The timing of the release of the new book How to Be a Person: 65 Hugely Useful, Super-Important Skills to Learn before You’re Grown Up really couldn’t be better. I’m sure author Catherine Newman wasn’t expecting or intending for her book focused on teaching kids basic life skills to be released during a pandemic, but here we are. With weeks of isolation still ahead of us, it seems like the perfect time for them to learn how to chop an onion, address an envelope or sew on a button.
When I first began reading through How to Be a Person, I intended only to mine it for helpful ideas to share with all of you. But by the time I got through the first section — titled “Other Beings: How to Care for the People, Pets and Plants in Your Life” — I was getting choked up. The whole thing reads like gentle advice from a trusted mentor. She writes this in the introduction, which speaks directly to kids:
Look, we understand that maybe you didn’t pick this book out all on your own. Maybe your grown-ups even passive-aggressively gave it to you for your birthday along with a pair of rubber gloves and a plunger. (You’re welcome!) But it doesn’t really matter, because we’re convinced that a lot of the tasks we tend to think of as chores can be truly rewarding — especially if you have a chance to step toward them with confidence rather than being backed into them by that bulldozer of nagging otherwise known as your mum or dad.
Newman’s writing is clear and direct — even funny at times — and nver feels condescending or judgmental toward kids. Each section is 2-4 pages long and written in a quasi-graphic novel style with adorable illustrations (by Debbie Fong), so it’s easy to digest. She covers a variety of topics broken down into seven chapters:
- Other Beings: How to Care for the People, Pets and Plants in Your Life
- Saying it Right: How to Be Kind and Get Your Point Across
- Dirty Things: How to Clean and Care for Your Home
- Edible Food: How to Make Meals and Find Your Way around the Kitchen
- You’re Wearing That?: How to Clean and Care for Your Clothes
- Your Two Cents: How to Get, Give, and Spend Money
- Useful Skills: How to Do Basic Important Things
What really strikes me about this book is that it would be perfect for kids who don’t have strong role models in their lives and might feel awkward asking a friend or a teacher how to do simple, everyday things like wrap a present or scramble an egg, let alone something more complicated, like learning how to save money. The book’s format makes it easy to skim, allowing kids to quickly find the topics that most resonate with them.
As Newman also writes, “The truth is that it feels good to do meaningful things, and it feels good to be appreciated, and these skills pretty much guarantee a combination of those two good feelings.”