Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis Hardcover – Mar 29 2011
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Santa Monica Public Library, “Green Prize for Sustainable Literature,” September 2012
“Steingraber writes passionately about the things that matter most to her, her family and the environment…smoothly shifting from events in her life to a broader view…Steingraber wants to change the world even as she remains firmly planted in the neighborhood, seeking a way to make life better than most of us have come to expect.”
“Writing as both a scientist and mother of two children…Steingraber cites links between rising chronic childhood diseases and toxic chemical exposures. She takes a broad view, looking at increases in the prevalence of asthma, learning disabilities and autism, as she tries to understand her own household and life as a mom.”
“Through her newest book…Sandra has once again provided us, through well-documented case studies, the opportunity to examine our lifestyles choices and our surrounding environments…Sandra and her stories are gifts: golden information for busy parents who do not have the time for months of research.”
“Terrifying and empowering…[Steingraber] skillfully weaves common domestic duties and scenes into and around the complex science, economic, and societal factors that have contributed to our current environmental crisis (and if you have any doubt that it is a crisis, you really need to read this book)…Knowledge is power. Raising Elijah is an excellent starting point for parents who want to know so they can protect their children from the dangers around them.”
New York Journal of Books, 4/15/11
“One part memoir and one part educational treatise, and thoroughly informative and entertaining…Steingraber has taken a work that could have been a dry and didactic expository and turned it into a fluid, intimate narrative—sometimes funny, always entertaining and definitely illuminating. It’s a book that everyone—parents and otherwise—should avail themselves of for the good of those they care about.”
St. Petersburg Times, 4/17/11
SEHN Networker, April 2011
“Read this for the kids in your life…This is a very funny book on hair-raisingly serious topics.”
Hudson Valley News, 4/20/11
Organic Valley blog, 5/11/11
“[Steingraber] has a rare knack for making dry research data come to life.”
“[Steingraber’s] tales keep readers engaged while illustrating the relationship between our nation’s chemical regulation (or lack thereof} and our kids’ current and future health.”
Reference and Research Book News, June 2011
“A conversational memoir about the environmental threats our children face.”
“[Steingraber is] arguably the best environment and human-health writer of our age…Like [Rachel] Carson, Steingraber is sounding alarms about chemical pollutants in the best way she knows: through her formidable talents as a writer, storyteller and explainer of things scientific.”
“Combining hard science with a sympathetic approach to the realities of family life; Raising Elijah is one of the most important books you’ll ever read…Meticulously researched…A genuine, all-encompassing environmental study…Raising Elijah is that rare beast that combines hard data and approachable intimacy. At heart, it is an inspirational personal journey, a tale of activism at family level. It is perhaps the most essential book a parent can read this year.”
“With great bravado and a firm grasp of ecology and biology, Steingraber runs down all the challenges she and her two children, Elijah and Faith, face in the toxic environment of upstate New York over a six-year period.”
“Read this book…Steingraber’s lyrical descriptions of everyday family life and its connections to ‘urgent public health issues’ are astonishing.”
Metapsychology Online Reviews, 9/13/11
“A fascinating and moving story about a parent's struggle to protect her child's health and wellbeing while still planning for his future in a world full of environmental dangers…Steingraber writes in a witty, poetic fashion, easily drawing connections between the environmental crisis and children's health…The book is one of the most fascinating and well-written pieces concerning the environmental crisis that I have read.”
The Weekly Harvest, 7/29/11
“Through a combination of scientific evidence and anecdotes plucked from her family life, she demonstrates again and again how, as individuals, our efforts to safeguard our homes so that our exposure is limited are not enough.”
Valley Advocate, 10/6/11
“Raising Elijah does many things, and does them well. It’s a book about science that makes the topic accessible without leaving the reader feeling as if she’s being spoken down to. That’s thanks, in no small part, to Steingraber’s gift as a writer.”
Herizons, Fall 2011
“Steingraber combines compelling statistical evidence with beautiful writing to create an inspiring read…If you despair at the state of the planet and wonder how you can understand complex environmental problems, including climate change, while taking actions against them, this book is for you.”
Quarterly Review of Biology, March 2012
“Steingraber unleashes the accumulating evidence that the current environmental crisis affects children disproportionately…Historical perspectives and modern scientific findings are skillfully interwoven with autobiographical accounts that are at times verbose, at time humorous, but always engaging. Complicated science is made easy through the use of metaphors…[A] bold book…[that] demands reflection and action.”
Rethinking Schools, Fall 2012
“A personal, poignant, and angry book that chronicles Steingraber’s efforts to defend her—and everyone’s—children against the manufactured toxins that insinuate themselves into our lives. This is not so much a handbook to protect one’s own child as it is a call to collective action to protect all our children.”
Wildlife Activist, Autumn 2012
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In ten chapters Ranging from "Milk (and Terror)" to "Bicycles on Main Street (and Slickwater Hydraulic Fracking)," Steingraber takes an articulate and passionate look at the environment in which we raise our children. She covers PCBs and the effect of terrorist attacks on nursing mothers; arsenic in the treated wood of playground equipment; food choices and their effect not only on developing children's bodies, but on the world they'll inhabit as adults; PVC, asbestos, lead paint and other toxic building products; bats and our personal, everyday contributions to climate change; common neurotoxins (there are far more than you'll imagine) and their effect on developing brains; endocrine disruptors and children's genderedness; and fracking, the fracturing of shale layers (using toxic chemicals) to release trapped natural gas for our voracious energy consumption.
In one of my favorite chapters, "Pizza (and Ecosystem Services)," Steingraber considers whether organic food is really worth the extra expense to her household's meager budget. She analyzes the cost of the ingredients in her family's favorite meal: pizza (recipe included at the end of the chapter). Here's part of what she discovers about the cost of food:
Driven by concerns about childhood obesity, the high price of cheap food is currently receiving well-deserved attention. And therein lies growing public acknowledgement that the money we hand to supermarket cashiers is only part of the price we pay for a form of agriculture that makes a twelve-pack of Ding Dongs cheaper than a bag of apples. Not appearing on the cash register receipt that flutters from a bag of groceries are the costs of treating obesity-related cancers, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Right behind this critique lies another one: This same system of agriculture that fills store shelves with Ding Dongs requires pesticides and synthetic fertilizers to function, and this dependency, too, carries hidden economic price tags. These include higher utility bills triggered by the need to filter farm chemicals out of tap water; lost productivity caused by the pesticide poisoning of farmer workers; higher taxes to pay for elaborate systems to monitor pesticides; loss of revenues prompted by poisoned honeybees, contaminated sport fish, and closed swimming beaches; and higher insurance premiums stoked by antibiotic-resistant infections and increased cancers caused by a thinning ozone layer.
Considering all that, she concludes, "buying organic food is a good deal."
Each chapter begins and ends with a parenting vignette, and many of them are poignant, illustrating the clear-eyed wisdom of children, a powerful innocence we forget about--or dismiss--as we grow up. Steingraber uses memoir to introduce facts, and does it so effectively that the reader is sucked right in, regardless of whether we really wanted to know what she's going to tell us. That makes the book an instructive one for writers as well, especially those of use who tell life stories. How does she keep the balance between memoir and journalism? How does she make bad news lyrical and wise?
She does it by searching for the beauty in her subject, and being self-aware, as this response to an interview question shows: "I discovered that composing in the past tense offered me more flexibility to move through time and provide commentary on the action. The past tense is a roomier house. And we are a messy family."
Raising Elijah is ultimately a compelling and surprisingly hopeful work--one that will stick with you long after you've turned the final page.
by Susan J. Tweit
for Story Circle Book Reviews
reviewing books by, for, and about women
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