Two years ago, I published a list of my ten most influential people.  Since then, I have had requests to publish a similar list of my most influential books.  Without further ado…


Beyond Behavior Management: The Six Life Skills Children Need, Jenna Bilmes

Beyond Behavior Management is firmly rooted in the notion that behavior is a symptom of a need, and if you don’t treat the need, you don’t really address the behavior.  It is practical above all – a quick read, and a fantastic reference guide.  Author Jenna Bilmes’ website also has links to helpful resources that are worth checking out.

Most Helpful: This book takes the scripts from each chapter and compiles them into an exhaustive reference section in the back.

Between Parent and Child, Hiam Ginott

The book opens, “No parent ever wakes up in the morning planning to make a child’s life miserable. … Yet, in spite of good intentions, the unwanted war breaks out again.”  From cover to cover, Ginott consistently brings readers into the mind of a child, supposing what it might feel like to be punished or bribed by an adult, and offering new ways of interacting.

Most Thought-Provoking: Chapter four, which challenges the reader to question the wisdom of forced compliance.

Your Self-Confident Baby: How to Encourage Your Child’s Natural Abilities — From the Very Start, Magda Gerber

Magda Gerber’s style of caring for young children, known as RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) is based on the idea that by respecting the natural development of young children, adults nurture their self-confidence.  When I first encountered RIE, I was forced to think about some of my instincts as a parent and child care provider (from routine care like diapering and feeding to moments of interaction like tickling or rocking).

Most “Facebooked”: I have shared Magda Gerber’s ideas for infant toys dozens of times.  She champions such simple objects that provoke deep learning and exploration.  Here’s a link; the book goes into more detail about setting up appropriate environments.   

KohnUnconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason, Alfie Kohn

I have written extensively about the problems with traditional rewards and punishment – ideas that I encountered early in my career as an educator and my journey as a parent through this book by Alfie Kohn.

Favorite Quote: “It’s unrealistic to expect that children will always obey, and it’s destructive to think of these impasses as battles we must always win.”

It’s OK NOT to Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids, Heather Shumaker

One of my recent favorites, It’s OK Not to Share is a quick and practical read.  Two of the most enlightening chapters for me were the chapters about exclusionary behavior (you know, “No Girls Allowed!”).  Shumaker brings an interesting perspective to this dilemma, affirming that children need practice managing rejection and practice rejecting in a respectful way.  She walks readers through ways to handle difficult situations, framing them in the context of the child’s needs.

Most Helpful:  Heather Shumaker writes a wonderful blog that further develops ideas from her book.  She engages with readers in the comments section, and has worked with book clubs on Skype!

1, 2, 3…The Toddler Years: A Practical Guide for Parents and Caregivers, Irene Van der Zande

This was my favorite book when I became a new mother, and it remains one of my favorites today.  The chapters are short (2-3 pages) so I could make progress without falling asleep, and they were full of practical advice for parents of toddlers.

Favorite Chapter: “Saying Good-bye is Sad,” which gave me invaluable insights into the child’s experience of separating from parents.  This became immensely useful when we hired babysitters or when I managed goodbyes as a family childcare provider.

Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense, Ellyn Satter

Give a child desert at the same time as you serve the main course?  Nonsense.  Or is it?  Ellyn Satter writes brilliantly in this book about how we nurture a child’s lifelong relationship to food through the ways we feed him when he is young.  Child of Mine is one of several books Satter has written for parents and educators.  (I have read three, and find that they contain much of the same information…so do read through the book descriptions and pick the one that fits you the best.)

Most Valuable?  The Division of Responsibility in Feeding.  (Access it on her website here.)

PlayThe Play’s The Thing: Teacher’s Roles in Children’s Play, Elizabeth Jones and Gretchen Reynolds

With so much conversation in early childhood circles about play-based learning, this book is a must-read.  Jones and Reynolds articulate the very important work that teachers do while children play.  Balancing too involved with absent can be difficult, and this book helps educators find the middle ground.

Most Memorable: The Play’s The Thing makes wonderful use of metaphor, in ways that have remained with me long after finishing the book.

Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, and Diane Eyer

With a title like this, how could you not read this book?  Einstein Never Used Flashcards pushes back against the idea that children’s development hinges on the products we buy and how early our children begin learning – like somehow, if children don’t master the violin by age three they will never learn how to play.  Reading this book was hugely affirming and gave me permission to let my children just be.

Stuck With Me The Most: The book begins by debunking several pervasive myths in parenting and educating circles, including “more is always better.”

Bonus Books: (I couldn’t leave these out!)

Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves by Louise Derman-Sparks and Julie Olsen Edwards – a critically important read to help raise children who will understand and speak out against injustice.

In Defense of Childhood: Protecting Kids’ Inner Wildness by Chris Mercogliano – a well-researched book about risk-taking and preserving children’s agency and independence.

What about you?  What books would you add to the list?  Leave a note in the comment section below.