`Childwise Catalog' gives new meaning to the word `thorough'

The Childwise Catalog, By Jack Gillis and Mary Ellen R. Fise. New York: Simon & Schuster Pocket Books. 370 pp. $6.95. paperback. This is a book whose generation apparently has come. It's specifically addressed to today's ``older, better educated'' parents who have ``more discretionary income than ever before.'' For that reason alone, it probably stands a better than average chance of making the best-seller lists.

Most bookstore shelves of happy-parenting books already are jammed with informative and occasionally entertaining manuals for raising upwardly mobile offspring. But ``The Childwise Catalog'' does have something new to offer. In 370 detailed pages, the authors give us a consumer-oriented guide to purchasing safe, ``brand specific'' products for children through age 5.

Some of their findings give new meaning to the word ``thorough.'' You want to buy a baby rattle? Turn to page 48 and you'll find an illustration of those that are unsafe because of their size. You'll also discover that the silver-plated Dumbbell Rattle No. 2012, manufactured by Empire Silver, exceeded Consumer Product Safety Commission rattle requirements by mere fractions of an inch and is therefore ``barely within the legal limits allowed.''

The authors come with fine credentials -- consumer advocate Gillis is a columnist for Good Housekeeping magazine, and attorney Fise is product safety director of the Consumer Federation of America. There are also endorsements aplenty, along with thanks to the many parents who contributed suggestions. Early chapters are geared to specific ages, and the illustrations are clear and helpful throughout.

That said, there are lingering questions about the book's weakness in significant areas, and about its overall intent.

Although the commentary on car seats and strollers is extensive, other arguably more important subjects for new parents receive noticeably less attention. The merits of homemade baby food, for example, are summed up in one paragraph that provides no practical how-to's. Similarly, in a chapter titled ``Everything Else You Wanted to Know,'' only one organization is cited as a reference for couples who may be considering adopting children.

With all the investments of time and money that parents make, it's helpful to know about products that are considered unsafe. But some of the text appears to build upon the very fears it's ostensibly written to alleviate. Two chapters on health and diet, for example, give extensively detailed coverage of so-called childhood diseases and warnings about pollutants and toxic reactions.

The cautionary tone that pervades the book is set in the authors' introduction. ``The number of accidental deaths and injuries among children continues to rise,'' they note. ``These concerns are what `The Childwise Catalog' is all about.''

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