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Amy Chua: ‘Tiger Mother’ Not a Parenting Guide

On Tuesday, May 3 author Amy Chua will speak at Westport Country Playhouse. All proceeds will benefit Branford-based nonprofit Read to Grow.

The criticism surrounding Amy Chua’s controversial memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom reached fevered proportions, but the author herself has also collected accolades as one of 2011 Time 100’s most influential people and Yale University’s 2010-11 Faculty Excellence Award on the strength of student nominations.

for nonprofit Read to Grow offers area residents an opportunity to draw their own conclusions while also supporting a good cause.

Explaining her motivation to participate in the event, Chua, speaking from her New Haven office, said, “A lot of it is tied to their mission.”

As has been well documented, Chua’s parenting style came under intense scrutiny stemming from an excerpt of her memoir published by the Wall Street Journal under the title “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” But Chua noted that not only did she not choose that title, it also contradicts the book’s subtitle.

“There’s this idea of me that has nothing to do with the book that I wrote,” Chua says. She added that the book has been misrepresented as a parenting guide but that she wrote as a way to work through her complicated feelings about parenting.

Chua regrets that the critical focus has rendered invisible her book’s supporting characters, notably her sister, her dogs, and her mother-in-law, who Chua admired and who “represented all the strengths of the other view.”

“The book is supposed to raise questions,” she said. “What’s the meaning of life? Why am I doing this? What’s the right way to live? I have no idea!”

The formation of the Read to Grow organization emerged from a single request. An employee at a local health clinic approached RJ Julia Booksellers owner Roxanne Coady for help organizing a book drive. Coady was shocked to discover that many Connecticut children had never owned a book of their own. Equally distressing to her were Connecticut’s literacy rates. So she gathered a diverse group of donors—philanthropists, business leaders, bankers—and formed Read to Grow.

“They all share a passion for children and early literacy,” explained Read to Grow Communications Coordinator Cindy Gerstl.

Chua also shares these same passions.

“Kids need people to believe in them, to hold them to a high standard,” Chua said. “A lot of success comes down to hard work and parental influence.”

Chua believes that self-esteem “has to be earned,” which children experience when they achieve to the best of their abilities.

Read to Grow is dedicated to preparing children to do just that. Research indicates that birth to three is a critical window for brain development, Gerstl pointed out. If the brain is not stimulated, it’s very difficult for children to make up that absence. Because parents play a crucial role in their children’s early language development, Read to Grow is committed to providing them with literacy resources from their child’s birth.

“Early literacy development is as necessary a component to raising healthy babies as are feeding, diapering, and bathing,” explained Read to Grow communications coordinator Cindy Gerstl. “Parents really are key.”

Their Books for Babies program provides parents with a ‘literacy bag’ containing a baby book and a literacy guide for parents. The program currently operates in eight Connecticut hospitals, including both of Bridgeport’s, and they hope to institute their program in Stamford and Norwalk hospitals in the near future.

“In maternity, trained volunteers visit families in their rooms, introduce themselves and Read to Grow, and explain about early literacy,” Gerstl said. “So there’s one-on-one contact whenever possible. Developing relationships with families is an important feature of our program.”

Parents are encouraged to continue their relationship with Read to Grow. By returning a contact card in the literacy bag, parents receive an additional book and guide at six months and again at one year. Families with limited resources can also apply for gently used books at any time.

On her website, Chua writes, “It’s about believing in your child more than anything else—more than they believe in themselves—and helping them realize their potential, whatever it may be.”

Read to Grow aims to support parents in that process and encourages individual and communities to get involved through donating, holding book drives, starting Read to Grow clubs, or attending Tuesday's event.

"Everyone can help in their own way," said Gerstl. "And we're the better for it."

Tickets to “A Conversation with Amy Chua” can be obtained through The Westport Country Playhouse.  $75 tickets include a copy of the book, and $125 tickets include priority seating, two copies of the book, and a pre-event reception with Chua beginning at 10:30 a.m. Chua will be signing books after the event.

For more information about Read to Grow, visit www.readtogrow.org.

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