Joanna Brichetto

Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis, by Sandra Steingraber, is an acclaimed biologist’s look at the contamination of our planet and of our kids. It presents facts and evidence terrifying to contemplate. So what is a “thoughtful but overwhelmed” parent to do? Read this book, for a start. As grim as the evidence is, Steingraber seeks “to explore systemic solutions to the ongoing chemical contamination of our children and our biosphere.” She argues that our well-meant weeding of plastic sippy cups and chlorine toilet cleaners don’t really make a dent, and shows that the real solutions will call for larger-scale thinking and major political action, including regulatory frameworks and a global weaning from fossil fuels. The biggest revelation about Raising Elijah, however, is how enjoyable it is to read. A guilty pleasure in the truest sense, Steingraber’s lyrical descriptions of everyday family life and its connections to “urgent public health issues” are astonishing.

Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis, by Sandra Steingraber, is an acclaimed biologist’s look at the contamination of our planet and of our kids. It presents facts and evidence terrifying to contemplate. So what is a “thoughtful but overwhelmed” parent to do? Read this book, for a start. As grim […]

Good parenting skills include keeping kids well and safe. This means knowing whether to treat something at home or call in the experts. But sometimes, we need an expert just to get us that far. My Child Is Sick! Expert Advice for Managing Common Illnesses and Injuries, by pediatrician Barton D. Schmitt, helps parents and caregivers identify symptoms of everyday childhood maladies. The book makes searching easy, with sections organized for specific body areas—for example, Eye, Ear, Nose, Mouth/Throat, Chest/Breathing—or for urgent problems like Bites/Stings and Fever. Within these sections, chapters address specific symptoms and situations, beginning with “Definitions” and “When to Call Your Doctor.” The “when” part is divided into levels from “call 911 now” down to “call your doctor during weekday office hours.” Thankfully, all information—including the detailed Home Care Advice—is presented in clear checklist style. Such visual organization will be a blessing to parents, especially for those unavoidable moments of panic in the middle of the night.
 

Good parenting skills include keeping kids well and safe. This means knowing whether to treat something at home or call in the experts. But sometimes, we need an expert just to get us that far. My Child Is Sick! Expert Advice for Managing Common Illnesses and Injuries, by pediatrician Barton D. Schmitt, helps parents and […]

The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens is a refreshing take on parenting. Dr. John Duffy, family counselor, life coach and “top teen expert” (an honorific all the more remarkable for its near impossibility) proposes proven techniques to negotiate the ever-changing, seismic shifts of puberty and beyond. What is an available parent? One who encourages a kid to feel heard, understood, supported. Not as a “friend,” but as an effective parent. The author boils it down for us: “Our goal is to foster an environment that is most likely to provide a sense of competence and resilience.” And by focusing on our own behavior (which looks as crazy to our kids as our kids’ behavior looks to us) we can open the lines of communication, establish trust and try to balance fear with love and acceptance. Parental behaviors that don’t work make an all-too-familiar list, including lecturing, micromanaging, smothering, coddling, bribing, waiting and snooping. Luckily, the bulk of the book is all about what does work, along with insider tips and exercises to make us truly available.

The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens is a refreshing take on parenting. Dr. John Duffy, family counselor, life coach and “top teen expert” (an honorific all the more remarkable for its near impossibility) proposes proven techniques to negotiate the ever-changing, seismic shifts of puberty and beyond. What is an available parent? […]

Toxic Free is a “quick-start” guide to help readers understand how toxic chemicals affect our health and how to avoid them. Consumer advocate and “Queen of Green” Debra Lynn Dadd (Home Safe Home) starts by targeting the home. Most of us figure on finding bad stuff in our cleaning products, but the author also scrutinizes various beauty products, indoor air pollution, pest control, water, food, textiles, office supplies and interior decoration. Who knew about formaldehyde in no-iron bed sheets, PVP plastic in toothpaste, lead wicks in decorative candles, hazardous chemicals in perfume and DDT in our coffee? For each toxic consumer product in this formidable list, the author offers simple, natural substitutions. She’s not out to scare us, but to mentor us into better health. Another chapter clues us in on how toxic chemicals harm the environment and how we can minimize our “toxic impact.” And what about the harm already done to our unsuspecting bodies? The book suggests many simple and sometimes surprising things we can do to help protect and support our natural detoxification system.

Toxic Free is a “quick-start” guide to help readers understand how toxic chemicals affect our health and how to avoid them. Consumer advocate and “Queen of Green” Debra Lynn Dadd (Home Safe Home) starts by targeting the home. Most of us figure on finding bad stuff in our cleaning products, but the author also scrutinizes […]

Making history

If the working portcullis on the cover doesn't convince you, the gorgeous pop – up castle, cathedral and medieval bridge will: A Knight's City by Philip Steele is one nifty book of knights. Guided by Sir Hugo, readers ages six and up are privy to the sights, smells, sounds and sensibilities of Northern Europe in the year 1325. Labeled color illustrations, illuminated manuscripts and photographs of contemporary tools, games, weapons and wares complete the "you are there" depiction of a journey to knighthood.

Fast-forward to the Dakota grasslands during the 1870s for The Story of Yellow Leaf: Journal of a Sioux Girl by Gavin Mortimer, illustrated by Tony Morris. The date is no accident: Yellow Leaf's intimate account of her ordinary life coincides with the extraordinary disruption of Sioux tradition by white prospectors, settlers and soldiers. Presented as an illustrated journal, the story flows around detailed watercolors, pop – ups and flaps showing scenes of Sioux home life, ceremony, hunting and eventual war. For readers eight years and up, this is an appealing introduction to an important chapter in American history.

For more chapters of American history, try yet another personal journal: America: The Making of a Nation. Imaginatively presented as the scrapbook of an anonymous, patriotic history freak (and a veteran, to boot), the book takes readers of any age through a tour of America from Independence Hall in 1776 to the present day. Maps, illustrations, facsimile souvenirs, song lyrics and memorabilia practically spill off of every page, and countless flaps, pull-outs, inserts and other paper tricks just keep coming. A must for any kid studying American history in school, or for any history-minded household.

Anatomy lessons

Two body books in one gift roundup? Yes, because this reviewer could not be induced to ignore either one. The first, The Way We Work: Getting to Know the Human Body is by David Macaulay. This in itself is reason enough to run out and buy it. Macaulay is a master of bringing intricate structures to vivid life, and he is no less suited to expose the human body than the buildings and machines he is famous for. Peppy, brilliant and oh-so-fun, Macaulay's latest ensures that kids (and grown-ups) finally stand a darn good chance of understanding this stuff for real.

Dr. Frankenstein's Human Body Book: The Monstrous Truth About How Your Body Works by Richard Walker is just as informative, but worlds apart in presentation. The Dr. Frankenstein connection compels even a reluctant learner to peep inside various body parts, but once there, classic DK style takes over: attractive, busy, organized and clear as a bell.

Visual treats

Now, really, can anyone get excited about a new dictionary? Yes, if it's Merriam-Webster's Compact Visual Dictionary. The key word here is "visual." Many dictionaries have the odd illustration here or there, but in this one, every single word gets a glorious color illustration bristling with captions and details. The thematic arrangement is practical for specific queries, but it also makes browsing fun: Universe and Earth, Sports and Games, Animal Kingdom, and so on. Any book with in – depth info on wildly disparate entries like the greenhouse effect, locking pliers, a kumquat, a mitochondrion and a deep fat fryer is supremely satisfying.

The Food Network's reigning queen whips up Paula Deen's My First Cookbook for the very young. Though sprinkled with Deen family lore and photos, this is a solid beginner's cookbook full of kid-friendly recipes and treats. The artwork is particularly cute, and goes a long way toward making each recipe look fun and doable. Each ingredient is illustrated, so even non – readers can see at a glance what to collect. The list of Good Manners is a priceless addition, and just what you'd expect from an icon of Southern hospitality.

Classics retold

Anthologies of children's stories are typically good bets for gifts, and The Kingfisher Book of Classic Animal Stories is a fine example for kids ages six through 10. Selected with care by children's author Sally Grindley, the stories are an inventive mix of favorite classics. Aesop's Fables and Just So Stories make an appearance, as do self – contained excerpts from Farmer Boy, The Wind in the Willows, Born Free, The Cricket in Times Square and more. To round out the treat, each of the 16 stories is paired with new illustrations from a different contemporary artist.

Fifteen years in the making, The Bill Martin Jr. Big Book of Poetry was worth the wait. Each of these 200 poems was hand – picked by much – loved and much – missed children's author Bill Martin Jr., who hoped to share his love for words and poetry with children of all ages. Mother Goose, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Christina Rossetti and Jack Prelutsky are just a few of the selected authors in this dream of a collection. Plus, many of the artists Martin loved best have contributed all-new artwork, which makes this anthology a visual and verbal delight.

If your kids already know these nursery stories by heart, or, heaven forbid, think they're too old for nursery stories at all, whip out There's a Wolf at the Door: Five Classic Tales by Zoe B. Alley.

The best best friends

Writer James Marshall gave us a lifetime of characters who will never stop being funny, dear and spectacularly spot – on. The Stupids, the Cut – Ups, Eugene, Fox, Portly McSwine and Space Case are just a few from his more than 75 books, and don't forget his hysterical renderings of fairy tales like The Three Little Pigs and Hansel and Gretel. To rank them in order of wit and wonder would be an impossible task. However, too much can never be made of the particularly perfect duo of George and Martha. Marshall, who died in 1992, wrote and illustrated seven George and Martha books – 35 stories altogether – and all are collected in George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Best Friends. The adventures of the two hippos range from mild to outrageous, but always involve some kind of insight into the ups and downs and sideways of real friendship. The stories are super short – indeed, that is part of their charm – and always leave readers and listeners wanting more. The best reviews come from the little experts who sit on laps and hear these stories for the first or 500th time. George and Martha are, quite simply, tons of fun.

Making history If the working portcullis on the cover doesn't convince you, the gorgeous pop – up castle, cathedral and medieval bridge will: A Knight's City by Philip Steele is one nifty book of knights. Guided by Sir Hugo, readers ages six and up are privy to the sights, smells, sounds and sensibilities of Northern Europe in […]

Gift books sized right for stocking stuffers abound this season. Small in dimensions but big in style and content, they make ideal holiday gifts for any taste.

Horse and art lovers will appreciate the gorgeous equine celebration Horse: From Noble Steed to Beasts of Burden. A profusion of beautiful illustrations, paintings and sculptures each meticulously identified by captions accompanies short essays and quotes in a hefty hardcover volume. Horse is the latest addition to a charming Watson-Guptill series of mini-books that includes Dog, Cat and Zoo.

Other small and savory selections to slip into a stocking can be found in Abbeville Press' Tiny Folios series, which features subjects from pop culture to fine art. Just four inches square, each title combines text and art for a delightful peek at such topics as Elvis and American Art of the Twentieth Century. To score some points with the love of your life, choose Hugs & Kisses which features photos of touching and heartfelt embraces.

Brush up on your Bard with Fandex Shakespeare, a set of double-sided, die-cut cards attached at one end in a lively, colorful fan of facts. Background information and a summary of each play make for quick study. The Fandex Family Field Guide series has 13 other titles, too, like Mythology, Wildflowers and Civil War.

Holiday blues, winter blahs, sugar lows and bad hair days have a new remedy: The Blue Day Book: A Lesson in Cheering Yourself Up. Amusing animal photos are paired with inspiring, witty text designed to lift the spirits. Skip sending that well-intentioned e-card to a blue buddy, and give this charming antidote instead.

A Blue Dog day will cheer up fans of popular cajun artist George Rodrigue. A Blue Dog Christmas is a warm memoir of the artist's childhood holidays and canine companions. It features 19 new holiday prints, and a festive ornament that can be used year after year.

Another artist who happily refuses to grow up is Dan Price, author of The Moonlight Chronicles. Price describes himself as a hobo artist whose mission is to travel without a destination, observing and distilling the joys of simple living. His hand-written journal entries and charming sketches are full of wonder and gratitude. This is an unusual book in an unusual format, and well worth a look for its artwork, honesty, travel writing and journaling techniques.

For the simple joys of sophomoric humor, no one can outdo the usual gang of idiots from MAD Magazine. The MAD Bathroom Companion is a compilation of the magazine's best short pieces that can be read in one sitting. Enough said? The ideal gift for friends and family fond of infantile jokes, smug mockery and great cartooning.

If pearls of wisdom from MAD Magazine are not your style, the erudite gems from The Literary Book of Answers may be. The book is reminiscent of the time-honored practice of divination, where with closed eyes and an open book, a random finger pinpoints the answer. Here, readers are instructed to focus on a closed-ended question, touch the book just so and open to a seemingly random page containing a quotation from Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Sophocles or a host of other famous writers. It may sound corny, but the quotations are pithy, interesting and certainly more grammatical than advice given by friends and family. Should you quit your job? Move to Wisconsin? Have asparagus for dinner? Wait a little, advises Rudyard Kipling; That depends a good deal on where you want to get to, says Lewis Carroll; Enjoy it, all of it, Homer concludes. As a bonus, a truly literary-minded reader can seek out the source of a quote, find the context or discover a favorite new author.

Another new book has all the answers too, but to only one question: why aren't you married? Even God Is Single (So Stop Giving Me a Hard Time) by Karen Salmansohn delivers 26 good, snappy, single-girl comebacks to that dreaded question. This edgy little gift book also offers its philosophy of why it's better to hold out for a soulmate instead of settling for a cellmate.

A true gentleman, of course, never asks a woman why she is not married. He might however, ask guests to dinner without consulting A Gentleman Entertains, by John Bridges and Bryan Curtis. As this elegant manual proves, such an uneducated move could be a mistake. Single or not, a good host must know how to set a table, put guests at ease, have enough ice on hand, avoid disaster when the entree burns and other essential skills. Several likely social scenarios are covered, as well as a few klutz-proof recipes and tips galore.

Two chunky palm-sized books that will fit even the tiniest of stockings are Christmas Joy and A Treasury of Christmas. Irresistibly small, they are nonetheless packed with seasonal delights. The Treasury recounts several classic holiday stories, and Christmas Joy explores a variety of holiday themes such as charity, children and food. Need more books for folks on your holiday list? Euripides says "Go forward to your favorite bookstore," for "Yonder lies some more of the same sort" (Hans Christian Andersen). In other words, plenty of great new titles, big and small, await selection. "You may be sure of that" (Aeschylus).

 

Joanna Brichetto is a Nashville based writer who agrees that good things come in small packages.

Gift books sized right for stocking stuffers abound this season. Small in dimensions but big in style and content, they make ideal holiday gifts for any taste.

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