Reviewed by a Davidson Institute for Talent Development.
It is often said that laughter is the best medicine. If this old adage is true, then Raisin' Brains: Surviving My Smart Family is a much needed shot of penicillin for parents of gifted children. This delightful read will have you laughing out loud while, at the same time, inspiring you to reflect on your own experiences as a parent. In a delightfully dry and witty style, Karen Isaacson reflects upon the trials and tribulations of dealing with assessment, education, perfectionism, asynchrony, sensitivity, and the many other issues of parenting gifted children. The best way to describe Raisin' Brains is to compare it to a warm conversation with a close friend who really understands what it is like to raise a highly gifted child.
Karen Isaacson does a brilliant job of crafting an engaging dialogue between herself and the reader. The stories are drawn both from the author's childhood experience, as one of six siblings with a wonderfully eccentric (and highly gifted!) mother, and from her experience as a mother of five gifted children.
The book provides an excellent balance of story and poignant reflection. Although I found all of the chapters to be highly engaging, one of my favorite chapters is the seventh, "It's Only a Test." In this particular chapter, Ms. Isaacson provides hilarious anecdotal information about her children and their varied experiences with the assessment process. One anecdote that I thought particularly telling involves her eldest son Stanley.
Stanley spices things up right from the start. When Stanley visits the local university for testing at age six, one of the questions the examiner asks relates to Christopher Columbus. Upon asking Stanley if he knows who Christopher Columbus is, Stanley replies "no." After the testing, Ms. Isaacson asks Stanley why he answered "no" to the question when he, in fact, does know who Christopher Columbus is. Stanley replies, "I know who he is, but I never actually met the guy." And this is just the beginning...
However, it's not just the giggle-inspiring anecdotes that make this a wonderful book, it's the insightful advice she offers us. In a style very reflective of Erma Bombeck, just when we're laughing the loudest is when Ms. Isaacson shares her priceless wisdom. For example, again in the seventh chapter she shares with us all that she has learned about IQ scores, and what they mean to her. She expresses how she has learned that the measurement of IQ is not a perfect science and that people should not over invest themselves in the number. She talks about how she has come to recognize that IQ is merely an indication that a child thinks and learns differently. She acknowledges that IQ occurs along a continuum and that gifted children have special needs, but she looks at it in a very practical manner and views testing as a tool for helping to meet a child's needs, not as a method for setting him or her apart from the rest of the world.
If you are the type of person who enjoys learning from the experiences of others, this book will become an instant favorite. Ms. Isaacson has been down a dozen different paths and she is definitely the wiser for her journey. Of course, this book is a great read for parents and will prove an invaluable resource for their own journeys. However, there is another audience who should pay particular attention to this book . . . professionals, particularly those who work with parents of gifted children. This book offers all types of readers the golden opportunity of wearing someone else's shoes for a while. It offers the reader the opportunity to experience the whole child, not just the child as a student/client.
Ms. Isaacson also subtly addresses the larger issues related to giftedness. In Chapter 8, specifically on pages 92 & 93, Ms. Isaacson offers a thought-provoking soliloquy that addresses the "elitism" myth and explains why intellectually gifted students should have the opportunity to develop their abilities.
Of course the entire book is delightful, however, if you only have time to focus on one chapter, I recommend this one. As a teaser, here is a particularly insightful quote from the chapter . . .
Hats off to you, Ms. Isaacson, for sharing your stories and your wisdom. In my opinion, humor, particularly poignant, thought-provoking humor, is the most challenging genre and this book scores a perfect 10.
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
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