|Among so many excellently written books on parenting, psychology, education, literature and special needs, few are courageous and soulful enough to engage all four topics. But Priscilla Gilman does so in her immaculate work “The Anti-Romantic Child.”
Gilman, formerly an English professor at Yale University and now a publishing agent and writer with Harper Collins, touches utterly untouched territory in literary circles with her integration of biography, literary studies, family life, professional calling and spiritual awareness in this startling little book.
The book follows Gilman’s personal childhood where her notions of family are formed. This is something that psychologists call “family mapping” – essentially an examination of where an individual’s expectation of life are formed. While considered a drawback by some readers, it is fundamental to understanding Gilman’s hopes for her own children, which are ultimately shattered by the discovery of her first son’s autism.
Gilman’s description of the years of testing, interviews and special programming for her son, Benji, will resonate with any parent of an autistic child, but also anyone who can understand setting aside aspirations for the sake of family. Gilman’s description of caring for Benji – all while writing scholarly articles and entering the academic job market – is palpable.
What makes Gilman’s perspective more intriguing is her dare to not simply regard literature as having no place in her particular situation, but to rather “apply” literature to it. Rather than reading the poetry of Wordsworth through solely scholarly lenses, she begins to read it as practical advice from one parent to another and allows herself to be surprised by joy in the process.
As a result, Gilman begins engaging with Benji as a child rather than as a label given by the school system.
After trying medication, special programs and a number of hopeless diagnoses, Gilman goes through the process of learning to engage with Benji as the child that he is, rather than the child she wanted him to be. This transformation is powerful for no less a reason than it is something we must all do within all our relationships, and because of the humility it requires to lay down our ideals and engage with our loved ones as they are.
Gilman’s tone is sweet-lipped and humble; compassionate towards parents like herself and gracious to those who may not be walking the same path.
I was struck by her resilient conviction that whether we are facing child rearing, special needs education or examining literature, love remains the essential principle and without it we are beating the wind.
"The Anti-Romantic Child" is not void of love or compassion, but it is most certainly void of any airy romantic notions about children or education.
Gilman reaffirms that it is not our ideals that shape our lives, but it is the extent to which we believe in and exercise them, that makes a difference.
This is a good word for parents, for educators, for academics, and any other romantics at heart.
For more information and to find out how you can make a difference in Rutherford County’s literacy rates, visit readtosucceed.org. The opinions expressed in this book review are not necessarily representative of Read To Succeed, but simply intended to promote the joy of reading.