizing on the success of the controversial “tiger mom” book and seemed a little gimmicky. But I was happily surprised when I began flipping through its pages: Dr. Kang’s parenting philosophy resonated with me, and she has a lot of research and personal experience to share as a mom, psychiatrist, and motivation expert. Plus, who doesn’t want to be like a dolphin? Dolphins are seriously smart and fun — which seems like a great kind of parent to be. Turns out, plenty of others agree: The book recently became a best-seller in Canada.

A few things stand out about The Dolphin Way: First is Dr. Kang’s focus on the importance of unstructured playtime for children. Additionally, her concept of helping children to develop “CQ” — a blend of four criteria believed to be keys for success in the 21st century — is thought-provoking, and I like her suggestions for helping children become self-motivated. Instead of a straight review of The Dolphin Way, however, I thought it would be more interesting to speak to Dr. Kang, so I asked her a few questions about her book.


Zoe Saint-Paul: Dr. Kang, your personal story is interesting: You mother couldn’t read, your dad drove a taxi cab at night, and you weren’t put into any structured activities as a child. Where did you find the drive and motivation to go to medical school and do all the things you’ve done?

Shimi Kang, MD

Dr. Shimi Kang: My self-motivation came from the “dolphin” way of life, so the full answer is the book itself! My parents were not pushing tigers or permissive jellyfish — they were balanced and had rules and high expectations, but they also allowed me to pursue my interests and development independence. They focused on the inside of me (character and values) versus the outside of me (activities and resume items). As the fifth child of immigrant parents, I had to adapt because no one was catering to me; I learned to use what I call “CQ” — collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity. My self-motivation came from living a life of balance, which allowed my curiosity to flourish. I was also driven by the values of gratitude, contribution to others, and optimism that my parents constantly modeled. This lead me to be driven by a purpose to live life beyond my personal bubble.

The information in your book about the importance of play is enlightening. In a nutshell, how does unstructured play time benefit children? 

My answer is adapted from the book:

For people of every age, play is directly linked to the development of the brain’s prefrontal cortex — the region of the brain responsible for discriminating relevant from irrelevant information, goal direction, abstract concepts, decision making, monitoring and organizing our thoughts and feelings, delaying gratification, and planning for the future. The prefrontal cortex directs our highest levels of thinking and functioning. It’s the part of our brains that evolved last and also develops last in our personal growth: Its full maturation doesn’t happen until our mid-twenties.

For the young of all animals, the amount of time spent playing is tied to the rate and size of growth of the cerebellum, which contains more neurons than the rest of the brain. In addition to motor control, coordination, and balance, the cerebellum is responsible for key cognitive functions such as attention and language processing. Active play stimulates brain-derived neurotropic factor, which stimulates nerve growth. It also promotes the creation of new neuron connections between areas that were previously disconnected. Our desire to play is so important to our survival that the impulse to play is just as fundamental as our impulse to sleep or eat.

Play is essential to the development of the four CQ skills — creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration — we need for 21st-century success.

If parents want to encourage their children to play more, what steps should they take? 

In the past, parents didn’t have to work hard to create a favorable environment for their children to play in; often, all they had to do was open the door. Now children have become accustomed to glittery customized dolls, cars that speak, hyperrealistic video games, and LEGO that comes with detailed instructions. But let me remind you: Children love to play. It can cost nothing, you don’t need a lot of stuff to make it happen, and you don’t need any special instructions. Play doesn’t even require toys; commercial toys may actually get in the way of play. In general, the simpler the toys (which usually means those that are less expensive), the more divergent the play. Household items, old clothes, a stick, and whatever children find outside are ideal for play.

The main steps are to limit screen time, limit scheduled activities, tolerate the initial whines of “boredom” and “nothing to do” because they will not last long — and finally, when possible, open the door and send kids outside!


Could you explain why modern parents should be focused on CQ when it comes to parenting their kids? 

To do well in today’s fast-paced, highly social, ultra-competitive, and globally-connected world, our children need 21st-century skills. These four essential skills were determined by the Assessment and Teaching of 21stCentury Skills (ATC21S™), an organization at the University of Melbourne that includes more than 250 researchers from sixty different institutions worldwide. These skills have been incorporated in educational institutions and workplace environments everywhere. I’ve mentioned them above, and here they are with a brief explanation:

  • Creativity: Creativity has been identified by today’s business leaders as the most important competency for the future.
  • Critical thinking: It isn’t knowing the “right answers” that counts, but rather knowing how to ask the “right questions.”
  • Communication: You can have all the raw intelligence in the world, but if you can’t express your thoughts effectively and in different media, it won’t matter.
  • Collaboration: Whether it’s in the family, the workplace, or the global community, being able to learn from and inspire others while working in a team is key in today’s work world.

I refer to this set of core skills for 21st-century success as the cognitive quotient, or CQ. As you likely know, IQ (intelligence quotient) represents raw intellectual ability, and EQ (emotional quotient) represents emotional intelligence. For success in the 21st century, our children will need CQ.

Dolphin Way US 2014

My almost six-year-old daughters would play all day if they could — and sometimes they do. How do dolphin parents teach their children responsibility while still encouraging play and self-directed activity?  

The message of The Dolphin Way is balance. My kids know that work and play are essential parts of a day,along with sleep, healthy eating, exercise, etc. When you give the message of balance, children will understand; a good way to show them that is to “instruct” them to play right after school because they need balance to their day of work. They they’ll be more likely to accept your instruction for other activities, too.

How does a dolphin parent discipline? 

We use natural consequences and positive reinforcement for positive behaviors.

Discipline is the process of teaching your child what type of behavior is acceptable and what type is not acceptable, and it can involve punishment, rewards, or the experience of natural consequences.

The dolphin way of parenting relies on rewarding legitimate good behavior (not empty praise) to encourage acceptable behavior and letting your child experience the natural consequences of unacceptable behavior, while making sure the child understands the connection between the two (a very important step parents sometimes forget). Dolphin parents focus on “catching” important values and good effort versus “catching” bad behavior or poor results.

For example, when my son drew a picture on our kitchen wall for his crying sister, I praised his effort to help his sister when she was distressed, but I made him use soap and water and clean up the markings himself. (I actually kept the picture of the butterfly he drew for her, though.)

The dolphin parent will make sure important rules and consequences are clear and consistently reinforced. Punishment may be used for serious offenses that violate core values, such as intentionally harming someone else. However, even in this situation, the dolphin parent will be collaborative and affectionate. I may say, “I love you, but I cannot let you get away with hitting your sister. What do you think would be a good punishment for breaking the very important rule of no hitting your little sister?”

I found myself wanting to read more examples in your book related to parenting young children. What should a parent focus on the most when it comes to raising toddlers and preschoolers if they’re following the dolphin way? 

Before the age of 6, the most important things to focus on are a healthy balanced lifestyle and strong social skills. Develop a sense of balance of sleep, healthy diet, play, and social connection. Have your child experience diverse people and social environments. Provide a safe, nurturing environment, and get to know your child — his or her likes, dislikes, and personality — and let mother nature do the rest!


A big thanks to Dr. Kang for speaking with me about her book.

What do you think: Does the “dolphin way” of parenting resonate with you? As I think about my childhood and the way my mother and father parented, I’d have to say they were very much like dolphins, though I would never have drawn the comparison. I’m looking forward to thinking about how I myself can incorporate some of the ideas in The Dolphin Way into my own parenting. If you read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Images: 1 via Pinterest, 2 & 3 supplied by Katie Schnack, Senior Publicist at Shelton Interactive 

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by Joseph Susanka

Concession Stand
For purely selfish reasons, I asked my friend Joseph Susanka — a writer, film lover, and father of seven boys(!) — if he’d write a post for SlowMama recommending some lesser-known films for children. I’m looking forward to checking out his suggestions, and I hope you find something on this list for your littles as well! — Zoe

Few things are as nerve-racking for me as recommending films for young children. The key is knowing your audience, of course — but with youngsters, there are so many variables.

The most obvious, of course, is age — but not all children of a certain age are ready for (or must avoid) certain films. In my own family, the younger set has a far higher tolerance for intensity and mystery than my eldest, in part because they’ve grown up watching so many films with their brothers. Nor does previous experience or interest prove particularly illuminating: Why my boys have latched onto the DC Comic universe the way they have (in the face of my own indifference) remains a mystery to me…

And then there’s the fact that recommending films for children isn’t just about the kids and their comfort zone(s) and interest(s): It’s just as important to know about the loves, interests, and tolerances of their parents, who will always take a keen interest in what their little ones are watching (and most times end up watching along with them).

But while few things are as nerve-racking for me as recommending films for young children, few things are more rewarding for me than recommending films for young children and getting them right! And while finding the perfect film for a little one can be a challenge, success breeds success: Once you find one, it’s far less challenging to come up with similar films.

That being said, here are a few gateway films to try out, along with a title or two you can follow up with if the initial effort is met with approval…


An animated adventure about a five-year-old boy and his relationship with a goldfish princess who longs to become a human.

Animation’s a great route to take with the young ‘uns. The cartoonishness — and I mean that literally, not as a criticism — means that the little viewers are a bit more removed; the stakes aren’t as high because they don’t seem as real, and that makes it possible for the little minds to absorb the story without quite as much tension. So while I could recommend the obvious animation giant — Disney — I’m going to go with a later (and greater) artist: Hayao Miyazaki. A legend in his native Japan, Miyazaki’s works are extraordinarily visual, astonishingly imaginative, and truly magical — with Ponyo being a spectacular example of all three. Plus, it features one of my all-time favorite final frames. Great stuff.

(Bonus Recommendation: If they like Ponyo, they’ll love My Neighbor Totoro. And while Miyazaki’s films cover a wide enough range of intensities/complexities so that I can’t recommend them all for this particular age bracket, I actually think that’s a bonus. Bring ’em in early, and there’ll be loads of Miyazaki to amuse them in the years to come.)


A documentary on insect life in the meadows and ponds of the French countryside, told through incredible closeups, slow motion, and time-lapse photography.

A nature documentary, yes — but don’t worry, it doesn’t feel like homework. That’s probably because there’s no narration to speak of, and the camera is so spectacularly close to the creatures in question. Some of the images might be a bit much for the more gentle-minded, though — the insects are huge!

(Bonus Recommendation: If they like this, they’re just a hop/skip/jump away from Sir David Attenborough’s spectacular ocean series, The Blue Planet. The only reason I didn’t jump straight to the big Blue is that Attenborough’s voice-over is a) fantastic, b) very British, and c) omnipresent. Might be a bit harder for younger ears and minds to digest.)

The Pirates of Penzance
Pirates of Penzance

An adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operetta, Frederick has fallen in love with sweet, innocent Mabel — but his piratical vocation is an impediment to their union.

This one’s slightly riskier — not because I’m worried that most children will not love it, but because I’m worried that their parents might weary of hearing its ear-wormy and hilarious songs every minute of every day. And no, if they take to it as completely as did mine, “every minute of every day” is not an exaggeration. “With Catlike Tread” has become the (ironically, loud) soundtrack to a number of Susanka boys’ lives.

This particular version features a really charming turn as the Pirate King from the multi-talented Kevin Kline, whose voice and charisma are both surprisingly large. But even if they don’t love the music, they’ll love Tony Azito’s Police Sergeant, who somehow manages to cram an entire Keystone Cop troop into a single performance.

(Bonus Recommendation: There’s a wide range of D’Oyly Carte versions available in both movie and audio form, of which The HMS Pinafore and The Mikado are the most prevalent and best. Plus, the transition from a PBS version of Gilbert and Sullivan to a Shakespearean play or two is a smooth one.)

The Reluctant Dragon
The Reluctant Dragon

Actor Robert Benchley tours Walt Disney’s studio; the behind-the-scenes action segues into an animated short about a boy’s encounter with a dragon.

OK, so I couldn’t stay away from Disney entirely, but I’m going “Classic Disney” here. And besides, it’s not strictly — or, should I say, exclusively — animated. See, one of the things that makes this particular film such a great “entry film” is that it’s much more than just a fun animated short; it’s a documentary-esque introduction to the world of animation at a time when Disney’s legendary “Nine Old Men” were changing the medium forever. The last half’s a charmingly cartoonish (and childish) musical version of Kenneth Grahame’s story, but it’s the first half that might most capture the attention of the young “make-it-yourself-ers” in the house.

(Bonus Recommendation: If they like this film, they’ll love the Silly Symphonies, the mostly musical shorts produced by Disney between 1929 and 1939, and the “non-canonical” ones from the 50’s and 60’s. These series of shorts hold many of my favorite memories when it comes to Walt Disney and his animators, and they are much to blame for the presence of short films in my and my boys’ viewing repertoires.)

The Wind In the Willows
Wind in the Willows

Mole decides that he can put off spring cleaning a bit longer and begins a series of adventures with his new friend Rat. Hilarity (and a fair bit of profundity) ensues.

Oh, look at that segue. From The Reluctant Dragon, which was written by Kenneth Grahame, to a TV series based on his most famous work, The Wind in the Willows. There have been many attempts at adapting this wonderful childhood classic, including a thoroughly forgettable, overly slapstick, Disney-fied version. For my money, this stop-motion version from the early-to-mid 80’s best captures the spirit and charm of the book. And while the stories are a bit expanded from Grahame’s original work, they seem very faithful in tone, at least. And that makes them perfect for childhood viewing.

(Bonus Recommendation: Disney’s adaptation of Winnie the Pooh is great fun. In fact, Sebastian Cabot’s narration alone would be reason enough for me to recommend it. The fact that it’s worth watching for many more reasons is just an embarrassment of riches. Also features some wonderful musical number that I find myself humming with regularity. So, again, watch out for the ear-worms, parents!)

There: That should get you started. And be sure to mention your own recommendations; I’ve still got plenty of my own young ones, and they’re all unique viewers, remember? Just because something’s worked with the first 5 or 6 doesn’t mean Nathan’s going to be on board…


Thanks for the tips, Joseph! Readers, have you seen any of his picks? What would you add to his list for younger viewers?

Images: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6