"We are all wanderers on this earth...our hearts are full of wonder, and our souls are deep with dreams." ~ Gypsy proverb

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

My Top Ten (plus two) Life Altering and Growth Inspiring Books

Welcome to the March Carnival of Natural Parenting: Natural Parenting Top 10 Lists

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared Top 10 lists on a wide variety of aspects of attachment parenting and natural living. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.
Enter until noon EST today for yesterday's book giveaway! Plus, a new giveaway today!!
Like so many, I've had a love affair with books since I could read.  They have always been my go-to for relaxation, fun, and a little escape.  Well, it seems my modus operandi has been changing from light and fun reads to thought-changing, eye-opening, and sometimes emotionally exhausting reads.  I still sprinkle in the fun (Twilight series), but less and less it seems.  I feel like a bug continually molting, but instead of new skin, I’m getting a gray hair with every new “enlightened” thought.  If only I were THAT enlightened...

Have you experienced this at all? Do you think this is a natural progression that comes with age?   Maybe the more comfortable we are in our own skins, the more we are able to consciously evolve into better versions of ourselves.  I remember a time when my insecurity put me in perpetual self-protection mode.  I was so afraid to be exactly who I was, change was not possible.  Confidence, security, authenticity, however you want to define it, gives us the room to accept that we can be better, and that we want to be better.  And I guess that is how I came to my top ten list of favorite life-altering and growth-inspiring books, books that I know have helped me become better.  So here they are, in no special order....

 1.  The Parent's Tao Te Ching by William Martin:  For me, books on the ancient writings of Taoism are not about religion, but a philosophy on balance.  When I read these books, I realized that life and physics are intertwined: What goes up must come down, there is always a flip side, a silver lining, and another perspective.  This book takes the philosophies and relates them to mindful parenting, creating simple lessons rolled into poetry, like music for the mind.  Here is a section from The Parent's Tao Te Ching:


Finding Balance
There are so many paradoxes in parenting
that it is difficult to find balance.
Some don’t even try.
They just plunge ahead
ignoring the subtle whispers of wisdom.
Others try half-heartedly,
but resort to old methods
when they get confused.
But some hear wisdom’s quiet voice
And make it their own.

Parenting paradoxes abound.
Don’t let appearances deceive you.
Things may not be at all as they seem.
What’s going on with your children right now?
Are you sure?
Or are you just making assumptions?
Buried in the most difficult of times
are polished gems.
Lurking beneath serene surfaces
lie turbulent waters.
Stay balanced.

2.  The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran: With this book, I found beautiful words of wisdom.  His thoughts on children and on marriage are deep, insightful, and are among my favorite.  Please take a few seconds to read them, you will see what I mean :).

3.  The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz: I read this book several years ago, and it was the first book that helped me understand that authenticity and integrity will always be ways in which I inspire to live.  Based on Toltec wisdom, you can find what the four agreements are here.

4.  A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle: What I learned from this book was how to separate myself from my own damaging thoughts.  I use to listen to those messages, wanting desperately to try to change them.  Thanks to this book, I have learned that the biggest lies about ourselves stem from our own ego, compulsively seeking attention.  Thankfully, in no way do we ever need to react to those thoughts.  I can also say, that it is easier for me to be more compassionate now, as I see many people's greatest battles are with their own egos and the messages they send to themselves.   I didn't agree with everything in this book, but the parts that I did receive were life changing.  You can read a review here.

5.  The Unschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith: This was my first introduction into unschooling, and our lives have changed ever since.  This is unschooling at it’s simplest.  What I knew of unschooling prior to reading this book, scared the heck out of me.  Me?  Unschool?  Without a structured method telling me step-by-step how to teach my kids?  Impossible!!  Wrong.  This book helps you know that it is possible.  I will be eternally grateful to my friend Naomi for introducing this book to me :).

6.  Homeschooling Our Children Unschooling Ourselves by Alison McKee is a personal account of a family’s journey unschooling their son and daughter.  Both highly educated with advanced degrees, Alison and her husband decide to take the road less traveled (especially in 1983) and have their children learn naturally, without curriculum.  This book is inspiring and very honest, sharing both their wonderful and difficult experiences.

7.  How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish:  My first crash course into changing how I relate to my children and the very first practices I received in mending my ways as an authoritarian parent.  This book has effective, simple, and easy to understand points and exercises, making it very resourceful and valuable to have.

8.  Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort:  I wish I had read this book as my first book towards parenting peacefully, but thankfully many of the practices she recommends in this book evolve naturally when making the choice to parent with respect and trust.  I highly recommend Naomi's books, CD's and website.

9.  The Last Child in The Woods by Richard Louv:  I have always known the importance of nature in our lives, and especially the growing lives of children.  I believe we are inseparable from nature, yet our disconnection from it, throughout society, remains evident and disheartening.   Louv cites research and personal examples, and implores us to help children understand nature’s value intrinsically and extrinsically.

10.  Radical Homemakers by Shannon Hayes:  This book flipped a switch in me, creating the desire to change from consumer to producer.  She opened my eyes to the historical roles of homemaking in our society, and how these roles have evolved through the years.  She talks of the feeling of unfulfillment, a void, in many mainstream homemakers today, a void I felt not too long ago and one that sometimes returns.  She has inspired me to really look at my role as a homemaker and to find fulfillment based on creating and producing what I need and want from my home environment (as opposed to depending on external resources for  “stuff” that we are led to believe we need to have).

And two more to grow on because ten is just too limiting:

11.  Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen:  Dr. Cohen, through his comical stories and experiences, both personal and professional, helps his readers decode kids' behaviors, encouraging a gentle, fun, and playful approach.  This book emphasizes our children's need to have us play with them, in their world, with their rules.  I have always had a problem with this as I get easily wrapped up in my own world. He reminds us that one day, they won't ask us to play anymore, so live, appreciate, and understand the impact of these moments while we can.

12.  Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver:  I am still working on this book, but it is climbing the list as one of the most life-changing.  My eyes continue to be opened to the current state of our relationship with food and food production, and the massive blow our food industry has punched into our culture, our health, our farmers, our animals, and our planet.  This book has encouraged me to reignite my love for food, growing it, eating it, and creating with it.  My own personal struggle with food has been a hindrance in wanting to strengthen this relationship.  With Barbara’s book, I think I may be ready.

Okay, that was really hard.  Encapsulating a lifetime of reads into ten? Okay, twelve. Still challenging.  Thanks for sticking with me, now for the:


Do you see one on this list you want to read?  If so, please leave me a comment below with which book (out of all twelve) intrigued you the most.  I will randomly pick a winner and announce on Thursday who receives a brand new copy!!  Comments will close Wednesday evening, 7pm EST!!  Thanks and see you tomorrow with another book review in Yarn Along :)!!


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon March 8 with all the carnival links.)


  1. Great take on the carnival theme!

    I think Playful Parenting has the most potential to make big changes in my household. It sounds like a book I'd like to share with my husband.

  2. I've noticed the trend to serious reading in my husband but not so much in me. I will say I read a lot more nonfiction in general now than when I was younger, but I need to sprinkle quite a bit of fun in, too! :)

    I want to read (actually, for one it's reread) the unschooling books. I love the parenting books you mentioned, so I'm sure I'd get a lot out of all the rest as well! I like how you describe Radical Homemakers as "creating the desire to change from consumer to producer" — that sounds intriguing!

  3. Great list. I've read many and just not bothered with others.
    Playful Parenting intrigues me. I've had it on my Amazon list forever. I keep thinking that I'm already a playful parent, but do wonder at what the book actually has to say.

  4. What a wonderful list. I have read Animial, Vegetable, Miracle and have several Michael Pollen books on the nightstand waiting their turn. Having a love-hate relationship with food is hard! Off to check Amazon for Radical Homemakers-sounds interesting. Thanks.

  5. I loved your list! I have read many on there, and now want to read them all. I am especially fascinated by The Four Agreements. I am from Mexico, and my FIL is Mayan. Each summer my dh and I teach a course for our university on Mesoamerican history. I have found some very interesting things on Aztec parenting, and know that they took much of the best in their society from the Toltecs. I am so excited about learning more!


  6. I'd love to read Homeschooling our Children, Unschooling Ourselves. I constantly struggle with the thought that I'm not doing enough, not pushing them hard enough and yet I chose to homeschool because I want school to be fun, I want them to continue to be creative. It's a hard line to walk.

    Your list is great! Loved seeing Radical Homemakers and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle on there as those are two books that really impacted me.

  7. hehe there seem to be too many good books out there to stick to 10 eh

  8. I've been reading like crazy lately. I am finishing Playful Parenting and have Raising our Children, Raising Ourselves up next.

    I'd love to read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. We have drastically changed the way we eat because my son is intolerant to wheat, dairy and soy. I don't think I can ever go back to eating how I used to.

  9. This is an utterly fascinating list. I've only read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - which I loved and need to re-read soon since gardening season is almost upon us!

    I'm not a parent but it is so encouraging to know that there are so many wonderful resources for creative, natural parenting, as well as an amazing online community. I'm in awe of all of you parents making the world a much better place for and with your children!

  10. I'm so excited to get some of these books. I've read 2, 3, 4, and 12, and I'm really interested in several of your other suggestions. I'm tagging this list and will be keeping it as a resource. Thanks!
    P.S. Maybe one day your kids will like "The Tao of Pooh"? I used to teach it to sophomores in high school, and the kids really loved it.

  11. Hi MJ - delighted to discover your blog via CarNatPar! looks like we started out about the same time last year!

    Great list, I am totally with you on 2,4,7 and 10 (have you read my Radical Homemakers series? http://dreamingaloudnet.blogspot.com/2011/01/radical-homemaking-week-1-beyond.html It's the most popular thing on my blog!) Wasn't so gone on the 4 agreements. Fully intending to read 8,9, 12 - have heard a lot of good stuff about them.

    Love the pic of Buddhas - is that your garden?

    Love the ref to grey hairs in the intro - have you read http://dreamingaloudnet.blogspot.com/2011/02/beyond-black-and-white.html

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting on Dreaming Aloud.

  12. I'm definitely going to take a look at The Parent's Tao Te Ching.

  13. Wow. I love to learn what other mothers are reading--especially unschoolers.

    I'll be looking to buy or borrow 1, 3, 4 and 9.

  14. I haven't read any of these but there are a few on my list, including Playful Parenting, How to Talk so Kids Will Listen, and anything by Barbara Kingsolver. :)

  15. How exciting--new book recommendations! And you know, I've only read a few of those you list above, so I'm sincerely excited to get out my library card. Thank you so much! :-)

  16. Oh there are so many titles here that I would gladly add to my reading list!
    I rememebr reading about "last child in the woods" a while back, I think it has such a timely message for our culture.
    Thank you for all the reccomendations, it's so wonderful to be introduced to new and inspiring authors.

  17. Well our taste in parenting books is similar, so I need to check out some of the others on your list :) Thank you for sharing!

  18. i've read exactly half of these (all 6 of them would be on my most influential reads list if i had one lol) and have 4 of them on my wish list. truly, we have some things in common, girlfriend. :)
    the ones on my wish list would be 1,2,3 and 10. the parents tao te ching i have actually picked up and thumbed through, and know i would love. radical homemakers sounds right up my alley but i've been waiting for it to be cheaper/used. and eckhart tolle, come on. i need to read that! lol.
    i have done the same thing with reading- my journey with books has also been one where the fun/frivolous reads are tapered way down, while the non fiction consciousness-raising stuff seems to be what is in my pile to read. not that i find much time for it, but i am most definitely a book lover.
    the four agreements rock. reading it is like a meditation- kind of repetitive after a while, but in a good way- i can still (a few years later) list what the four are, which is not always the case with things i read. i absolutely adore naomi aldort's book, as well as the last child in the woods. unschooling handbook is so key for those brand new to it. and barbara kingsolver's books, that one included, have been probably my number one most influential reads of my life. she is a hero of mine.
    sorry to ramble on, i'm a little excited. :)

  19. I have heard so many great things about Radical Homemaker lately - it's next on my "to read" list!

    I hope to work through your whole list ... eventually ... reading with a 5 month old rarely happens, but there is SO MUCH I want to learn and explore. Thanks for all the ideas!

  20. MJ, I've never heard of Radical Homemaker before but it sounds right up my alley. I just finished reading 'Flipping the Switch'; I think they might tie together nicely. Thanks for tuning me in!


  21. Thank you! That was an expensive read, many I have read, but others are new to me. (I just posted about Playful Parenting last week LOL).
    I appreciate your thoughtful way of writing :)

    COme & Join the Playdate!

  22. What a fabulous list! I love how you compare yourself to a bug, continuously molting. I can definitely relate! I love Playful Parenting, Last Child in the Woods, and The Prophet and a couple of the others are on my list, but now I have several more to keep them company ;)

  23. MJ, I love your list of books. A few of them I have eyed off before or read. I love Barbara Kingsolver, I think she is one of my favourite authors. If I was to choose just one of the books it would probably be Playful Parenting. I don't think you can ever have too much fun!
    You made me laugh with the grey hair and enlightened thought comment. Perhaps that is how I should be feeling towards mine (the greying hair that is), hmm? Jacinta

  24. I loved the list of books. "Homeschooling Our Children Unschooling Ourselves" and "The Four Agreements" popped out at me the most. We are already unschooling but it is always nice to read about other famiily's journeys.

    I have just found your blog and have been enjoying all of the wisdom and beauty here. Thanks!

  25. Heehee, I just realized I commented on the wrong book post *grin*. You have done some serious reading and these are such great books! I've read a couple of them but this is great :) The Animal Vegetable Miracle is on my wishlist right now. I've heard so many awesome reviews of it :)

  26. A very interesting list of post - I'm not sure how many of the books can be purchased in the UK.

    How To Talk...sounds really interesting. I'm sure I could learn lots from it for my new role in a school. x

  27. Wow--I am so off to the library with this list in hand. The only one I have already read is The Four Agreements. My friends and I were looking for some good unschooling books, so I think we'll start with the ones you mentioned! Awesome!

  28. Our life changing lists are very similar :-) But you have a few on there I am only beginning to explore (the homeschooling, discipline ones) so I was glad to read your reviews on these. Thanks so much!

    For your giveaway I would pick the "Unschooling Manual" :-)

  29. I love your list. Some I have, some I've read and some I covet! I think that my choices would be the Parenting Tao Te Ching or How to talk so kids will listen... If only! You have inspired me to go back and read some of the books from your list that I do have too. A double blessing. Thanks

  30. What a linky list! That is amazing. Thanks for the resources you just compiled!
    Sorry I missed this give-away. I just asked one of my listservs about Richard Louv's book. Some of my friends are shocked...I haven't read it yet! (Off to the library for me..)

  31. love this list. i just added 2 to the cart... don't know why i've been passing up playful parenting.

  32. here via monica at holistic mama. i'm so glad i stopped by. i've just put a few of these titles i haven't already read in my amazon cart. i am at the beginning stages of homeschooling my son. thank you!

  33. I think I have every book on your list! Thanks for sharing.

  34. Spiritual books are helpful but at the end of the day. Nothing is more wise then the experience of life.


“Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
~ George Bernard Shaw