Summer Book Club: three new books for adults

Summer Book Club: three new books for adults

Soulful Pregnancy: A Life-changing Guide to Creative and Empowering Pregnancy

By Alice Grist, Womancraft Publishing

This guide to pregnancy and new motherhood invites you to mark your pregnancy as a life-changing transition; to experience it mindfully and to be conscious in the decisions you make in becoming the parent you would like to be. The book is divided into trimesters and, broadly, has a chapter per week of pregnancy, each with its own focus, such as Navigating Chaos, Grandmother Wisdom and Self-acceptance. The chapters all follow a similar format: an introduction to the theme, a meditation, a soulful practice, a creative practice, journal prompts and an affirmation. They are only a few pages long, but each chapter provides a powerful focus for a week of reflection and creative exploration.

A lovely dimension to this book is that Grist herself is pregnant as she writes it. This makes her a real companion in the journey. It is her third pregnancy and one, at 44, that she wasn’t expecting. It’s interesting to hear how each of her pregnancies was so different. Generously, she shares her own experiences and encounters. When she explores what it’s like, as a pregnant person, to be held in the judgement of others, it’s powerful to know she understands how this feels. Comments she receives in this pregnancy, “mostly declaring I am crazy” are vastly different from the congratulations she received in her first pregnancy. We witness her process things that arise for her, and she guides us to an understanding of our own stories.

There is no judgement in this book, which I found really freeing. Grist wants us to tap into our true selves, and shed any unattainable ideals we may hold. I love the way she discusses caesarean bir th and intervention: “A caesarean section, bir thing emergency or use of medicalised options still require that wild surrender, the courage to trust, and the handing over of oneself to wisdom and power greater than anything we envisioned.”

This is more than a birth preparation book. It is a guide to emotional and spiritual preparation so that we may come to motherhood from a place of nourishment.

The Montessori Child: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Capable Children with Creative Minds and Compassionate Hearts

By Simone Davies and Junnifa Uzodike, Workman Publishing

I took up this book with limited knowledge of Montessori principles and was immediately drawn to the approach. “A guide to raising capable children with creative minds and compassionate hearts.” Tell me more. Although Montessori is primarily used in education settings, the authors make a convincing case for bringing its ideas into the home.

The book is for those with children from 3 to 12 and positions the parent as a guide whose role it is to support the child to develop and learn. I was struck by the focus on fostering independence and found the chapter Setting Up Our Home fascinating. The book suggests that everything in the home should have a place and whatever the child might need to use should be accessible so that they can do things independently. Simple things make a big difference here, such as their toothbrush being within reach so that they can brush their teeth without our involvement. The book reminds us that children are capable of much more autonomy than we often allow them. Play equipment should be organised so that children can make choices about the activities they’d like to do; they shouldn’t need us to facilitate painting, for example. By allowing this freedom, children can pursue their own interests and find their own passions.

The approach also gives children responsibility. One suggestion I found interesting was that rather than taking on all the stress of your children being on time, repeatedly asking them to get their shoes and coats on and whatever else they might need to do before leaving the house, you should give them ownership of these tasks and, on occasions when they’re late for something, use it as an opportunity to reflect on what they might need to do differently next time.

It is a thorough book with chapters on activities for children, supporting social and moral development, putting it into practice, preparation of the adult and what’s next, which looks towards adolescence. I enjoyed the personal stories throughout of families from a range of cultures, and I love that it’s an approach with space for following one’s own customs and traditions. Montessori Child gives a clear picture of what a Montessori home looks like, why it’s important, and how to go about building such a home for your own family.

A Celebration of Willow: The Definitive Guide to Sculpture Techniques Woven with Ecology, Sustainability and Healing

By Kim Creswell, Aeon Books

I knew I would love this book from the first few pages. In the introduction, Creswell describes how she first came to work with willow. One morning, living in her Transit van, she woke up in a puddle of rainwater. The roof had sprung a leak. She was shown by some neighbouring traveller people how to make a “bender tent”. Traditionally made from hazel rods, Creswell only had willow to hand and from this she made the tent’s frame, which sheltered her over winter. Observing the willow some time later, she noticed leaf buds emerging and she had a powerful vision of the living sculptures she would one day make. Willow steadily gained prominence in her life. She began experimenting with willow sculpture, and as her skills grew, so did the scale of her work. She tells the story beautifully; how her daughter joined her and how they sold their wares with other travelling artisans. It’s easy to be swept up in the romance of her low-impact lifestyle.

Following this wonderful introduction is a chapter on ecology, and one on willow as a healer. Creswell trained in medical herbalism, which deepened her relationship with the plant. She tells of traditional associations of willow and its connection to the moon, to the feminine, to grief. She discusses the therapeutic qualities of working willow with your hands – how the repetitive movement and ancient plant together aid emotional resolution. The remainder of the book focuses both a love song to willow, and a call for us to protect the natural world on the practicalities of weaving: sourcing materials (including how to grow a withy bed); basic weaving techniques; and then instructions for specific projects. The first two projects are a goose and a pig. As she says in the introduction, “If you can make a pig and a goose, then you can pretty much make anything!” Once you’ve found your rhythm, you can move on to a wooden framed stag, learn how to work with a metal frame, or create a living willow sculpture. The instructions are described in clear steps with large-scale photos for reference, which make them easy to follow.

The examples of her work included in the book are extraordinarily skilled and detailed. An environmentalist as well as an artist, her work is deeply connected to nature. The book is both a love song to willow, and a call for us to protect the natural world. Her writing is warm and lighttouch, yet full of wisdom. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in venturing into willow sculpture.


Reviews by Alice Ellerby

Published in issue 90. Accurate at the time this issue went to print. 

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