Allison and Adam Grant

West Bloomfield natives Adam Grant and Allison Sweet Grant deliver their new children’s book on the gift of giving.

Both powerhouses in their own rights, West Bloomfield natives Adam and Allison Sweet Grant have collaborated once again, this time to write a children’s book focused on the importance of generosity.

The Gift Inside the Box (Dial Books) will be available in e-book and hardcover format Oct. 1.

Ever since Adam’s first book, Give and Take, came out in 2013, people have been encouraging him to write a children’s book about generosity, the couple told the JN. People would ask them “How do I raise a mentsch?”

At first, Adam wasn’t sure where to start and decided not to do it. Then, on a family vacation last year, Allison came up with a story about a gift box that wanders around looking for its rightful owner. They started drafting it right then in the car and, 45 minutes, later the book was born.

Diana Schoenbrun

The intention is to help parents introduce their children to the idea of generosity and to inspire them to see the joy in helping others. They wrote the book so both parents and children could use their imaginations to fill in parts of the story together. Allison especially loved dreaming up the concept for the book’s cover, which looks like a package a child could actually open. Adam’s favorite part was coming up with a surprise ending to encourage kids to think about giving rather than receiving.

In recent years, Adam, a high-profile speaker, author and top-rated professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and Allison, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, have shared perspectives on relationships and marriage, including holding weekly meetings, on The Today Show and in Redbook, where they shared, “The beauty of a weekly meeting is that you have a natural opening, a distraction-free time to turn toward your partner.”

Other ideas shared include asking questions instead of trying to change your partner and having a conversation about the conversation. “If we really understood each other’s perspective then we should be able to get on the same page,” they shared on The Today Show.

Adam and Allison follow their own advice in their marriage and follow guiding principles — many gained when they were growing up in Detroit’s Jewish community — to parent their three children.

Detroit Beginnings

Three decades ago, Adam was a child growing up in Jewish Detroit. He’d get immersed in “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel, be featured in the April 17, 1989, issue of the Detroit Free Press about his passion for Nintendo, and attend Camp Tamarack and Camp Tanuga, where he says he discovered a love of water skiing and tennis, which complemented an early passion for reading, soccer and trivia.

Just two decades ago, Adam graduated from West Bloomfield High School, where he dove competitively all four years and was ranked 47th nationally. He was team captain, an academic All-American and a scholarship winner at the 1999 Michigan Jewish Sports Foundation dinner.

He graduated from Harvard University, and then received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in three years. He and Allison married at Tam-O-Shanter when he was in graduate school.

When Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg went to Israel last month, she made an early visit to meet Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, still mourning the loss of his wife two months before. Sandberg gave him Option B, a book she co-wrote about building resilience in the face of adversity after she had to face the sudden loss of her own husband.

The co-author was Adam Grant, who Sandberg has referred to as “one of the most important influences in my life.” Adam, 38, has already amassed millions of fans who listen to his podcasts (WorkLife). Millions have read his bestselling books and heard him speak at government, corporate and nonprofit events around the world.

 

His first two books, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success and Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, quickly rocketed to top slots on the New York Times bestsellers list and have been translated to 35 or so languages.

He has had academic tenure for a decade, when, at 29, he became the youngest professor ever to be tenured at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He often teaches 300 students across four sections each semester — and they have rated him one of Wharton’s top educators going back years.

Allison earned three degrees from the school of nursing at the University of Michigan — a bachelor’s in nursing, a master’s as a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner, and a master’s in nursing business and health care administration. She graduated with a perfect GPA and is a member of the Sigma Theta Tau International Honors Society.

The Grants both grew up as members of local synagogues, with extended families today at Temple Kol Ami and Temple Shir Shalom, both in West Bloomfield. They had their b’nai mitzvahs in the Detroit area in the early 1990s. In later years, Allison became very active in the BBYO Michigan region (Ahavah chapter), where she served a leadership role as regional N’siah.

For the pair, participation in social action and community service was emphasized through BBYO and their temples.

They started instilling these same values in their children at a very young age. The first thing they did was to encourage generosity around the holiday season. At Chanukah, instead of just receiving gifts, the Grant kids picked out presents for underprivileged children and delivered them to local hospitals and shelters. As they grew, they were actively involved in choosing items to donate to local temples and charities.

Now that they’re older, they focus less on gift giving and more on the ways they can give daily with their time, knowledge, skills and compassion. To “catch them doing good” and remind them to be grateful for the kindness of others, they have a weekly dinner table tradition of asking them who they helped this week — and who helped them.

Life in Philadelphia

When asked about the contrasts between the Philadelphia and Detroit Jewish communities, they start with a big difference: Detroit has more delis and better bagels!

They agree they have found it easy to assimilate into the Jewish community in Philadelphia. They have been members of a local synagogue since they moved to town, and their children attended Jewish preschool. They say it’s just as easy for them to play “Jewish geography” in Philly as in Detroit and, when they moved there, many of the Jewish people they met had family back in Detroit.

“The Northeast seems to have just as many Jewish camps as the Midwest, and our kids have had a blast participating in Maccabiah, Gaga and Shabbat traditions at sleepaway camp,” Allison said. “We run into quite a few Michigan fans here,” Adam adds, “so you can occasionally catch me shouting ‘Go Blue!’ at strangers at synagogue on the High Holidays.”
They were raised not only to tolerate but also to appreciate different religious and political views, and they worry it will be hard for their children to learn those values.

“Although we try to emphasize them in our home, it’s impossible to escape the xenophobia that seems to be increasingly rampant in America. We’ve done our best to shelter our kids from prejudice, but when they leave the house, we don’t have control over what they see and hear,” Allison remarked.

The Grants say they agree one mistake parents make is pushing kids to outperform their peers instead of encouraging them to pursue their own learning and mastery. To them, that means nurturing and developing their natural strengths along with trying out new challenges and overcoming obstacles.

Regarding rules on “computer screen time” at the Grant household, Adam and Allison don’t worry too much about the quantity of screen-time — they care much more about the quality. They encourage their kids to engage actively with electronic devices through reading, solving puzzles, and playing math and word games rather than just passively watching shows. Sometimes they play video games, but they’ve also learned to code their own basic video games, which helps promote mathematical and analytical skills.

Adam and Allison also mentioned the children’s books that most inspired them during their childhood in suburban Detroit.

One of Allison’s favorite picture books was The Pain and the Great One by Judy Blume, and later Little Women. Adam has early memories of loving Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good-Very-Bad-Day, which eventually was displaced by The Westing Game. Today, they both love Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg.

“We view it as a brilliantly written and illustrated book with a powerful message for kids about how it’s not only OK to make mistakes — sometimes mistakes actually make kids more creative,” Adam said.

When asked about writing Option B, if any particular insights arose about having difficult conversations with their children, such as at the loss of a loved one, Adam remarked about a personal loss.

“I was devastated to lose my friend and mentor Jeff Zaslow in 2012,” he said. “The most helpful insight I gained about dealing with sudden loss came from Allison. She reminded me that no matter how bad the situation was, it could always be worse.

“Jeff was tragically killed in a car accident, and although it seemed like the worst possible situation, it was important to remember there could have been other people in the car with him,” Adam said.

In Option B, he ended up sharing that in the darkest moments, gratitude can be found by shifting one’s perspective to appreciate what we still have. The lesson: When talking to children about difficult situations, it can help them to see that even when things seem bad, there is still good to be found.

When asked about the challenges of parenting, they say they don’t think parents should be focused on fostering professional potential.

“Teaching kids to define themselves by their career accomplishments sets them up for misery,” Adam said. “Too many parents end up becoming helicopter parents or snowplow parents, which prevents kids from developing independence and resilience.

“We believe the responsibility of parents is to encourage kids to take pride in excellence, but also nurture virtues like generosity, curiosity and integrity.”

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