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'Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother' by Amy Chua, 'Lizard Music' by Daniel Pinkwater and 'Heavenly Questions' by Gjertrud Schnackenberg.

January 09, 2011|By Susan Salter Reynolds | Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Illustration for Discoveries review of Daniel Pinkwater's "Lizard Music."
Illustration for Discoveries review of Daniel Pinkwater's "Lizard… (Reuben Munoz / Los Angeles…)

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

Amy Chua

The Penguin Press: 226 pp., $25.95

I can't wait to see the mommy backlash on this one: If Ayelet Waldman is tarred and feathered for saying she loves her husband more than she does her children, imagine the Internet brouhaha when Yale Law professor Amy Chua tells the world that it's OK to put your 3-year-old out on the porch in the freezing cold and shut the door for a spell for playing the piano badly and to excoriate your 8-year-old for getting an A-minus. "Battle Hymn" it is — Chua believes that Chinese mothers are superior to Western ones, and she does not mind saying so. Western parents are too concerned with self-esteem. Chinese parents are correct in raising their children with a feeling of indebtedness to them and they know what's best for their kids — forcing them, for example, to play the instrument the parents choose (violin or piano) and never drums, which "leads to drugs." Chua provides a list of the things she will not let her children do: have play dates, attend sleepovers, be in school plays, "get any grade less than an A," watch TV or play computer games. "You must never compliment your children in public," "you must always take the side of the teacher or coach," "the only activities your children should be permitted to do are those in which they can eventually win a medal," "that medal must be gold." Oh dear. It's a very entertaining read, even liberating for the oppressed helicopter mommy, but success at all costs is always disgusting and violent, and there is a great violence beneath this book — Chua's stories of the way her own father treated her and how his parents treated him are nothing but sad, even if she insists they earned respect. Chua, embarrassed as a Chinese American child growing up in the Midwest, has found her pride, her inner Tiger, and that is thrilling — but she justifies her parenting style by hiding behind her lineage, which is cowardly.

Lizard Music

Daniel Pinkwater

New York Review Books: 158 pp., $15.95

National Public Radio commentator Daniel Pinkwater wrote this book, his first novel for children, in 1976. Reminiscent of the work of Jules Feiffer and E.B. White, it has the feel of imagination set free and a humor that's pure New York: sly and rich in strange characters and a feeling of safety — we will land back on our feet in the smaller world, protected, coddled but forever looking around for signs of magic. Victor is 11 when his parents leave him home alone for two weeks with his 17-year-old sister, Leslie, who promptly takes off on a camping trip with her hippie friends. Victor, delighted with his independence, watches his favorite TV star, Walter Cronkite; works on his model airplanes; and falls asleep in front of the television. What could be better? One night he is awakened by a band of lizards on television. On a trip to town he meets the Chicken Man and together they travel to the island of lizards, a parallel universe where the inhabitants have been watching his world on TV! The lizards (almost all of whom are named Reynold), show him their fair town, Thunderbolt City; take him to the House of the Egg; show him the statue of Cronkite; and reluctantly put him on a surfboard back to his old life. It's "Alice in Wonderland" meets "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" — a fortnight of pure pleasure.

Heavenly Questions


Gjertrud Schnackenberg

Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 64 pp., $23

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