No Biking In The House Without A Helmet


“This is my twenty-first year in elementary school,” the story begins. “For twenty-one years, I’ve carried in cupcakes, enclosed checks, and provided emergency phone numbers. I have staple-gunned and hot-glued. I have given standing ovations, volunteered at the school library, and stood in the cafeteria line as the servers dropped balls of Thanksgiving-flavored foods from ice-cream scoops onto my wet tray.”

Melissa Fay Greene is known for award-winning nonfiction and eloquent journalism, but she is also a mother. She and her husband Don Samuel are the parents of four children by birth and five adopted as older children from foreign orphanages.

As the younger non-English-speaking ones multiplied, Donny began referring to their end of the upstairs hallway as “the international concourse.” And if one child complained and a second one piped up, he observed: “Another country heard from.”



View the No Biking Portrait Gallery here.


“You just know that a book’s going to be good if you’ve already guffawed and the type has started to blur (even though you’re trying not to get overly emotional) when you’ve barely even finished the introduction…Greene is a culturally sensitive, boldly humane, never-crushing antidote to this year’s Tiger Mother. With too many of today’s parents caught in the blinding fog of over-achievement, “No Biking” is a revelatory must-read.”
–Terry Hong, The Christian Science Monitor

“There are funny parenting books and wise parenting books. Rarely a funny and wise parenting book. Melissa Fay Greene really does have nine children, five of whom were adopted from foreign orphanages—but this book isn’t a treacly, multicultural ‘Brady Bunch.’ Neither moralistic nor preachy, this memoir is about what it’s like to have heart, and grow children with heart. In another writer’s less deft hands, children who herded goats in Ethiopia and then relocated to a big old house in Atlanta could have become a Southern Jewish version of Brad and Angelina. Greene captures the wild vicissitudes of her family’s life and how individual difference enriches them all.”
—Elizabeth Taylor, Chicago Tribune, 4/15/2011

“Calvin Trillin once wrote that families always operate under stated or unstated themes, one of which is: ‘There are simply too damn many of us to make this thing work.’ With nine children, Melissa Fay Greene’s family could easily feel that way — or it could seem, as she frets at times, less like a family than like a group home. But despite some rough patches — fewer, it seems, than in many families with only a couple of children — that never happens. In this utterly winning memoir, Greene chronicles her family’s evolution from a fairly conventional four children to nine… Greene, an Atlanta-based journalist who has written about race, history, and the South, is enormously sensitive to how children think and feel, and equally open when chronicling her own emotions. This is emphatically not a how-to book, but it’s rich in both concrete and philosophical advice about adoption and parenting in general…By the book’s end, many readers will find themselves either yearning to adopt or wishing their own mother had been more like Greene.”
–Kate Tuttle, The Boston Globe, 5/15/11

“To most readers, Melissa Fay Greene is the prizewinning author of such journalistic gems as The Temple Bombing and Praying for Sheetrock. To her neighbors in midtown Atlanta, she’s also known as the lady who, in 1999, the year before her oldest child left for college, decided to adopt more kids, at least partially to ward off empty-nest syndrome. At last count, she and her husband, Don Samuel, a defense attorney, have added five kids to their “bio” group of four: one from a Bulgarian orphanage and four from Ethiopia. Why they did it—and how they do it—is the subject of Greene’s moving, enlightening, and surprisingly funny new memoir.”
— Sara Nelson, O Magazine and

“One family. Nine children. Countless stories. Readers of “No Biking” will find plenty of hilarity in this romping account of a boisterous brood. But this is not a reality-TV-style, mega-family tell-all. Instead it is a thoughtful story of a couple who raised four children — the ones they gave birth to — and then slowly expanded their family to embrace five more. An award-winning journalist and author, Greene brings her well-honed research and reporting skills to this very personal story…[She] set out to write about “the joy of living with these children,” and this joy — experiencing it and conveying it to readers — is her greatest success.”
–Suki Casanave, The Washington Post, 4/29/11

“Love knows no bounds-and no borders-in journalist Greene’s ebullient valentine to her family of nine children. When their oldest son goes off to college, Greene and her husband, Donny, decide to repopulate their emptying Atlanta nest with a Bulgarian boy, then a girl and three boys from Ethiopia. Differences are embraced as the kids adjust: Never taught imaginative play, Jesse tries to beat a toy weasel to death with a broom; goatherd Sol keeps spears in the tree house. Greene doesn’t ignore her new kids’ roots, taking the Ethiopians to their homeland and not only locating one son’s grandmother but starting her off in the chicken farming business. “Who made you the Old Woman Who Lives in a Shoe?” a friend quips, but Greene doesn’t apologize. Instead, she shows what it means to knit together a family that “steers by the light …of what feels right and true.” * * * *
–Caroline Leavitt, People

“It’s time for a laugh-out-loud selection….something you can take to the beach.
‘No Biking’ is…a chance to revel in the joy that one wonderful writer takes in this messy, exhausting, life-changing process… Not everything goes smoothly in this story, and Ms. Greene is not Pollyanna. But she is as upbeat as any parent you are ever going to meet, with a wicked sense of humor that I plan to try and channel the next time things get chaotic in my own, relatively tiny family.”
–Lisa Belkin, “Motherlode,” The New York Times

“This funny and frankly personal book is a departure for Greene, whose previous work has been sober and measured. The title sounds like a madcap domestic comedy in the tradition of Jean Kerr and Erma Bombeck, which it sometimes is. But Greene’s humor is less acerbic, her persona less addled. A large, noisy family was what she and her husband, criminal defense attorney Don Samuel, actively chose and celebrate… She’s upfront about the challenges: the epic sibling battles, culture clash, ongoing attempt to keep the household feeling like a family rather than a “group home.” But Greene is such an open and self-deprecating narrator she makes every addition to her family seem like the most natural and beautiful move in the world, “each child — whether homemade or foreign born — a revelation, a treasure.” The ability to write brilliant books with a houseful of children is clearly the least of Greene’s gifts.”
–Jennifer Reese, NPR

*Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award*
“It’s hard to decide what’s more infectious about this production—Melissa Fay Greene’s writing or narrator Coleen Marlo’s enthusiasm. Greene demonstrates her prowess at transforming nonfiction into a gripping story. In this book she writes about her family of four biological and five adopted children, and the joy and baggage that accompany them all. Whether discussing “boingy hair,” her Ethiopian adoptees’ athletic skills, her puzzlement about the value of Super Bowl tickets, or her children’s travails with cable pornography, Greene excels. So does Marlo, who reads with a fervor that makes the listener feel like a guest in Greene’s home. Marlo perfectly mixes the family’s happiness and inevitable rocky moments in an endearing way, making a wonderful book even better.
—D.J.S. AudioFile, May 2011

“No Biking in the House Without a Helmet is [Melissa Fay Greene’s] sprawling, imperfect, courageous and joyful account of the adoption process, warts and all… and the way her family welcomed and made room for each child, as well as the inevitable homesickness and culture clashes and sometimes rocky emotional terrain …The moral of her story? Just the opposite of the title’s warning. Don’t be afraid to break the rules, to “steer by the light of what makes us laugh, what makes us feel good”—especially if it means biking in the house, with or without a helmet…Sure, she has an adult side — she can say “No” and mean it, lock a tantrum-throwing 5-year-old in a therapeutic jaws-of-life grip, and wisely remind the reader that an adopted child “is not a blank slate to be wiped clean by a new mommy and daddy.” But beneath the mature surface lurks a tall, curly-headed, grinning Pop-tart lover who adores science projects and has no idea how to dress like a grown-up (“For the love of God,” her teenage daughter says, seeing one of Greene’s outfits).
With deep compassion, sparkling humor and an unshakable faith in the power of the whoopee cushion, she leads the way.”
—Gina Webb, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 4/27/2011

“…Greene is a writer of emotional impact. Whether she is describing the lands she visited to gather her children or the days that followed back home in Georgia, her words are flush with humanity and all the messiness and comedy that humanity trails in its wake. She goes the distance, which is a beautiful thing to behold, even as she plots her escape from all that she has called down on her head, for these are orphanage kids with plenty of baggage in tow. … Eventually, an enveloping sweetness and involvement swept away all but what is elementally grand about being a parent and nursing a parent. An upbeat chronicle of a life that has been lived on the bright side of the road, its ruts beveled by naked love.”
Kirkus Reviews, 4/1/11

With four children of their own, Greene and her husband gradually adopted five more…to create a roiling, largehearted family unit. In her whimsical, hilarious account, she pokes fun at her own initial cluelessness regarding the adoption process…[and] writes frankly about her own moments of “post-adoption panic” and doubts about attachment… The family often felt like a “group home,” as Greene depicts engagingly, yet despite periods of tension and strife, such as the discovery of living parents and sibling rivalry, Greene captures the family’s triumphant shared delight in one another’s differences.
Publishers Weekly [starred review] 2/28,11

“You’d think four kids would be almost enough for anyone not under some sort of be fruitful and multiply religious edict. But not for Melissa Fay Greene and her husband, Don. When their Atlanta nest was nearly empty, Don proposed “backfilling,” bringing in a new child every time one leaves. And, over the next eight years, five children from orphanages in Bulgaria and Ethiopia joined the family. In the hands of Greene, a distinguished journalist best known for her work on civil rights in the U.S. South (her Praying for Sheetrock is a landmark), this celebration of parenthood as both blessing and bedlam, is insightful, funny and suffused with love, even as Greene has to cope with a linguistic Babel, occasional fights and the spectacle of four non-native-English speakers researching “saxing” on Mom’s computer.”
The Toronto Globe and Mail, 9/3/11

“Greene is a gifted writer and researcher, and she does a beautiful job telling the story of adopting five older children… with skill and tremendous humor. The tales of former African goatherd kids adapting to life in Atlanta kept me giggling (and sometimes weeping) as I turned the pages. She doesn’t shy away from the hardships (and chaos, depression, panic and occasional regret) that can come with building such a large, multinational family, but her spirited writing and infectious joy make this a book worth recommending, and not just to adoptive families.
–Holly Collier Willmarth, The Minneapolis Star Tribune, 10/30/11

“A truly heartfelt memoir . . . [Greene] resists the urge to be cloying, however, infusing each chapter with a strong dose of humor and not shying away from the difficulties presented by adopting older children . . . It’s all one big, happy family but also a very real one. Call them the twenty-first-century Waltons, and revel in the joy they have found and brought home for keeps.” [starred review]
—Colleen Mondor, Booklist [starred review]

“This book touts itself as “dispatches from the ridiculous front lines of parenthood,” but it’s actually more like “dispatches from two incredibly selfless and loving humans.” Astonishing and deeply humbling, No Biking …is a lovely patchwork of moments from a house filled with love, life and acceptance.”
–Amy Scribner, Bookpage

Joy to the world. Line by glorious line, with raw honesty and unforced hilarity, Melissa Fay Greene tells the story of the true mega-family of the millennium, which is not some reality-show curiosity shop, but her very own nine children: those who came home from the hospital and those who came home from the airport. People often assure me that I’ll laugh and cry reading a book. I may smile; I may feel a lump in my throat. But I wept a dozen times reading No Biking and woke my own kids up with my laughter, as I stayed up all night with this, the Cheaper by the Dozen for a new planet. Melissa Fay Greene never set out to raise the world, only to raise her children. With this book, she raises the bar, wherever the word ‘family’ is spoken, for every single one of us.”
—Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Deep End of the Ocean and Second Nature: A Love Story

“The funniest part of this book is not the fact that several of Melissa Fay Greene’s nine children were once Ethiopian goat herders. The funniest part is that she has nine children. She not only loves and appreciates every one, she brings them all to vivid life with affection, exasperation, candor, and (indispensable, under the circumstances) humor. I went from Are you kidding? to I love these people! in four pages flat.”
—Marilyn Johnson, author of This Book Is Overdue!

“Brimming with humor and love, the story of Greene’s ever-expanding family is both unique and universal. Not everyone watches a son spear a Frisbee in mid-flight or weave a bullwhip out of the suburban shrubbery. But everyone at some point asks what it means to be a parent, a sibling, a family. Greene answers these questions with wit and wisdom. I finished her book with a renewed conviction that it is possible to shrink this wide world and to begin to bridge the chasms that have opened between us.”
—Geraldine Brooks, author of People of the Book and March

“About every five years, we get a book from Melissa Fay Greene. I’ve learned to wait for them eagerly, always excited to know what this thoughtful, sensitive writer is going to do next. Now—No Biking in the House Without a Helmet. That title tells you in no uncertain terms that you will laugh, but there’s a lot more in these pages than humor, including Melissa’s trademark generosity, optimism, winning self-deprecation, and high spirits. As a writer, a reader, and—like Melissa—the parent of an adopted child, I’m glad to know that this book will soon be out, and I hope it finds a very large audience.”
—David Guterson, author of The Other and Snow Falling on Cedars