You’ll Have Fun with Mei-Ling
as Your Global Guide
Mei-Ling Hopgood is a top journalist who now teaches at the prestigious Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. That means she’s a lifelong storyteller, which you’ll discover when you dip into this book of stories circling the globe.
She is famous in her own right. Born in Taiwan and adopted by an American family at an early age, the bittersweet story of her reunion with her Taiwanese family as an adult appears in her earlier book, Lucky Girl. For most of her early life, Mei-Ling was a typical American: She grew up as a smart, enthusiastic Midwest school kid and even got a spot on her high school pom pom squad. When she became a journalist, her award-winning work appeared in newspapers and magazines nationwide. Before moving with her husband and children to the Chicago area recently, they lived for years in Buenos Aires. Given her global wealth of family experiences, Mei-Ling was fascinated by the vast differences in parenting choices as she circled the planet.
As she was completing her new book, How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm: And Other Adventures in Parenting (from Argentina to Tanzania and everywhere in between), two other controversial best sellers in this niche began making headlines and burning up websites: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting.
Given Mei-Ling’s background as a journalist, always seeking accuracy and balance, it’s not surprising that Mei-Ling’s book on global parenting now is widely compared by reviewers to Tiger and Bebe as the kinder, gentler book in this trio. Or, as Mei-Ling herself puts it in the conclusion of her book:
“I’ve reached a pretty optimistic conclusion after observing the adaptability and resilience of families in many circumstances and environments. Despite vast differences in beliefs, religion and culture, moms, dads and caregivers in most societies share a common desire: to raise children who can thrive in the reality in which they live. While no culture can claim to be the best at any one given aspect of parenting, each has its own gems of wisdom to add to the discussion.”
If you’ve read Tiger or Bebe, then you know that viewpoint marks Mei-Ling’s book as a distinctively different voice. As a parent myself and as editor of ReadTheSpirit, I was struck by how much fun I had flipping the pages of her new book. Among her journalistic talents, Mei-Ling has an eye for overall pacing, which means delivering those special gems that she promises at regular intervals to keep readers flipping page after page. Among those gems are little sections between chapters that are packed with fun facts. If you’re drawn to this book, it’s because you want to discover a whole Noah’s ark of fascinating stories about families. Mei-Ling understands that desire and delivers lots of gee-whiz stories.
We are publishing our coverage of Mei-Ling’s new book—this opening overview and, later this week, an author interview with Mei-Ling—in the same week that globally celebrated marketing guru Seth Godin has dropped his own new bombshell book about revolutionizing education. Seth’s book is more about rethinking our public schools, but it’s also really a book about parenting—how to raise kids who know more than a collection of facts, how to spark creative thinking in our children and how to make the world a more adaptable and compassionate place for future generations. In her book, Mei-Ling really is doing the same thing from a parent’s point of view.
What’s fascinating in comparing the two new books is that there are many converging conclusions. One of them is Mei-Ling’s and Seth’s recommendation that parents go back to some tried-and-true conclusions in global parenting. We’ll write about one of Seth’s conclusions—about toys and the nature of play—in a separate story today. But here are a few gems from Mei-Ling’s book …
KIDS TRULY WILL EAT ANYTHING
(AND THAT’S NOT A BAD THING)
American parents lose sleep over kids’ picky eating habits, but that’s something they’ve picked up from our culture. In fact, kids around the world eat nearly anything. Mei-Ling gives these examples:
IN THE ARCTIC: Aboriginal children in the Arctic traditionally start at a young age eating the raw meat and blood of deer, seal and other animals their parents kill. On frigid nights, when food supply and preparation is limited, families eat their kill as is in order to survive; raw meat has more vitamins than cooked meat. Anthropologist Nelson Graburn observed the efforts of Inuit parents, who now go to the grocery store as often as they hunt, as they tried to introduce children to niqituinak, an Inuit diet, which includes maktak (whale skin and blubber), qisaruaq (chewed cud in a caribou’s stomach), and foods fermented in oil or served raw. “Inuit uniformly reported that if you do not get a child to eat raw meat by the age of three, they never learn to like it,” he wrote.
IN TAIWAN: Friends and family from my birthplace recall some childhood favorites: fish eyes, salted watermelon seeds, dried cuttlefish, fried anchovies, wasabi peas, bean pops, lotus seeds, jellyfish, sea cucumber and eel.
AROUND THE WORLD, THE OLD TOYS ARE THE BEST TOYS
Seth Godin and Mei-Ling both put in a plug for toys that have circled the globe for thousands of years. One reason, Seth points out, is that these toys are far less structured than the step-by-step games and kits American children often receive from parents today. Mei Ling reports on several toys, including:
KITES: The exact origin of the kite is unknown, but some legends say that a Chinese farmer tied string to his hat to keep it from being blown by the wind. Around 200 BCE, General Han Hsin of the Han Dynasty flew a kite over the walls of a city he was attacking, according to the American Kitefliers Association. The kite, which has been used by adults for everything ranging from carrying bait out to sea in Micronesia to flying military banners and studying weather, remains a popular toy in many countries and cultures today.
MARBLES: Historians believe that this toy dates back to the Harappan civilization in the western part of South Asia (which flourished around 2500 BCE and is one of the earliest-known civilizations); stone marbles were found in an excavation site near Mohenjo-Daro. In ancient Greece and Rome, children played games with round nuts, and Jewish children played games with filberts at Passover, according to iMarbles.com.
TALENTS OF TOTS AROUND THE WORLD WILL SURPRISE YOU
Both Seth and Mei-Ling argue that kids can do far more than parents allow them to do in typical American households and schools. Mei-Ling has a section of her book, called “Talents of Tots,” which includes these examples:
Ache children by the age of eight can find their way in the seemingly impenetrable (to outsiders) trails (consisting of “bent leaves, twigs and shrubs”) in the rain forests of Paraguay. They also get their first bow and arrow at the age of two, though they won’t master the hunt until around ten years old.
Zapotec kids in Oaxaca, Mexico, can name many of the hundreds of local flora as well as some seasoned ethnobotanists.
In the grasslands of Tibet, kids as young as six tend to herds of dzo (a type of cattle), yaks sheep, and other animals.
Read Part 2 of our coverage: our author interview with Mei-Ling Hopgood.
You’ll also want a free copy of Seth Godin’s new book about revolutionizing education.
Care to read more about worldwide peacemakers?
ReadTheSpirit publishes ‘Blessed Are the Peacemakers’ by Daniel Buttry, a collection of real-life stories about the men, women and children who are taking great risks around the world to counter violence with efforts to promote healthier, peaceful, diverse communities.
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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.