Book Review: National Geographic Green Guide Families: The Complete Reference for Eco-friendly Parents

green guide for families

Physicians have “The Physicians’ Desk Reference”. Authors and Writers’ have The Writer’s Handbook. Now us Eco-Warriors have a guide. I find myself using many sources a day to help me navigate my way to the green path, from websites, to books to social media to calling my close friend, an environmental biologist. All this research is in the name of making sure I have as many facts and am making the most informed choices when it comes to greening my life. It can make any mom (new to motherhood or a true vet) tired, when every task can become a PhD research paper, and honestly do we all have the time to do our due diligence for every choice we make on a daily basis?

Enter National Geographic. Their Green Guide science editor, Catherine Zandonella has composed a complete (and I mean complete) guide to a green family world. In her ten chapters she has walked through the life of the family and taken on consolidating information so that it is all in one place. From greening your home, to planning eco-family vacations to taking on greening your kids’ school or daycare, she has covered it all.

The writing style of this book is not judgmental or condescending. It is very factual, offering you no bias to a particular lifestyle (cloth or disposable diapers), rather, it points out how certain products affect the environment (like diapers whether cloth or disposable) and offers you the chance to make your own choice, versus preaching the “correct” choice.

What is great about this book?

green families guide

Comprehensive – Catherine has managed to pull together the answers that every parent has, could have and should have when it comes to living on the green road. She speaks in a language that is easy to understand (always explaining complex terms in a non-elitist way) and relates the topic back to how it will affect or be a hazard for your child. For example, lead paint. Catherine makes sure to explain that a toddler is attracted to small things on the floor and at this age puts everything in their mouth. Lead paint tastes sweet to them which can encourage them to eat more. Being aware that a child may view lead paint as a candy has me looking into alternative paints. Understanding now why lead is used in paint, what are the alternatives to this ingredient (milk paint here I come!). Catherine goes beyond explaining chemicals and their harm to offering ways to make kids’ crafts green by offering a homemade clay recipe. She breaks down hazardous materials found in toys that your child will encounter at certain ages offering alternatives to these toys so your kids “don’t miss out” on things. At the end of each chapter there is a “take action” guide offering you some next steps to get you started along with “the science behind it” a page about one of the concepts of the chapter like: Recycled Rubber Playground Mulch, Artificial Turf or CFL’s)

Kitchen Table Discussion Topics – This guide understands being a green family is about the whole family being involved, not just one member making the decisions. Throughout the guide, you will find suggestions for discussions to have around the table as a way to get your family thinking and understanding some of the new (or maybe old) ways you do things around the house and their environmental effects. Enrolling the whole family in the “why” helps them to teach others and feel a part of your eco-warrior mission.

Margin Notes – The guide offers 4 types of margin notes (as an added bonus to help you):

  • “Green on a Shoestring” – yup ideas to keep you within your budget
  • “Green Dictionary” – just explains a term quickly, almost a refresher of a term you have heard of before.
  • “The Facts” – offers factual statistic that help bring things into perspective, like “The typical middle-income American family spends on average $13,590 on their baby by the time the child turns 1”
  • “Eco-Tip” – a suggestion on an alternative use of a material or a substitution for that material.

What was missing from the book?

Images, plain and simple. This is a 400 page guide that is cover to cover science. The one image the book has is on the cover of a mom and baby, where the baby appears to be wearing a disposable diaper (I am going to assume it is a cloth diaper that just has the look of a disposable as I trust that this would not have been overlooked by such a detail orientated group).

Even images of some of the certification stamps to look for on products were not included, though some were discussed, and would have made a great addition.

How to use this book?

This book is best stored in an easy access place in the house for all family members. I keep mine in the kitchen, right out on the counter. It is dogeared, highlighted and has tabs sticking out of it as I look up new things on a daily basis from looking up eco- activities to do with my kids after school to finding out the definition of “phytoestrogens” (an ingredient that can be found in infant formula).

Remember this is a reference book, not a novel on being green. So use it like a dictionary or thesaurus – find out what something is and an alternative greener way to do a task.

This book is a great gift to give at a baby shower or house-warming and there is no family to young or old for this handy guide. It is a great book to start a green bookshelf or just to become informed on the effects everyday things in your life have on the environment.

Pick up your own copy of National Geographic’s Green Guide Families at Amazon.