Female role models to inspire change in society | Letters

We need more books for both boys and girls that normalise girls as adventurous, confident and capable leaders, writes Jean Pollard. And why can no one remember the work of Eleanor Marx? asks John Airs

I very much enjoyed the supplement of best new children’s books (16 June) but how disappointing to see the continuing massive overrepresentation of male protagonists in these stories. While some recommended books did have a female lead, and there were a couple of books about real heroic women (one described as being sure to inspire girls – why not boys?), there were far, far more where the lead character was a boy and where girls remain accessories in boy’s stories. We need more books for both boys and girls to read that normalise girls as adventurous, confident and capable leaders in a whole host of activities hitherto seen as “boys’ stuff” if we are ...

Milkman by Anna Burns review – creepy invention at heart of an original, funny novel

A young woman is forced into a relationship with an older man during the Troubles in Northern Ireland in this tale of tribalism and hope

“The day Somebody McSomebody put a gun to my breast and called me a cat and threatened to shoot me was the same day the milkman died,” begins this strange and intriguing novel that tackles the Northern Ireland conflict from the perspective of an 18-year-old girl with no interest in the Troubles. She keeps her head down, literally, by burying it in a book while she walks. “This would be a 19th-century book because I did not like the 20th century.” In so doing, she has marked herself as “beyond-the-pale” and attracted the unwanted sexual attention of a senior paramilitary figure, the milkman, who has marked her as his property. It soon becomes common knowledge that she is having an affair with this older married ...

Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey review – satisfying, cathartic mystery

A desperate mother seeks to understand why her teenage daughter briefly disappeared in Healey’s follow-up to her Costa award debut

In a world of ever more convoluted plot twists, here’s a true novelty: a mystery novel where the mystery is set up on the first page, and then straightforwardly solved at the end. Emma Healey is the young novelist whose debut, Elizabeth Is Missing, about an elderly woman with dementia, won the Costa first novel award in 2014. The achievement of this follow-up lies its finely drawn mother/daughter pairing and sharp take on the nitty-gritty of contemporary familial relationships.

The novel is written in the third person, but we see everything from the point of view of the desperately anxious Jen, who “never seemed to get the reaction she expected from other people. It was as though they didn’t think she was the person she thought she was.” ...

Michael Chabon: ‘Parent properly and you’re doing yourself out of a job’

The Pulitzer prize-winner on combining writing with raising kids, his freakozoid tendencies and the authors he returns to

Michael Chabon is one of America’s best-loved writers, the author of nine novels, including The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (which won the Pulitzer prize), Wonder Boys, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and Moonglow. In 2009, he published Manhood for Amateurs, a series of reflections on his early years as a father. Now, with Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces, 54-year-old Chabon has collected his essays about parenting four teenagers.

A few years ago, Chabon’s wife, the novelist Ayelet Waldman, wrote a controversial essay for the New York Times in which she claimed to love her husband more than her children (and to be the only one of her married friends still having regular sex). Chabon’s meditations on fatherhood are less likely to offend – they’re generous, very Californian ...

Viv Albertine: ‘I set out to write about an unpleasant woman who fantasised about murder. It turned out to be me’

Writing honestly about her mother’s death and her dysfunctional family has helped her to survive

Looking down at my mother’s pale, papery face as she lay on her care-home bed, eyes closed, breaths sounding as if they were gurgling up from the bottom of a mud swamp, I accepted at last that she was going to die. My sister, who had arrived half an hour before me and requisitioned the “best” side of the bed, clutched Mum’s head in the crook of her arm and cooed at her. I held Mum’s hand but she was twisted away from me towards my sister. I felt excluded from her death.

I’d received a message 40 minutes before, while at the launch party for my first book, that Mum was turning blue, so I left the party and raced across town in a cab. I was relieved when I arrived to see that my mother was still alive ...

Viv Albertine: ‘I set out to write about an unpleasant woman who fantasised about murder. It turned out to be me’

Writing honestly about her mother’s death and her dysfunctional family has helped her to survive

Looking down at my mother’s pale, papery face as she lay on her care-home bed, eyes closed, breaths sounding as if they were gurgling up from the bottom of a mud swamp, I accepted at last that she was going to die. My sister, who had arrived half an hour before me and requisitioned the “best” side of the bed, clutched Mum’s head in the crook of her arm and cooed at her. I held Mum’s hand but she was twisted away from me towards my sister. I felt excluded from her death.

I’d received a message 40 minutes before, while at the launch party for my first book, that Mum was turning blue, so I left the party and raced across town in a cab. I was relieved when I arrived to see that my mother was still alive ...

From swapped babies to psychosis: author explores harrowing side of motherhood

GP Susi Fox’s debut novel digs deep into stress and exposes medicine’s sexist practices

Babies being swapped at birth is a persistent urban legend, and like the best horror stories it has roots in fact. There’s the Austrian woman who discovered, at 22 years old, that her mother and father were not her biological parents. The two families in Assam, India, whose newborns were given to the wrong mothers. And a French woman who took someone else’s baby home. It’s true. Doctors and nurses who hold lives in their hands sometimes make mistakes.

The GP-turned-writer Susi Fox’s psychological thriller Mine teases out this nightmare and uses it to explore cultural anxieties about birth and hospitals. Fox examines the dark side of motherhood – mental illness, failure, violent thoughts – and refuses to look away.

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From swapped babies to psychosis: author explores harrowing side of motherhood

GP Susi Fox’s debut novel digs deep into stress and exposes medicine’s sexist practices

Babies being swapped at birth is a persistent urban legend, and like the best horror stories it has roots in fact. There’s the Austrian woman who discovered, at 22 years old, that her mother and father were not her biological parents. The two families in Assam, India, whose newborns were given to the wrong mothers. And a French woman who took someone else’s baby home. It’s true. Doctors and nurses who hold lives in their hands sometimes make mistakes.

The GP-turned-writer Susi Fox’s psychological thriller Mine teases out this nightmare and uses it to explore cultural anxieties about birth and hospitals. Fox examines the dark side of motherhood – mental illness, failure, violent thoughts – and refuses to look away.

Continue reading...

Time for change: Ann Enright on Ireland’s abortion referendum

In the coming weeks, voters in Ireland will have the chance to repeal the eighth amendment, which recognises the equal rights to life of a foetus and the mother during pregnancy. We must send a message to the world, the author declares

Recently I spoke to a reasonable, sane Irish woman who said that she was against abortion and because she was so reasonable and sane, I was curious what she meant by that. Was she against the morning after pill? Certainly not. What about chemical abortifacients? They did not really worry her too much. So, what about terminations before 12 or 13 weeks, the time when woman are often given the all clear to confirm their pregnancy to family and friends? This woman was not, all things considered, against terminations during this window, when pregnancy is not considered medically certain. She was also, just to make clear, in favour ...

Why does literature ignore pregnancy?

Madame Bovary, A Winter’s Tale, The Age of Innocence ... when it exists at all in fiction, childbearing generally manifests as a problem or impediment – but there is something universal to be learned from a very female experience

A few years ago, I spent a couple of weeks in the Wellcome Library, reading. At the time, I wanted both to write a novel and to have a baby and it didn’t occur to me that any connection might be found between the two. As far as the novel went, I knew that I wanted to write about subjectivity and I was interested in medical history – John Hunter, Freud, the early history of the x-ray – but I lacked a device to tie these thoughts together. It took me a surprisingly long time to come up with the idea of a pregnant narrator and when at last the possibility occurred ...

Only half of pre-school children being read to daily, UK study finds

Survey finds proportion of toddlers having story time fell by a fifth in five years

The proportion of toddlers being read to every day has dropped by a fifth over the last five years, according to research warning that the decline is a significant threat to child development.

The annual Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer survey from Nielsen Book Research, interviewed 1,596 parents of 0 to 13-year-olds, and 417 14 to 17-year-olds in the UK last autumn. It found that while 69% of preschool children were read to daily in 2013, that figure had dropped to just 51%.

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OED’s new words include ‘mansplaining’ but steer clear of ‘poomageddon’

Dictionary’s fresh definitions include more than 100 words related to parenting, but Mumsnet users’ neologisms for toilet disasters stay on watch list

From “poonami” to “shitastrophy”, the venerable editors of the Oxford English Dictionary found themselves deluged with words relating to the explosive contents of nappies when they turned to parenting forum Mumsnet to ask which words and phrases should be considered for inclusion in their latest update.

Because many of the terms that form part of the everyday vocabulary of parenting are relatively recent coinages, according to the dictionary, the OED has not included them in earlier editions. But feeling that the “newer arrivals reflect not only medical advances, but also developments in how we think about children and view their place in our society”, its lexicographers were “keen to capture the imprint of these changes and developments on the English language”.

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12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B Peterson – digested read

‘Here’s a rule that’s catnip for right-wingers everywhere: do not bother children while they are skateboarding’

Just a few years ago, I was an unknown professor writing academic books that nobody read. Then, with God’s help, I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and develop my potential. Pinkos and wishy-washy liberals had cornered the market in cod psychology, so I guessed there must be a huge hunger for a self-help book, backed up with religion, mythology, CAPITAL LETTERS and stating the obvious – one directed at responsible, socially minded conservatives craving some pseudointellectual ideology to prop up their beliefs. And bingo! Here are my 12 Rules for Life.

1 Stand up straight with your shoulders straight
Most lobsters are complete bastards left to their own devices. Most humans are complete bastards left to their own devices. This proves there is a God who wants us to have Order. Order ...

Letter to Louis by Alison White review – the courage of care

Alison White’s admirable, beautifully written account of raising a child with cerebral palsy offers an essential insight into the lives of carers

There are many heartbreaking moments in this beautifully written book, but the first comes before it even begins. In a dedication to her son Louis, author Alison White says how she wanted to write it so that people would understand disability and caring, but also, “to be totally honest, I wanted to write something that would make people consider being Louis’s friend”. Beneath that simple plea lies the great fear of so many parents who nurse a severely disabled child through to adulthood: “What will happen when I’m gone?” It’s a measure of this unsentimental and clear-eyed account that White never labours this point, or any other of the myriad anxieties that accompany long-term caring. Instead, she just tells us what it’s like: and it is, in ...

Why my father Cecil Day-Lewis’s poem Walking Away stands the test of time | Letters

Sean Day-Lewis says the poem, quoted in a recent Guardian article, is as relevant today as it was when first published more than half a century ago

It was good to see the last couplet of my father’s Walking Away properly quoted by Saskia Sarginson (Empty nest? Not a chance, Family, 6 January). But she is a little off-message with her view that this Cecil Day-Lewis poem was “written for a different society”.

It can be argued that much of his poetry, now well out of fashion, belonged to its time. But this poem is very much for all times. It is a memory poem, looking back to my nervous first day at school in 1938. But it was published, some while after he walked away from my mother into a second marriage, in his 1962 volume of verse The Gate. Believe it or not, society of 1962 was much like ...

Scrooge finds his place at theatre box office | Brief letters

Taking babies to work | Ray of sunshine in Brexit gloom | Starling murmurations | Charles Dickens | Masked cricketers

I agree with the proposition put forward by Melanie Reynolds that in suitable circumstances parents should feel free to take their babies to work (Why should work be a baby-free zone?, 1 December). Mine accompanied me from the age of five weeks, with no apparent ill-effects on either of us or on my co-workers. As a nation we still appear, in general, to adopt a fairly Victorian attitude towards babies and children. Isn’t it time this changed?
Patricia Pipe
Saltash, Cornwall

• While Saturday’s Guardian continued to give prominence to a black cloud assessment of Brexit prospects, the ray of sunshine that is “UK factory orders hit four-year high” (Financial) was squirrelled away on page 30! Just saying…
Graham White
Colchester, Essex

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Children’s author Oliver Jeffers on explaining the world to his son – one room at a time

The author and illustrator of some of today’s most treasured children’s classics says having his first child shed new light on the world – from saucepans and trees to lunch and shoes –giving him a new sense of wonder

When Oliver Jeffers and his wife brought home their newborn son from hospital, they paused at the door to their apartment in Brooklyn, New York. The three of them stood on the threshold of family life. It was Jeffers who broke the silence. “Here we are,” he said. “It’s sort of a Northern Irish thing to say when you arrive somewhere or there’s a group of people and a moment’s silence,” he says now. Nearly two years later, the words would become the title of his new book.

Here We Are is unlike any of Jeffers’s previous books (16 as an internationally bestselling writer and illustrator, more as illustrator alone). To ...

The groundbreaking children’s books that drew on life in Thailand

Bet Ayer talks about her mother, Jacqueline Ayer, an artist whose books were first published in the 1950s when it was unusual to see diverse cultures authentically portrayed “I remember once coming home from school crying because I’d lost my coat. I thought my mother would be angry but instead she said: ‘Stop there, that’s perfect!’ and started to draw me.” Bet Ayer, daughter of the illustrator and artist Jacqueline Ayer, remembers being the unwitting model for her mother’s beautiful children’s picture books, documenting their life in Thailand. The books were groundbreaking when they were published in Britain and the US in 1959, when it was unusual to see diverse cultures authentically portrayed, particularly for children. Despite their early impact, they have been out of print since the early 60s, but now two of the four books are being republished this summer. Continue reading...

The groundbreaking children’s books that drew on life in Thailand

Bet Ayer talks about her mother, Jacqueline Ayer, an artist whose books were first published in the 1950s when it was unusual to see diverse cultures authentically portrayed “I remember once coming home from school crying because I’d lost my coat. I thought my mother would be angry but instead she said: ‘Stop there, that’s perfect!’ and started to draw me.” Bet Ayer, daughter of the illustrator and artist Jacqueline Ayer, remembers being the unwitting model for her mother’s beautiful children’s picture books, documenting their life in Thailand. The books were groundbreaking when they were published in Britain and the US in 1959, when it was unusual to see diverse cultures authentically portrayed, particularly for children. Despite their early impact, they have been out of print since the early 60s, but now two of the four books are being republished this summer. Continue reading...