Parul Sehgal of The New York Times reports on newly released book titles and the world of publishing in "The Book Reader."
Two new nonfiction books take critical looks at the institutions designed to prepare and protect children: our schools and our foster care system.
In "The Smartest Kids in the World," Amanda Ripley looks at countries in which test scores have recently, and astonishingly, skyrocketed.
Wealth can't completely account for this. Finland is a recent educational success story, she finds, but next door in Norway, test scores are in free fall, despite there being virtually no child poverty. Meanwhile, in America, one-quarter of high schoolers won't graduate, and even the country's richest students, say, those from Beverly Hills, test on average lower than all students from Canada.
To look at what we can learn from other countries, Ripley follows students studying abroad in Finland, Poland and South Korea. She finds that these countries conceive of education differently, and with an eye to the new global economy.
"The Smartest Kids in the World" was just reviewed on the cover of The New York Times Book Review by Annie Murphy Paul, who said the book "succeeds in making our culture and our own choices seem alien—quite a feat for an institution as familiar and fiercely defended as high school."
In "To the End of June," Cris Beam turns to an even more vulnerable population, the 400,000 American children in foster care, a population twice as likely as war veterans to develop post-traumatic stress disorder.
Beam's book is an intimate look at the system and the stories behind the statistics. For five years, she followed dozens of foster families and children in New York, as well as their birth families and families desperate to adopt them.
Beam is a foster parent herself, and our reviewer, Benoit Denizet-Lewis, calls her book a "triumph of narrative reporting" and a "nuanced analysis of an American institution deeply in need of reform."
Find more reviews of new books in the New York Times Book Review at nytimes.com/books.