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Green Guide Families -- An Essential New Book

07/04/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

There is nothing that compares to the birth of your first child. It's transformational. Up until then, most of us are pretty independent, with few responsibilities outside of work. But at that moment, when you count his tiny fingers or her teensy toes, everything is different. Your life has been changed. You are needed in ways that you've never been before, and for all those things that truly matter -- food, shelter, health and well-being.

I remember watching my newborn breathe, his chest quivering as his lungs filled with air. As we brought him home from the hospital, it was hard not to wonder what the street level air, the bus and car fumes and the construction dust, might do to him. At home, as my husband and I struggled with the first diaper change, I pondered the words of a friend who said cloth diapers are really no better than disposables: "So what if all those diapers go to landfill, the cotton in your cloth diapers is heavily doused with pesticides. Those same pesticides are regularly used on fruits and vegetables too, the very ones you love to eat and will feed to your kids." Then a few weeks later, a friend told me how she inadvertently boiled away all the water in the pot in which she was sterilizing her baby bottles, and the melted plastic off-gassed this strangely sweet smell that lingered in her kitchen for days. Her pediatrician later told her the chemicals she smelled were very toxic.

It was all so very overwhelming, and though I had a degree in environmental health, and a job in a non-profit advocating for safe drinking water, nothing had prepared me for any of this. Nor for how I would feel. Becoming a parent profoundly deepened my concern for the air we draw into our lungs, the water we drink, the food we eat, and the homes we create for shelter and security. To best care for my son, to provide a safe, healthy home for him and his brother (who would come three years later), means fundamentally to care for the planet, that place where they would live for decades after me, and their children after them.

There were lots of books on parenting, which I read and read again. One was very helpful when our firstborn was waking too many times in the night and couldn't get back to sleep on his own. Others provided great advice on breastfeeding, naps, introducing bottles, going back to work, day care and introducing foods. But there were no books that offered parents advice on how to create an environmentally healthy home and how to raise your family in an environmentally responsible way.

Green Guide Families, written by Catherine Zandonella and published by National Geographic, is that book, reflecting the culmination of years of careful research and reporting first started in the late '80s by a small consumer education organization I helped found, called Mothers & Others for a Livable Planet. The original members of Mothers & Others were like me mostly, moms of young children, eager for information about the best ways to keep their families safe from harmful environmental contaminants, such as pesticides that could be found in our food, and toxins in popular personal care and home products. It was for them that in 1994 Mothers & Others introduced the first Green Guide, a short (just four pages) and frequent (we mailed or faxed it bi-weekly) newsletter offering simple solutions to environmental issues that were easy and ready to put into action. Each issue focused on a daily decision -- whether to buy organic foods, what sort of containers to store leftovers in, what pest control methods were safest, how to save energy and water, etc. -- and offered practical cost-conscious suggestions and advice. We modeled our newsletter after Consumer Reports, providing well-researched product recommendations as well as reasonable advice on behavior changes one could make that would protect health, preserve the environment and save money. By the time National Geographic acquired Green Guide in 2007, it had developed into a well-respected resource for eco-minded consumers both online and in print.

Catherine Zandonella, who joined the Green Guide team as the Science Editor in 2002, is the perfect author for Green Guide Families. A mother of young children, with a Masters in Public Health from University of California, Berkeley, she has researched and written dozens of articles for Green Guide, and now writes for NRDC Simple Steps, on everything from apples to xenoscaping and everything in between. She goes deep with her research though writes as if she were talking to you over a cup of coffee at the kitchen table.

Her expertise and range of knowledge, as well as her perspective as a mom make her the ideal voice for this book, the ultimate green living reference for the eco-minded parent. There is not a matter she doesn't explore, from your baby's teething ring to the turf at the school's ball fields. If you've read about it, seen it on TV or heard about it from friends, Catherine covers it and offers practical, ready-to-apply solution to the health and environmental concerns that are a part of the world we live in.

There is a lot of wisdom packed in to this one book, the practical good sense kind that you can apply to every aspect of family life. It wasn't there for me when I was starting my family but it's here now as my kids launch into adulthood. The oldest just got his first apartment, had to buy a bed and some kitchen supplies. It got us both thinking about second hand furniture, what's in a mattress and the right sort of pots and pans to get. Whatever your stage in life, I realize, Green Guide Families is an essential reference, a keeper, to turn to over and over again. (Available at Amazon).

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