Category Archives: Kids

Christmas “snugness”

In his book  Feeling Like a Kid: Childhood and Children’s Literature, Jerry Griswold explores five sensations particularly important in childhood. In the excerpt below, he examines “snugness” and its particular association with Christmas.  

griswold“Cozy Time”

Turning from space to time, we can note that there are certain occasions especially apt for an evocation of snugness. Mole and Rat [in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows], for example, are driven to Badger’s cozy home by a winter storm and find there a refuge where they can warm and dry themselves, relax and rest.

Meteorologically speaking, the best condition for an evocation of snugness is stormy weather. Horrific storms, like those that assault the alpine home in Heidi, demarcate even more dramatically the hostility of the universe in contrast to the snugness of the shelter. But even mildly inclement weather like that of the British isles can provide an occasion for a vision of indoor coziness. In the closing words of The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle, Hugh Lofting’s character returns at long last to his home and invites his guests inside on a drizzling day: “You know, there’s something rather attractive in the bad weather of England—when you’ve got a kitchen fire to look forward to. . . . Four o’clock! Come along—we’ll just be in time for a nice tea.”

Besides stormy weather, seasonally, the best time for an evocation of snugness is winter, especially after snow has fallen. The heightened contrast between the cold outdoors and the warmth indoors, between the monochromes of a snow-covered world outside and a colorful vividness inside, sharpens boundaries and assigns value to the cozy haven.

In the northern hemisphere, at least, one of the best dates on the calendar for an evocation of snugness is Christmas. Perhaps the most touching moment in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is the family tableau created when father comes home from the war, steps out of winter’s cold and damp, closes the door behind him, and reunites with his wife and four daughters around the fire on Christmas Day. Indeed, Mole and Rat’s visit to Badger’s home takes place during this holiday season.

But more than any other occasion, nighttime and bedtime are especially apt times for visions of snugness. When Heidi comes to live in her grandfather’s hut, he allows her to choose where she will sleep during her stay. Investigating various places, Heidi finally climbs into the attic, assembles a cozy nest for herself from the hay there, covers it with a sheet, and retires at night to slumber there. Then follows a universally familiar and touching scene that might be called The Tableau of the Sleeping Child. Grandfather, worried that Heidi might be frightened on her first night in the Alps, checks on her: “He mounted the ladder and went and stood by the child’s bed. . . . Just now the moonlight was falling through the round window straight on to Heidi’s bed. She lay under the heavy coverlet, her cheeks rosy with sleep, her head peacefully resting on her little round arm, and with a happy expression on her baby face as if dreaming of something pleasant.”

In the middle of Spyri’s book, however, Heidi is taken from her grandfather and sent to live with strangers in Frankfurt. Not feeling at home in the Sesemann’s mansion and besieged by the tyrannical governess Miss Rottenmeier, Heidi feels more like a bird in a cage than a bird in its nest. She grows homesick and ill. Her distress is revealed by a sleep disorder: she begins to sleepwalk, always opening the door of the mansion she longs to escape. Fortunately, the family physician is also adept with psychological problems and prescribes a remedy for her dis-ease and somnambulism: Heidi is to be sent back to the Alps.

Heidi’s reunion with her grandfather is the most touching moment in the book. This homecoming is also a return to snugness and sound sleep:

Later when Heidi went indoors, she found her bed already made up for her; the hay had been piled high for it and smelt deliciously, for it had only just been got in, and her grandfather had carefully spread and tucked in the clean sheets. It was with a happy heart that Heidi lay down in it that night, and her sleep was sounder than it had been all the time she was away. Her grandfather got up at least ten times during the night and mounted the ladder to see if Heidi was all right. . . . But Heidi did not stir. She slept soundly all night long because the great burning and longing of her heart was at last satisfied. 

Perhaps the connection between snugness and sleeping is obvious. Restful sleep, and even the light somnolence of napping, requires conditions of ease and security, a comfort absent of potential threats, a well being in which one is able to relax. Even a dog will not curl up and slumber if these conditions are absent. And these conditions for sleep—serenity, safety, agreeableness, and so forth—amount to a description of snugness. A snug place, we might say, is a place where one can sleep or nap.

In any event, all these temporal conditions—winter and Christmas, nighttime and bedtime, sleeping and dreaming—come together in Clement Moore’s well known poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” where under “the moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,” Santa’s arrival is imminent:

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. 

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of sugarplums danced in their heads.

Here, again, is the Tableau of the Sleeping Child (or children) seen in Heidi when grandfather looks in on the little girl so cozy in her attic nest and “dreaming of something pleasant.” Here, too, “visions of sugarplums” dance in the heads of dreaming children “nestled all snug in their beds.” So, there is one last topic for us to explore and that is the connection between snugness and dreaming.

Jerry Griswold is professor emeritus of literature at San Diego State University and former director of the National Center for the Study of Children’s Literature. He is the author of seven books, including Audacious Kids: The Classic American Childrens Story and Feeling Like a Kid: Childhood and Children’s Literatureboth published by Johns Hopkins University Press.


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Filed under Christmas, Cultural Studies, Holidays, Kids, Literature, Poetry

Enjoying Nature During the D.C. Summer: Go Early, Go Often

by Howard Youth

The nation’s capital wears its thick cloak of green this time of year. The towering trees, the flourishing vines, the humidity. Tourists feel they’ve stumbled into a tropical city. But, no, it’s just Washington, D.C. in summer. A very exciting time and place for the naturalist. So, drink a lot of water, accept the sweat, and head out early to the city’s wonderful natural areas. You’ll be richly rewarded.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

In 1976, at the age of ten, I developed an interest in reptiles. Two years later, herons grabbed my attention. These alluring birds drew me into birding, a passion I keep to this day. In Washington, D.C. at this time of year, if you are up early and near the Potomac or Anacostia rivers, you are bound to see a heron of some stripe. When you watch one stalk the shoreline in search of frogs or small fish, it’s easy to agree with the many paleontologists who believe birds evolved from trim, predatory dinosaurs. One of the best heron-watching sites is Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. Walk the boardwalk into the restored tidal marsh there, or stroll along the lily and lotus ponds. By July, herons dispersing from bay or coastal breeding areas augment the small number of herons present in the area through the breeding season. At Kenilworth, you will likely see the small green heron, the large, grumpy-sounding great blue heron, and the great egret. But others show up, especially in July and August, and these might include little blue heron, black-crowned and sometimes yellow-crowned night-herons.

From July into August, spotted immature black-crowned night-herons loiter around the National Zoo’s Bird House, having just left their nests in the trees. The zoo’s night-heron colony is just one example of how zoos around the world not only exhibit, but also attract, wild creatures. The zoo is open very early for walkers, joggers, and nature buffs. If you walk from the Connecticut Avenue entrance down to the bottom of the hill and back, you not only get a great workout, but you also have the chance to see wild gray catbirds, eastern chipmunks, woodpeckers, wood ducks, cardinals, white-tailed deer, and of course gray squirrels, including black-coated ones that descended from black phase gray squirrels released at the zoo last century. These black squirrels hailed from Ontario. In many parts of that Canadian province, most gray squirrels are black.

Summer in Washington means noticing those small creatures you might have missed in other months. Even if you close your eyes, you can’t ignore the city’s summer wildlife. Listen to the growing crescendo of buzzing annual cicadas, invisible but seemingly everywhere, or the chittering of chimney swifts catching insects high over the city streets. With the abundant heat and humidity, dragonflies and damselflies flourish, snapping up mosquitoes and other small flying insects. At dusk, you might see bats doing the same thing.

Sun-drenched stumps and rock walls may be adorned with five-lined skinks, small and shiny lizards. The females and young sport black stripes running down their backs and flashy blue tails. Males are gold with red heads. Green frogs and bullfrogs, snapping and painted turtles, and maybe even a snake or two will cross your path. Likely snakes include common garter snakes and black rat snakes. The northern copperhead, the only poisonous species in the area, is rare in the city and unlikely to be seen.

While spring in Washington boasts tree and shrub blooms—yoshino and kwanza cherries, dogwoods, mountain laurels, redbuds, azaleas—summer has colors all its own. Day lilies, herbs, meadow flowers such as asters and butterfly weed, and of course, ornamental crape-myrtles: these are plants you see coloring the view at the landscape level. If you don’t want to miss anything, remember that when it comes to appreciating nature, it pays to stop and look around at the small things. The unheralded jewelweed grows in clumps along waterways and moist woodland edges. Its tiny but spectacular blooms draw hummingbirds. The white and red clover and dandelions growing in the lawn attract many pollinating insects, and cottontail rabbits as well.

Growing up in the area, I spent many hours exploring the C&O Canal. If I imagine the tow path, it’s usually a still summer morning, with a bit of mist rising from the water, a dense overhang of American sycamore, tulip tree, and mighty oaks. Another persistent memory: Walking across the entrance bridge to Roosevelt Island, blue-backed barn swallows drifting over the water with a backdrop of tangled vegetation, a mix of vines, shrubs, and trees that made it easy for me to fall in love with tropical places. For if you spend July and August in Washington, D.C. you feel that the heat, and the bounty, of equatorial realms moved north for a spell.

youthHoward Youth is the author of Field Guide to the Natural World of Washington, D.C., published by Johns Hopkins Press.

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Filed under Animals, Botany, Conservation, D.C., Kids, Life Science, Nature, Regional-Chesapeake Bay, Travel, Washington

Just One of the Kids

Among her many activities, JHU Press author Sara Palmer serves as chair of the board of Baltimore’s League for People with Disabilities. Recently, we came across the League’s charming and inspiring addition to the flood of “Happy” videos based on the Pharrell Williams hit song.  And that, in turn, inspired us to invite Sara and co-author Kay Kriegsman to reflect on their career-long focus on people with disabilities and their families.  We are pleased to share their thoughts along with the video.


Guest post by Kay Harris Kriegsman and Sara Palmer

Over the years, we’ve had the privilege of working in our practices, at workshops, and at national conferences with many families that include children with and without physical disabilities. These families were always eager for suggestions, ideas, and resources to help all their children become productive, happy adults. Just One of the Kids: Raising a Resilient Family When One of Your Children Has a Physical Disability was written specifically for these “mixed bag” families. Numerous parents (and grandparents, and siblings with and without a disability) shared their perspectives in extensive interviews with us; we sifted through them to find the “gold nuggets”—tools these families developed and used effectively—and to identify the tools and resources they were searching for in their quest to raise healthy, happy children prepared for successful adulthood.

Just One of the Kids brings together the wisdom of these families, our years of clinical experience, and the work of other disability experts. Equally important, the book is informed by our personal perspectives as people (one with a disability and one without) who are professionals, mothers, grandmothers, family caregivers, disability advocates, and enthusiastic participants in social, leisure, and creative activities. We would like to tell you who we are, how we’ve worked together, and what else we do in the world of disability and beyond. Along the way, you’ll find links to a variety of disability organizations that may be useful to your children or family. There are many more of these resources in the book.

Kay’s Story

I always wondered as a child, “What’s the big deal about having a physical disability?” I did the same things my brothers did, albeit from a sitting stance or using crutches and braces, after a bout with polio at age 7. We all played musical instruments, were active in 4-H, did assigned chores, helped care for two younger sisters born many years later, and had the usual childhood fights.

Although I had physical therapy, operations, and doctors’ appointments, I was also just one of the kids, included and needed in the larger family scene. Disability was just one of the challenges my family faced, the chief one being economic upheaval. This was hard on the family, but had a positive side for me, as it took the focus off my disability and meant that I had to be a contributing member of the family. I washed dishes, set the table, and vacuumed while sitting on the floor.

I was not aware as a child how my disability affected my parents. While my family treated me like any other child, it wasn’t always easy. My mother still remembers that just after I was airlifted from our small mountain town to a big-city hospital, the head of the hospital billing office was disdainful and made her feel incompetent because our family had no health insurance. My brothers felt the effects of my eight-month hospitalization. Like other children during the polio epidemics, my brothers were quarantined in the first few weeks of my illness . And when I returned home from the hospital, my family had new responsibilities to shoulder. Getting on with life meant adding new activities, like the daily physical therapy exercises my mother had to help me with.

In the years following, I never heard my family say that I could not do something. If there were a student council meeting on the second floor of a building without an elevator, they found a way for me get there; usually my brothers “bumped” me up the steps in my wheelchair. It was expected that I would ask a boy to the school dance, go on 4-H trips, and drive a car at age 16. My family encouraged me to take risks, though they weren’t always comfortable with what I was ready to do. Although I walked with crutches everywhere except through my high school’s busy hallways (where I used a wheelchair), my family expected me to use my wheelchair at college for safety and to conserve my energy. I refused—the wheelchair took the ride over the Continental Divide to my university, where I stowed it away in the basement of the dorm.

My parents made a choice to see what I could be rather than what I could have been. They must have felt sad when their 7-year-old girl, who loved dancing and “running the hills” with her brothers, had to use double leg braces and crutches to walk. But they never conveyed a sense that they saw me as anything but an equal to my brothers and sisters.

The acceptance and equal treatment by my family shaped my attitudes about physical disability and my interest in helping other families raise hearty, independent-minded kids—whether or not they have a physical disability. In addition, it provided the confidence and skills I would need in my marriage, parenting, building my psychology practice and pursuing my passion for painting. With the love and support of my late husband, Will, I returned to graduate school for a PhD in counseling while raising our children, Bill and Katie. For many years I co-directed the annual HOW (Handicapped Is Only a Word) Conference for teenagers who have physical disabilities, their parents, and their teen siblings. HOW emphasized opportunities for socialization, peer support, future planning, and fun. This inspired me to coauthor the book Taking Charge: Teenagers Talk about Life and Physical Disabilities.

In 2000, Sara and I coauthored Spinal Cord Injury: A Guide for Living, also published by JHU Press, and I published articles on disability in professional journals and consumer magazines. I have facilitated workshops for parents, young adult,s and children at the Spina Bifida National Conferences; I wrote numerous columns for their Insights publication, including “Ask Dr. Kay.” Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation’s summer conventions were another wonderful venue for meeting and working with families; I contributed chapters to books for parents and medical professionals on OI. I’ve also worked with the National Cerebral Palsy Foundation, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and the National Spinal Cord Injury Association. In my private psychology practice, I work with people, both able-bodied and who have disabilities, going through the normal ups and downs of life.

In addition to my art work, I find great joy in being with my grandchildren. I especially love taking them on weekend trips and taking one “big” trip alone with each grandchild, whether a cruise, visiting a theme part, or going on a road trip (travel resources are available in Just One of the Kids).

Sara’s Story

I grew up able-bodied in a family that was not directly affected by physical disability. Much of my experience with disability comes from my work as a rehabilitation psychologist, helping people who have disabilities and their partners and families cope with difficult circumstances and live more fulfilling lives. My perspective has been enlarged over the past several decades by my personal experience as a family caregiver for several relatives who had disabilities or chronic illnesses.

I learned nothing about physical disability in my clinical psychology graduate program. But my husband, Jeffrey Palmer, M.D., then a medical student, was interested in physical medicine and rehabilitation. Through him, I was introduced to the field of rehabilitation psychology, met more people who had disabilities, and was inspired to explore this new career path. During my internship at the Seattle VA Hospital, I spent three months on the inpatient rehabilitation unit, evaluating and treating people with spinal cord injuries, strokes, amputations, and other disabilities. I found it refreshing to work with people who were generally mentally healthy but coping with the emotional fallout from a life-changing accident or illness. Colleagues often asked me if it was depressing to work with people who had such “tragic” circumstances, but I felt uplifted by the strength and creativity I saw in my patients as they discovered ways to cope with their disabilities and reengage in life. Since then, I have worked in hospital, university and private practice settings—with rehabilitation psychology as my focus across the board.

In 1987, I had the task of recruiting another rehabilitation psychologist to work with me in a group practice. A few phone calls led me to Kay, who traveled to my office for an interview. We had instant rapport as professionals and became “friends at first sight.” Kay had more life experience and I had more clinical experience. But we were both fairly new psychologists, bursting with ideas; and through our relationship, we were able to develop and express them. We shared clinical insights and strategies to help our clients, created continuing education programs for other psychologists, and started the first Disability Committee of the Maryland Psychological Association, advocating for inclusion of psychologists with disabilities. After completing two editions of our book on spinal cord injury, we got to work on some new ideas.

In 2011, while Kay was conducting initial interviews for Just One of the Kids, I worked with Jeffrey on When Your Spouse Has a Stroke: Caring for Your Partner, Yourself, and Your Relationship. I continue to write articles and webinars on family caregiver issues for the National Stroke Association, and I spoke regularly at stroke fairs and stroke support groups.

My passion for rehabilitation extends to my volunteer work as a board member (and current Board Chair) for the League for People with Disabilities (, a multi-service organization serving people with disabilities in Maryland for over 85 years. The League provides individualized, person-centered services to adults and children and is committed to advocacy and inclusion of people with all types of disabilities. It’s a privilege for me to work with the League, where ideals of fostering abilities, self-expression, independence and the pursuit of happiness are realized. A video’s worth a thousand words, and this one, starring League participant Adam Carpenter, says it all.

In my free time, I enjoy writing poetry, knitting sweaters for my new grandson, reading, and fitness. I practice yoga and love to ride my bike and take nature walks. I belong to two book clubs and my e-reader is never far from reach. I spend as many hours as possible with my family and my amazing friends. My friendship with Kay is a rare and precious blend of mutual affection, respect, honesty, humor, and intellectual collaboration, spanning over 25 years—from which I have learned an enormous amount about life with (and without) a physical disability.

kreigsmanKay Harris Kriegsman, Ph.D., is a practicing psychologist, consultant on disability issues, and author of Taking Charge: Teenagers Talk About Life & Physical Disabilities. Sara Palmer, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. They are coauthors of Just One of the Kids: Raising a Resilient Family When One of Your Children Has a Physical Disability and, with Jeffrey B. Palmer, M.D., and Spinal Cord Injury: A Guide for Living.

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Filed under Health and Medicine, Kids, Pediatrics, Uncategorized

March events feature Shakespeare, Lindsay, Einstein, and more

March roars in with a variety of events suitable for lionizing, and JHU Press authors, editors, and staff will keep busy all month. Stephen H. Grant loved the idea that the official publication date for Collecting Shakespeare would be the Ides of March, and several events around that date welcome his book. At Hunter College, Joseph P. Viteritti and a group of very distinguished panelists will discuss the legacy of New York Mayor John Lindsay to launch the publication of Summer in the City: John Lindsay, New York, and the American Dream. And Michael C. C. Adams will discuss and sign Living Hell: The Dark Side of the Civil War in the latest Virtual Book Signing™  hosted by Chicago’s Abraham Lincoln Book Shop. A Virtual Book Signing™ is a live and online book talk and signing event webcast from the bookstore and streamed round the world. Customers both in the store and online can listen to the presentation, ask questions, and then buy books and see them signed by the author. Please spread the word about JHUP’s March line-up!

weaver-zercher rev comp.indd6 March 2014, 11:30 a.m.

Book Talk & Signing
– Valerie Weaver-Zercher
Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure
of Amish Romance Novels

Common Hour, Mayser Gymnasium
Franklin & Marshall College
Admission: Free and open to the public; information here.

 grant.collecting11 March 2014, 12:30 p.m.
Hopkins Club Lunch & Lecture – Stephen H. Grant
Collecting Shakespeare:
The Story of Henry and Emily Folger

JHU’s Homewood Campus
Baltimore, MD
Admission: $20; members call the Club to make reservations; non-members contact Jack Holmes at 410-516-6928 to attend as a guest of the Press.

mace512 March 2014, 7:30–9:00 pm
Book Talk & Signing Peter V. Rabins, M.D., M.P.H.
The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People Who Have Alzheimer Disease, Related Dementias, and Memory Loss
The Kaleidoscope Program
Roland Park Country School
Baltimore, MD
The author’s JHUP’s best-selling book discusses “The Ethical Issues of Alzheimer Disease and Memory Loss” in the popular RPCS speaker series.

Admission: $30; call 410-323-5500 to register.

gimbel13 March 2014, 6:30–8:30 pm
Book Talk & Signing – Steven Gimbel
Einstein’s Jewish Science
The Johns Hopkins Odyssey Program
JHU’s Homewood Campus
Baltimore, MD
Admission: $28; call 410 -516 -8516 or register online here.

14 March 2014, 7:00 p.m.
Book Talk & Signing
– Stephen H. Grant
Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folger
One More Page Books
2200 N. Westmoreland St.
Arlington, VA
Admission: Free; call 703-300-9746 or visit

adams.hell15 March 2014, 12:00–1:30 p.m.
Virtual Book Signing™
– Michael C. C. Adams
Living Hell: The Dark Side of the Civil War
The Abraham Lincoln Book Shop
Chicago, IL
Admission: Free and open to the public; participate at the book shop or online; more information here.

osteen19 March 2014, 6:00–8:00 p.m.
Book Talk & Signing
– Mark Osteen
Nightmare Alley: Film Noir and the American Dream
Loyola University Maryland, Knott Hall
Baltimore, MD
This program is sponsored by the Phi Beta Kappa Alumni Association of Greater Baltimore.
Admission: Free with RSVP to

kelly20 March 2014, 6:30–8:30 pm
Book Talk & Signing – Cindy Kelly
Outdoor Sculpture in Baltimore: A Historical Guide to Public Art in the Monumental City
The Johns Hopkins Odyssey Program
JHU’s Homewood Campus
Baltimore, MD JHU Press author Cindy Kelly will present “A Close Look at Baltimore’s Battle Monument.”
Admission: $28; call 410-516 -8516 or register online here.

vitteriti20 March 2014, 5:00 p.m.
Book Talk & Signing
– Joseph P. Viteritti
Summer in the City:
John Lindsay, New York, and the American Dream

Hunter College, The Kaye Playhouse
New York, NY
Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College hosts a launch event for Summer in the City featuring Joseph P. Viteritti, Sam Roberts, Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, Vincent Cannato, Lizabeth Cohen, and Richard Ravitch.
Admission: Free, reservation required; call 212-396-7931.

20 March 2014, 6:00–8:00 p.m.
Book Talk & Signing
Stephen H. Grant
Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folger
Drama Book Shop
250 W. 40th St.
New York, NY
Admission: Free; call 212-944-0595 or email

kilcup26 March 2014, 7:00 p.m.
Book Talk & Signing
– Angela Sorby
Over the River and Through the Wood:
An Anthology of Nineteenth-Century
American Children’s Poetry

Boswell Book Company
Milwaukee, WI
Admission: Free; 414-332-1181 or visit online.

28 March 2014, 6:30 p.m.
Book Talk & Signing
– Stephen H. Grant
Collecting Shakespeare:
The Story of Henry and Emily Folger

Folger Shakespeare Library
Washington, D.C.
Admission: Members only; for information, call 202-675-0302.

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Filed under American History, American Studies, Amish, Baltimore, Biography, Book talks, Dementia and Memory Loss, General Science, Geriatrics and Gerontology, Kids, Literature, Mental Health, Physics, Poetry, Politics, Urban Studies

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month

Guest post by America’s ToothFairy®

Oral care starts early!

In February, we recognize National Children’s Dental Health Month. It’s a time to reflect on the importance of oral care and the lifelong effects it has on children. Protecting children’s oral health is what prompted me to write the foreword for Your Child’s Teeth: A Complete Guide for Parents. It’s an excellent resource that helps parents understand how to maintain their child’s oral health from prenatal care through birth and childhood.

Early Oral Care

Some women don’t realize that what they eat—or avoid eating—during pregnancy can affect their child’s growing baby teeth. According to the book, oral defects could result from a lack of calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, protein, and calories when the fetus is between fourteen weeks and four months. The book recommends that moms-to-be consume the following vitamin amounts daily:

  • 1,000 milligrams of calcium to build baby’s bones and teeth.
  • At least eighty milligrams of vitamin C to help the mother’s body absorb iron, a mineral that is essential in forming hemoglobin, which in turn promotes healthy cell growth and development.
  • 200 international units (IU) of vitamin D to help the mother’s body absorb the necessary calcium.

Once children are born, parents must work to protect their smiles as they grow and develop. This can be especially hard for parents who lack oral health education and who cannot afford proper oral care. The National Children’s Oral Health Foundation: America’s ToothFairy (NCOHF) works to educate children and families about oral health. NCOHF was formed in 2006 to aggressively respond to this crisis by providing communities with vital resources and programs to deliver life-changing educational, preventive, and treatment services to children from vulnerable populations.

Smile Drive

In an effort to raise awareness, America’s ToothFairy is holding a Smile Drive aimed at getting vital “tools for teeth”—toothbrushes, toothpaste, dental floss, and mouth rinse—to at-risk youth. We’re looking for donated products and volunteers. Head on over to our website to find out how you can help.

sterling.inddJohns Hopkins University Press recently published Your Child’s Teeth: A Complete Guide for Parentsby Evelina Weidman Sterling and Angie Best-Boss. Evelina Weidman Sterling, Ph.D., M.P.H., is an educator in the field of public health and the author of several award-winning books on health. Angie Best-Boss, R.N., is a health writer and patient advocate.


Filed under For Everyone, Health and Medicine, Kids, Pediatrics, Public Health

December news and new books

christmasbanner13firtreeHappy Holidays from JHUP!

We’d like to extend our 30% discount to you on all books featured in this email. Enter code HDPD at checkout to receive a 30% discount on all books featured in this blog post or mention this code when calling in your order at 1-800-537-5487.

News and Notes / Praise and Reviews

Amish Quilts: Crafting an American Icon by Janneken Smucker was featured in The New York Times 2013 Holiday Gift Guide.

A Man’s Guide to Healthy Aging: Stay Smart, Strong, and Active by Edward H. Thompson, Jr., and Lenard W. Kaye was featured in The Wall Street Journal’s 2013 top guides to life after 50.

Remaking College: Innovation and the Liberal Arts  edited by Rebecca Chopp, Susan Frost, and Daniel H. Weiss was featured in an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer  and the editors were interviewed on WHYY’s Radio Times.

Hot off the Press

Over the River and Through the Wood: An Anthology of Nineteenth-Century American Children’s Poetry Rediscover nineteenth-century American children’s poetry with stunning period illustrations.

Living Safely, Aging Well: A Guide to Preventing Injuries at Home Nationally recognized safety expert Dorothy A. Drago spells out how to prevent injury while cooking, gardening, sleeping, driving—and just walking around the house.

The Other Four Plays of Sophocles: Ajax, Women of Trachis, Electra, and Philoctetes Famed translator David Slavitt lends his distinctly contemporary voice to four lesser-known plays of Sophocles.

From Little London to Little Bengal: Religion, Print, and Modernity in Early British India, 1793–1835 How literary and religious traffic between Bengal and Britain in the late 18th and early 19th centuries impelled a complex and contested cosmopolitan imperial culture.

The Myth of the Democratic Peacekeeper: Civil-Military Relations and the United Nations Arturo C. Sotomayor investigates how United Nations peacekeeping missions affect military organizations and civil-military relations as countries transition to a more democratic system.

New in Paperback!

Nightmare Alley: Film Noir and the American Dream “Only a few of the many books on film noir are essential. This is one of them… A smart, clearly written book.”—Choice

The Soul in the Brain: The Cerebral Basis of Language, Art, and Belief “This book exists… to explain matters of the heart using our knowledge of the mind… A host of professional students, clinicians, educators, and other well-read individuals will find this worthy of a close and careful read.”-Mark H. Fleisher, JAMA

The Sustainable University: Green Goals and New Challenges for Higher Education Leaders James Martin and James E. Samels have worked closely with college and university presidents, provosts, and trustees to devise best practices that establish sustainable policies and programs in the major areas of institutional operations.

The Overflowing of Friendship: Love between Men and the Creation of the American Republic “A sophisticated analysis of sources that have long confused historians. Offering a thoughtful window onto the world of early American men, it demonstrates that sympathy and affection were important qualities for the founding fathers.”—John Gilbert McCurdy, New England Quarterly

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Is Jenny McCarthy a threat to public health?

Guest post by Mark A. Largent

Last week the daytime talk show The View announced that it had hired Jenny McCarthy as a co-host for the show. The show has never shied away from hiring strong-willed, opinionated women. But, unlike any of the previous hires, McCarthy has drawn fire from the public health and medical communities because of her outspoken position on compulsory vaccines. Her views are vehemently rejected by public health officials, science enthusiasts, and health care providers even as they are encouraged by some who occupy an even more extreme position against vaccines. Yet, McCarthy represents a large segment of parents who are not actually eager to move to either extreme, and it is a mistake to cast and recast her message as more extreme than it really is.


McCarthy’s ascent up the Hollywood ladder has caused great consternation among her critics. As Phil Plait, a long-time critic of McCarthy, wrote on Slate, “So McCarthy will now get a seat on a TV show, where her charm and good humor will no doubt serve her and her cause well. And in the meantime, her frankly dangerous ideas about health issues will get that much more mainstream attention.” Others have been even more pointed in their criticism. James Poniewozik of Time wrote that the decision “to legitimize McCarthy’s dangerous anti-science” is “irresponsible and shameful.” Michael Specter wrote in the New Yorker that McCarthy’s “dangerous views on childhood vaccination may—if only indirectly—have contributed to the sickness and death of people throughout the Western world.”

I wrote a lot about McCarthy in Vaccine: The Debate in Modern America. She is undoubtedly one of the most visible figures in the modern vaccine debate, and she had drawn a great deal of attention from both vaccine advocates and their detractors. She is an easy figure to demonize, and in the book I describe how McCarthy wrote two books on motherhood that vaulted her “potty humor into the mainstream in a way that a half-dozen B movies and hundreds of celebrity appearances never could.” In 2006, she published Life Laughs: The Naked Truth about Motherhood, Marriage, and Moving On, which detailed the difficult year when she divorced her husband and learned that her son, Evan, was diagnosed with autism.

In her 2008 book, Louder Than Words, McCarthy described the day Evan’s symptoms of autism first appeared. She had found her two-year-old in his crib, limp and struggling to breathe through a seizure. Earlier that day he had received several vaccines, and his seizures may have been induced by a fever, which sometimes follows vaccinations. An ambulance took Evan to the hospital, where he was given a series of tests and released a day later unable to walk, barely speaking, and acting oddly. Shortly thereafter he was diagnosed on the autism spectrum. McCarthy’s story is laced with small details that foreshadow her eventual disgust with medical professionals who were unable to find solutions to, or even adequate explanations for, Evan’s seizures or the radical changes to his physical and cognitive abilities. Like many other Americans, McCarthy turned to the Internet to learn more about her son’s condition and find treatments. Eventually her self-guided research led her to the kind of information that I describe in my book: “accusations about vaccine-induced ailments, concerns about the contents of vaccines, and assertions that—somehow—vaccines cause the symptoms of autism.” McCarthy came to believe that Evan’s seizures and accompanying changes in his behavior and cognitive abilities were the result of insults that his body had endured, which included a series of ear infections and their treatment with several courses of antibiotics, a severe case of eczema, and his routine childhood vaccines. Evan’s body, she believes, could not handle the combined effects of these illnesses and treatments, and his immune system went “haywire.” McCarthy believes that her son’s digestive system stopped being able to process certain foods, and this change led to a toxification of his system, which caused his symptoms. In an interview with a parenting magazine, McCarthy explained, “Looking back, I’d say, ‘God, if a kid is having more than seven ear infections in a year and he’s got eczema, there are some issues here—his immune system is obviously under attack, and we need to put him in the sensitive category. Let’s just delay some of his shots.’ ”

McCarthy gives voice to a large – and apparently growing – segment of American parents who are increasingly uncomfortable about the modern vaccine schedule. Published polls typically report that about 40% of American parents have refused or delayed a recommended vaccine for their children. Vaccine advocates routinely portray McCarthy as “anti-vaccine,” but we should take her case as an opportunity to think about how we define someone as “anti-vaccine.” An anti-vaccinator is someone who believes that vaccines are not effective at preventing diseases or that vaccines somehow pollute the body and are thus inherently bad and will refuse any and all vaccines. The percentage of anti-vaccinators in the U.S. has held steady throughout the least 100 years at about 3% of the population and is dominated by a few religious sects (like Christian scientists and Jehovah’s Witnesses), a couple of ethnic or cultural groups (like the Amish), and some alternative health care providers who eschew many aspects of modern medicine (including a large number of naturopaths and chiropractors).

By this traditional definition, McCarthy is not an anti-vaccinator. She apparently does not believe the vaccines are inherently bad or ineffective at preventing diseases. Instead, McCarthy believes that the one-size-fits-most approach taken by the modern vaccine schedule is problematic because it does not adequately protect the handful of apparently otherwise healthy children who might be susceptible to damage from vaccines. In an interview with the PBS show Frontline, McCarthy said, “We’re not an anti-vaccine movement. We’re pro-safe-vaccine schedule. Until we have that conversation, people are going to think it’s an anti- and pro- side.” She has called for an aggressive campaign to investigate all of the contents of all childhood vaccines to insure that they are free of potentially harmful preservatives and adjuvants (this, by the way, has already been done), and she would like to see physicians routinely screen children to determine if they might be somehow susceptible to adverse reactions from vaccines. She is also anxious about the large number of vaccines routinely administered to children at a young age. Under the current vaccine schedule, children typically receive about three dozen vaccinations before they start kindergarten, and most of these vaccinations occur within the first 18 months of a child’s life. McCarthy’s position is that, for some children, vaccinations ought to be delayed until age 2, rather than begin at birth.

McCarthy’s argument about vaccines is much more attractive to most American parents than have been the arguments offered by traditional anti-vaccinators, and thus she is much more dangerous in the minds of vaccine advocates. She has a powerful, if at times problematic, personal story about her child’s adverse reaction to vaccines, and she tells it with brutal honestly. She bluntly expresses the frustrations that many of us have felt with the modern medicine’s inefficiencies and strained bureaucracy. Moreover, she very effectively taps into the fears that many parents feel about vaccines. For parents of healthy children, the fear that a vaccine will induce serious, permanent damage is both real and very effective at altering their health care decisions. As I explain in Vaccine, “Guilt by omission—failing to administer a vaccine and as a result a child contracts a communicable disease—seems preferable to guilt by commission—making a child sick as a result of an adverse reaction to a vaccine.”

So, in light of McCarthy’s new, high-profile gig, what should vaccine advocates be doing about her? If vaccine advocates are interested in seeing as many children as possible vaccinated, what should they do about McCarthy?

First, stop calling her an anti-vaccinator. Her views are broadly appreciated by parents, especially mothers (who research tells us make about 85% of the health care decisions for their families). By labeling McCarthy an anti-vaccinator, public health officials and their proponents are effectively telling anyone who shares McCarthy’s concerns that they, too, are anti-vaccinators. Doing so drives millions of moderate parents into the warm embrace of alternative care providers, many of whom are truly anti-vaccine. McCarthy and parents like her are vaccine anxious. Vaccine-anxious parents recognize the potential value of vaccines in preventing disease—even if they sometimes discount their efficacy—but they weigh vaccines’ benefits against a host of unknown potential adverse side effects. The best way to address vaccine anxious parents is not to marginalize them as anti-vaccinators, but to address their root concerns about vaccine safety, efficacy, and continued importance in light of the decreasing incidence of most vaccine-preventable diseases.

Second, stop trying to recast and condemn McCarthy’s message. Doing so, even in the most aggressive and dismissive way, validates her as an authority of sorts and it provides her a great deal of free advertising. Millions of vaccine-anxious parents in the U.S. see public health officials and science enthusiasts focusing intense attention on the attractive and charismatic McCarthy, who has a story that can solicit empathy from even the most callous reader. Attacking her is ineffective at maintaining the trust of the 40% of American parents who admit to being anxious about the modern vaccine schedule.

Finally, directly address McCarthy’s concerns (and the concerns many parents share with her). Instead of demonizing and marginalizing McCarthy, use that same space to explain why we are confident that childhood vaccines are safe and free from harmful preservatives and adjuvants. Explain how and why public health officials are confident that modern vaccine schedule is appropriate for most children.

Public health officials have a strong urge to view McCarthy as the cause of much of the anxiety that many parents feel about vaccines today. She is merely a symptom—a very visible one—of deeper and much more vexing problem. As I explain in Vaccine, the process of vaccinating children today raises a large number of “serious problems—some inherent to the vaccines themselves and some unintentionally generated over the last several decades—that animate parents’ anxieties about vaccines. The entire process is conducted under substantial time and financial pressures, and so many shots are given at such a young age against so many obscure diseases without parents’ having a clear understanding of why we are vaccinating against certain diseases and not others. No reasonable person ought to be surprised that the process has created apprehension among thoughtful parents.”  Directly addressing these problems in a calm and reasoned fashion is the best way to ensure that McCarthy’s new job will not undermine health officials’ efforts to protect as many children as possible against as many vaccine-preventable diseases as possible.

vaccineMark A. Largent is a historian of science, technology, and medicine and the author of Vaccine: The Debate in Modern America. He is an associate professor of history and the director of the Science, Technology, Environment, and Public Policy Specialization at Michigan State University.


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