The Anti-Romantic Child: A Memoir of Unexpected Joy

( 14 )

Overview

Priscilla Gilman, a teacher of romantic poetry who embraced Wordsworth's vision of childhood's spontaneous wonder, eagerly anticipated the birth of her first child, certain that he would come "trailing clouds of glory." But as Benjamin grew, his remarkable precocity was associated with a developmental disorder that would dramatically alter the course of Priscilla’s dreams.

In The Anti-Romantic Child, a memoir full of lyricism and light, Gilman explores our hopes and expectations...

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The Anti-Romantic Child: A Story of Unexpected Joy

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Overview

Priscilla Gilman, a teacher of romantic poetry who embraced Wordsworth's vision of childhood's spontaneous wonder, eagerly anticipated the birth of her first child, certain that he would come "trailing clouds of glory." But as Benjamin grew, his remarkable precocity was associated with a developmental disorder that would dramatically alter the course of Priscilla’s dreams.

In The Anti-Romantic Child, a memoir full of lyricism and light, Gilman explores our hopes and expectations for our children, our families, and ourselves—and the ways in which experience may lead us to re-imagine them. Using literature as a touchstone, Gilman reveals her journey through crisis to joy, illuminating the flourishing of life that occurs when we embrace the unexpected. The Anti-Romantic Child is a profoundly moving and compellingly universal book about family, parenthood, and love.

The Anti-Romantic Child, Gilman's first book, was excerpted in Newsweek magazine and featured on the cover of its international edition in April 2011. It was an NPR Morning Edition Must-Read, Slate's Book of the Week, selected as one the Best Books of 2011 by the Leonard Lopate Show, and chosen as a Best Book of 2011 by The Chicago Tribune. The Anti-Romantic Child was one of five nominees for a Books for a Better Life Award for Best First Book.

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Editorial Reviews

Ellen Galinsky
“A book for all parents. . . . [Gilman’s] poignant story of reconciling fantasy with reality is a universal story of parental growth. A story to inspire us all.”
Harold Bloom
“Priscilla Gilman’s lyrical narrative is profoundly moving and ultimately joyous. It eloquently touches the universal.”
Gretchen Rubin
“Unforgettable. . . . I couldn’t put this book down.”
Nick Hornby
“Smart, soulful, and involving.”
Andrew Solomon
“Rapturously beautiful and deeply moving, profound and marvelous.”
Kathryn Erskine
The Anti-Romantic Child is beautiful, poetic, and heartfelt. It’s more than a mother–child story; it’s a journey of self-discovery. It’s a book every parent should read.”
Sandra Boynton
“What a glorious book Priscilla Gilman has written. Lively, eloquent, straightforward, and insightful, The Anti-Romantic Child deftly delineates and negotiates the complex cross-currents of a life of the mind and a life of the heart.”
Mary Catherine Bateson
“Every parent should read this luminous book to absorb or absorb again the truth that every child is a surprise—a revelation—to be uniquely learned and understood as well as loved.”
Martha Beck
“This is a fascinating, tender, illuminating book about an extraordinary boy and his equally extraordinary mother. A wonderful read.”
KJ Dell'Antonia
“A fantastic memoir. . . . I loved this book.”
Harold Bloom
“Priscilla Gilman’s lyrical narrative is profoundly moving and ultimately joyous. It eloquently touches the universal as a meditation upon the way devoted parenthood can overcome the poignance of a child’s developmental disorder.”
Publishers Weekly
The daughter of literary agent Lynn Nesbit and the late theater drama critic Richard Gilman crafts a beautifully sinuous and intensely literary celebration of the exceptional, unconventional child. Her son, Benjamin, was born when she and her academic husband, Richard, were in graduate school at Yale, where she was still working on her dissertation on the Romantic English poet William Wordsworth. As "Benj" grew older and failed to hit the usual milestones of children his age, exhibiting brilliant but "odd" behavior such as an obsession with numbers, aversion to physical affection, fastidiousness, inability to feed himself, and echolalia, Gilman realized these were "uncontrollable manifestations of a disorder," namely hyperlexia. Falsely reassured by their well-intentioned pediatrician, the couple finally sought professional therapists, and after they relocated to Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where both got teaching jobs at Vassar, Benj made marvelous progress in school. Throughout her narrative, Gilman extracts from many of Wordsworth's poems, which comment on innocence and loss and gave Gilman tremendous succor during Benjamin's early development, making for both charming and studious reading. Her thoughtful memoir involves the breakup of her marriage, rejection of an academic career, and move to New York City to work in her mother's literary agency as much as it delves lyrically into the rare, complex mind of the unusual child. (May)
Boston Globe
“[A] lovely, thoughtful memoir.”
Kirkus Reviews

Literary agent Gilman, a former professor of English literature, describes the challenges that she faced parenting a developmentally disabled son.

The author's expectations of motherhood were shaped by her memories of her own idyllic childhood, reinforced by the romantic poetry of Wordsworth. The reality was harsher until, to her great delight, at the age one her son Benjamin began showing what appeared to be amazing precocity. He recognized letters, could identify objects and at 16 months could read several words. Though he didn't like being touched and was fearful of loud sounds, he delighted in showing off his skills. At two, he was able to read fluently and tap out complex rhythms, and he loved to sing and recite poetry. His memory was also impressive, as was his recognition of shapes and numbers. Gilman's anxiety for her son began to dissipate, and she and her husband "simply accepted that we had an odd, unconventional, and possibly brilliant little boy on our hands." That illusion was shattered when he was evaluated for admission to a preschool. The school administration was concerned about his lack of social skills and his tendency to parrot words rather than use them to express himself. He seemed to lack a sense of identity and didn't appear to comprehend simple pronouns, and his motor skills were poorly developed. He was also anxious and couldn't relate to the other children. Seeking professional help, the author learned that he suffered from hyperplexia, a disorder that is sometimes linked to Asperger's. The author chronicles how she and her husband, his teachers and therapists, were able to help him gain language skills and master his anxieties so that he could not only relate to others but fully express his own creative gifts. "In parenting Benj," writes the author, "I have gotten more in touch with a profound kind of romanticism; I have been given access to a transcendent sense of mystery and awe and wonder."

A striking celebration of the bond between a mother and son.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061690280
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/24/2012
  • Pages: 291
  • Sales rank: 403,327
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Priscilla Gilman

Priscilla Gilman grew up in New York City and is a former professor of English literature at Yale University and Vassar College. She has taught poetry appreciation to inmates in a restorative justice program and to New York City public school students. The Anti-Romantic Child, her first book, was excerpted in Newsweek magazine and featured on the cover of its international edition; it was an NPR Morning Edition Must-Read, Slate's Book of the Week, and selected as one the Best Books of 2011 by the Leonard Lopate Show. Gilman writes regularly for publications including the Daily Beast, the New York Times, and the Huffington Post, speaks frequently at schools, conferences, and organizations about parenting, education, and the arts, and is a Scholar/Facilitator for the New York Council for the Humanities. She lives in New York City with her family. The Anti-Romantic Child has been nominated for a Books for a Better Life Award for Best First Book.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 14 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 18, 2011

    Poetry and Parenting

    The author is a professor of English who, like all moms, is delighted when her firstborn child turns out to be a phenomenal reader. However, the boy's special skills are a symptom of hyperlexia, which is on the autism spectrum somewhere near Asperger's. The beautiful poems of Wordsworth become a 'soundtrack' of sorts as the author discovers how to best help her child find a place in the world. Highly recommended.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 19, 2012

    GET THIS BOOK!!!! It is completely worth it. I am currently doin

    GET THIS BOOK!!!! It is completely worth it. I am currently doing a book study about this book and I couldn't have chosen a better book!! It was so touching to read all Mrs. Gilman's experiences with Benjamin (her son). Trust me, you will feel that you are a part of her family because of how detailed and personal her experiences are throughout the book. Throughout the book there wasn't a page that left me without tears! I want to praise Mrs. Gilman for writing this book because it is extremely personal but it has definitely helped many cope with similar experiences! Even if you think you can't relate, pick up this book and you WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED!!! I read it once and I will read it again and again! Be prepared to finish it in one sitting (because you will always want more- trust me); and definitely be prepared to be in tears!

    If you are going through similar experiences, this book will definitely help you cope and show you that there is light at the end of the tunnel!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 30, 2012

    highly recommended

    I cannot say enough about this book she has writen, she has shown the disappointment, struggles, fights and ultimate joy when raising a special needs child with such clearity and understanding and respect..i have always felt kind of alone in my experiences with my daughter but i don't feel so alone anymore...thank you for that..every parent should read this book..my other daughter is going to read it now..

    i laughed and cried throughout the whole book

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 21, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Enhancing, Loving, & Nuturing the Life of a Very Special Little Boy ~~ Benj

    Priscilla has truly written one of the most heart-warming & touching books that I have ever had the pleasure to read. Being the mother of a special needs child, I could immensely feel the emotions that Priscilla expressed in the book in regards to the admiration, devotion, fear, & love that she has for Benjamin (Benj). A parent of a special needs child works so very hard to get him/her to progress to their highest potential without pushing him/her too far to where it may be above what he/she can handle. Priscilla shows such determination & motivation to do everything possible to make Benj's life accessible for him in the ways that he can tolerate & handle in his world. She expresses in words & through the use of William Wordsworth's beautiful poetry, the true love that she has for Benj & his younger brother, James. She expresses with true intensity the feelings that a parent experiences upon learning that his or her child has a diagnosis that may limit he or she in society. She expressed this feeling in words so well, that I could literally feel the pain again that I felt on the day that my youngest son was diagnosed as deaf in both ears. I also could relate very well with her when she spoke of how her marriage began to deteriorate. My marriage deteriorated as well. To hear her express the emotions of disapointment & the pain that goes along with a deteriorating marriage & to have a child that needs you both is a very familiar emotion to me & I could relate so well with her descriptions of the feelings that she was experiencing during that time. Priscilla writes of Benj in such a way that I feel as if I have literally met this wonderful, little guy. He is such a remarkable, little boy in so many ways & Priscilla has done an excellent job in detailing the hurdles that he has overcome & the immense achievements that Benj has accomplished. I can sympathize with Priscilla in the worry that she has experienced & will continue to experience to a degree, regarding Benj possibly being bullied or picked on by other children, as I have had those same worries myself for my son. However, so far, I have been fortunate, like Priscilla, to have had some of the kindest instructors, baby-sitters, & other people that are involved in my son's life. My son, Ryan, is typically adored by all that encounter him, just as Benj has been. Through reading about Benj & his wonderful personality, he has to be like sunshine brightening up a dark day. Priscilla describes the incredible and remarkable lengths that she has gone through to make sure that Benj's world is accessible & easier for him to venture through. I truly believe that no other person could have done any better at this than she has at making sure that her wonderful son gets just as good of a chance at a fruitful life & education as any other child would. She is truly a very remarkable woman. As the reader of the book, you too will experience the intense love & dedication that she has for Benj. I can relate very well with her on this point also. My ex-husband & I have taken every advantage & opportunity that we can to enhance Ryan's world with him now having bilateral cochlear implants. Speech therapy has to be very intensive with him to learn to speak appropriately & I can definately relate with Priscilla when she speaks of the appointments to various physicians, therapy, & other faculties to aid our ch

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 30, 2011

    Acceptance of What Is...

    I began this book, as a mother of a child with Asperger's syndrome, not quite sure what to expect. However, I quickly fell in love with how Priscilla Gilman related so much of her experiences to her most beloved poetry. As a reader, you can literally feel the perception shift in Gilman as she comes to terms with the special needs of her son by the way her interpretations of poetry shift. I could relate so well to Gilman's experiences with her son. I was shocked, though, when I came across the page where Gilman describes hyperlexia because she was describing my son perfectly. It was because she chose to share her story that I was finally able to identify a mysterious piece of my son's early development and could provide information on hyperlexia to his therapists and doctors. Through sharing her experiences, Gilman provided me with a new understanding of my son and new ways to relate to him. She opens up the discussion on how we come to terms with having children that do not "fit" others' and even possibly our own definition of "normal." Gilman shows the power of love to not necessarily overcome adversity, but to accept it as it is, embrace it, and even welcome it. She shows us that through the shedding of who we thought we were supposed to be, who we thought our children were supposed to be, a new way of thinking, a new way of life, a new self emerges. What was once considered anti-romantic becomes most romantic and beautiful through the acceptance of what is and a fierce determination to no longer allow others to define who we are or who we should be. Gilman not only becomes an advocate for her son but also for herself. She grows alongside Benj and finds strength and courage through his experiences and uses them to ultimately find her true self.

    I believe everyone should read and will learn so much from The Anti-Romantic Child. We are at a point where excavating our authentic self is more important than ever, and it may just be that the children we've labeled as "special" are indeed so, as they are emerging as our greatest and most powerful teachers yet.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 13, 2011

    I say, "Wow!". I am overwhelmed.

    To me, "The Anti-Romantic Child" is a story of love, patience, heartbreak and fulfillment. I am enthralled by the main characters: the author Priscilla, her husband/ex-husband Richard, her hyperlexic son Benj, and, to a lesser extent, her father, her younger son James, Yale, Vassar and New York City.
    Benj's story is thrilling. He is dealt a dreadful hand and somehow overcomes adversity. The author places me - the reader - in Benj's mindset. Frightened by the world, grasping at the world, enveloping the world. Ms. Gilman describes the transition beautifully, and the reader makes the journey with Benj and her. My sense is that the author's tender loving care is key, but I also sense Benj's becoming a brave boy, taking risks, surprisingly intuitive and creative. I hope Benj reads this book at some unknown future date. It is a love story. It is a story of his travails, his conquests and his Mother's love.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 7, 2011

    Highly recommended

    A moving account of a mother's devotion to her special child and how her relentless pursuit to understand and love him transforms not only her preconceived dreams for Benj, but also for herself.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2014

    Amazing

    A gorgeous, life-affirming story about love, family, courage, heartache and triumph, you don't need to be the parent of a special-needs child to appreciate this lovely memoir. I couldnt put it down!

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  • Posted July 11, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    A Mom's Choice Award Recipient!

    The Anti-Romantic Child is a recipient of the prestigious Mom's Choice Award. The Mom’s Choice Awards honors excellence in family-friendly media, products and services. An esteemed panel of judges includes education, media and other experts as well as parents, children, librarians, performing artists, producers, medical and business professionals, authors, scientists and others. A sampling of the panel members includes: Dr. Twila C. Liggett, ten-time Emmy-winner, professor and founder of PBS’s Reading Rainbow; Julie Aigner-Clark, Creator of Baby Einstein and The Safe Side Project; Jodee Blanco, New York Times best-selling Author and; LeAnn Thieman, motivational speaker and coauthor of seven Chicken Soup For The Soul books. Parents and educators look for the Mom’s Choice Awards seal in selecting quality materials and products for children and families

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  • Posted June 22, 2011

    Highly recommend for those who want to reflect on the "essential self"

    My deep appreciation for Priscilla Gilman's book The Unromantic Child is two-pronged. First, without sap or spite, Gilman reveals her journey of enlightenment as a mother, for how she aligned herself with her son's needs and gifts, reconciling to reality.

    From that last sentence above it is too easy to think that this is a book just for the parents of children with special needs. Of course, it shares a perspective that they should find helpful. It certainly reached out to me, as I have a son who reflects Benj's diagnoses except for the hyperlexia. Like Benj, my son "clearly has shades of obsessive-compulsive disorder, . sensory-integration disorder and social-pragmatic language disorder" and is said to have mild Asperger's. A Rule Boy with tics and quirks, he is nonetheless a very different child from Benj. For one, music is not a solace for him, though writing and drawing are. The differences between our two sons serve as great testimony for Gilman's plea - that we "appreciate[e] the complex, intricate person" each child is, beyond labels.

    And while that is an intrinsic message that we should all follow, I also want to discuss another element that deserves attention from a wide readership. That is Gilman's journey through the works of Wordsworth, offering his poetry in the context of her life before Benj and since.

    I hadn't really met Wordsworth until five years ago, when I wandered through his Dove Cottage-not "lonely as a cloud," but with my son alongside. I picked up a dog-eared copy of The Illustrated Lake Poets at a second-hand shop in Grasmere and from there, we experienced the landscape through Wordsworth's poetry.

    Shielded by our Gore-Tex from "flying showers," we "rove[d] [t]hro' bare grey dell, high wood, and pastoral cove . [t]hro' craggs, and forest glooms, and opening lakes . to willowy hedgerows, and to emerald meads ." and through it all, I found "the sense [o]f majesty, and beauty, and repose, [a] blended holiness of earth and sky ."

    And in our roving, I gained a profound appreciation not only for how Wordsworth captured that landscape with verse, but also for how his very writing helped to galvanize others into safeguarding the Lake District so that we also, nearly two centuries later, could be "Wild Wanderers"-not only seeing firsthand the world that was once his, but also discovering the real reason why we should wander there: simply to "Be happy."

    I thought I knew Wordsworth, but then I read Gilman's book. Compared to her encounters with him, mine feels pragmatic. Not hollow, but shallow. Wordsworth's poetry did not launch my emotions-no, it was the landscape itself that sent them soaring. Rather, his words helped me latch more firmly to my feelings, to name them, frame them. So as I embraced the landscape, I echoed Wordsworth. I wasn't breathing in the poetry and letting it burn through my heart, whereas it is clear that Gilman has done just that.

    So, those who appreciate Wordsworth, good poetry, the hold that poetry can take on a soul (or the help that it offers for fathoming the profound) should also read this book.

    In her use of Wordsworth to show how she came to commit herself to the "battle for Benj's essential self," Gilman provides not only specifics that can help parents fight for their own child's "essential self," but can help all readers reflect on their own.

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    Posted September 25, 2011

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    Posted May 4, 2011

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    Posted December 17, 2011

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    Posted May 11, 2011

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