Zero to Five: or Why I Suck at Writing Book Reviews, and a Giveaway

You want your child to be healthy and happy and have a good smart brain. Review of Zero to Five by Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D.

Tracy Cutchlow contacted me through LinkedIn.

(What’s up with LinkedIn anyway?

Is anyone ever on LinkedIn?

Maybe no one, except me and Tracy Cutchlow?)

She asked if she could send me a copy of her new book. About fostering learning in kids ages 0 to 5.

I have a kid age 0 to 5.

My kid has a brain.

So I said sure, send me the book.

Zero to Five and Brain Rules for Baby, two excellent books

If you can read to the end of this post, you can WIN one of these books

At this point I should tell you that lot of people send me free books. They want me to write about them. For, like, the front cover of USA Today. So they can become rich and famous off their books, with my help. I read a lot of books.

Like this one.

And this one.

And these ones (scroll to the middle).

But I almost never read the books that are sent to me by people (or publishers) I don’t know with no explanation.

Publishers and independent PR professionals, I know you’re reading this right now. If you’re not, you should be.

I have some unsolicited advice for you from a freelance journalist who loves books, reads books, and loves to promote books: Don’t send random journalists random books because you hope they’ll write about them. If you must cold send, at least include a personal note, not a 5-page single-spaced press release that includes three grammatical mistakes, about why you thought the book you have just spent $20 to Federal Express would interest the writer–in this case me–to whom you just sent it. (I kid you not, this is how many of the review books I get arrive. Explain to me how traditional publishers stay in business again?)

A large package arrived in the mail, media mail.

I had forgotten I had told Tracy I’d be glad to look at a review copy of her book and was a bit perplexed when I opened it. And a bit overwhelmed. There were two books in the package: a 300-page paperback by John Medina called Brain Rules for Baby (NATIONAL BESTSELLER is written in a red bar across the front, UPDATED AND EXPANDED. NEW chapter on SLEEP) and Tracy Cutchlow’s hard cover book Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science (and What I’ve Learned so Far).

The Zero to Five book was … heavy (it’s sort of an awkward size).

I’m not afraid of heavy books. Or long books. (But the ladies in my book group seem to be. They keep rejecting my suggestions. No one, to date, has been up to reading the nearly 700 wonderful whimsical pages of The Three Musketeers or a dark brooding 19th century Russian novel.)

But this has been a hot summer.

We have fires burning throughout northern California and the state of Oregon, where I live.

And as much as I love books about child development and sitting down with a glass of white wine and reading, I confess I had a hard time cracking the spine of this book. My littlest is four and I’m not as fascinated by all things baby related as I once was. Plus I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs lately. Missing: A Memoir, written by a Lindsay Harrison, about her mom who goes missing. Another, The Girl With Three Legs by Soraya Miré about being a survivor of the worst kind of female genital mutilation, which happened to Soraya when she was thirteen. Light stuff like that. You know.

So instead of actually reading her book, I asked Tracy about my lack of time for reading her book…

Me: “Most parents I know tell me they are so busy running around after their kids that they have no time to have sex, let alone read. Why should parents make time to read and where will that time come from?”

TC: “I know, remember reading for pleasure? I’ve only just gotten back to that by going to bed half an hour earlier. It’s been three days; let’s see if I can keep it up. Seriously, I will say that “no time to read” is not about being too busy. We all love a little escape, and we definitely make time for it. It just may be Game of Thrones, Candy Crush, or something else that we put ahead of books [Jennifer’s note: I thought A Game of Thrones WAS a book. We don’t have a TV in our house. Both my husband and my best friend are obsessed with this series … of books]. That’s too bad because few things get you thinking, imagining, and feeling the way a great book does. My book is not great literature. But if you need parenting help, Zero to Five is designed so that you don’t need much time to read. You can flip it open to any page and get a tip in the time it takes you to check your Facebook page …”

I flipped it open to page 87, which has a photo of a toddler squinting at a tomato.

This page begins with a quote from Michael Pollan: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

On it Tracy reveals that her kid “drinks a kale smoothie most days, an easy way to get her greens. (It tastes better than it sounds.)”

Though every time I read or write anything about eating whole foods and healthy eating, I feel the uncontrollable urge to binge on salted caramels, I appreciate this advice. In this age of McDonald’s in the public schools, advertising to pre-verbal children, and the glorification of junk food, one of the most radical acts you can do as a parent (and a person) is to eat real food.

It turns out Tracy was an editor before she became a parent.

She edited, among other books, Brain Rules for Baby. (The other book in my package. The book with the new chapter on sleep. The only problem for me is that my kids sleep just fine. I’m the one who can’t sleep…)

Then she had a baby.

You know what happens next, right, once you have a baby?

All the rules fly out the window.

So that is the perfect time to write a book. [Cue sinister laughter.]

Actually, for Tracy, that was the perfect time to try to figure out how to put all the good ideas about brain development from John Medina to practical use. (“When I had a baby, I was like, ‘Wait, what exactly do I do with all this information?’” she explained in another interview), which is how Zero to Five was born. More or less.

So then I asked Tracy when she first decided she wanted to be a writer and how she got started.

TC: “Ah, I’m not sure I want to be a writer. For me, writing is like running: you’re dying while you do it, but afterward you’re glad you did. Editing comes more easily. As a kid, I found myself catching mistakes on fliers, in books, wherever. I was so offended by those mistakes! I joined my high school and college newspapers. I did editing internships at newspapers during the summers. My first job was as a copy editor at The Oregonian in Portland. Within a couple years, I moved from copy desks to news websites and multimedia news projects. I was editing books on the side, including Brain Rules for Baby. That’s how I met my publisher. And he’s the one who prodded me to write Zero to Five. He loved the idea that I had to figure out how to apply the Brain Rules ideas in my own life.”

For all of you dreaming to write books, you should know that that is how all us writers get started. A publisher comes to us with a nice chunk of change and a perfect idea, hands us a check, and …


Usually what happens is this: you get the idea for a fabulous book. You write the perfect proposal. You look for an agent. Every agent in New York City and beyond sends you a canned response that boils down to, “Thanks, but no thanks,” if, that is, they bother to respond at all. (It’s harder to find an agent than it is to find a publisher.) You get discouraged and put the proposal in a drawer. Forever.

(Or, you keep trying. Like science fiction writer Octavia Butler. She was rejected for 13 years before she got a book published. If you want to be a writer you have to be willing to weather 13 years of rejection before you give up. You heard it from me first.)

Tracy’s new book retails for $19.95.

John’s bestseller, Brain Rules for Baby, retails for $15.95.

Total value: $35.90. You can go out and buy them. Go now! We know you want to!

Or you can win a free copy of one of the books, courtesy of Tracy’s publisher, Pear Press, via this very blog that you are reading right now. If you’ve made it this far, which you may not have.

Facebook is changing their rules so you can no longer tell readers to LIKE a Facebook page in order to be entered into a giveaway. Not sure how the cyber-police are going to enforce that. But whatever you do, don’t LIKE my book’s Facebook page or follow me on Facebook. (Try this on your toddler. Put some steamed broccoli on your plate and hand him one piece. Tell him that under no circumstances should he eat your broccoli…)

We’d love for you to sign up to receive Tracy’s newsletter here, but we aren’t making that a prerequisite to win this book either.

So what do you need to do to win a free copy of ZERO to FIVE?

Simply leave a comment on this blog telling us the last book you’ve read and why you liked it. Or, if you haven’t read anything in forever and plan to break the long dry spell with Tracy’s book, tell us what gets in your way of reading. Or write a long love letter to Tracy or me about why you love us so much so we’ll be biased in your favor. Easy peasy. We’ll pick TWO random winners (who will each win BOTH books, as the publisher thinks they are best read together) by Monday 18 August 2014 at midnight West Coast Time (that’s 3:00 a.m. on the East Coast for you fellow insomniacs keeping yourselves awake on your smart phones…).

Good luck!

Related posts:
I went to an author reading and only this many people showed up
Why I charge my friends for editing advice and writing coaching
I’m so nervous I might vomit on your shoes

Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D., is the author of The Business of Baby, an investigative look at how for-profit medicine sways the way we parent, coming out in paperback under a new title (stay tuned) in February 2015.

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Categories: books and publishing.


  1. Mell

    The last book I read was a youth fiction novel, The Spy Princess. I found it new at the dollar store & picked it up for my kids but of course had to preview it myself first. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit because it was well written with an interesting young female protagonist.

  2. Heather Johnson

    I deleted candy crush from my phone and replaced it with my kindle app in hopes that I would start reading more. The last book I read was The Napping House with my daughter before nap time yesterday.

  3. Currently reading “The Element” by Ken Robinson, Ph.D. and “Mind in the Making” by Ellen Galinsky – both because I am teaching classes for which these are the required reading. Not bad I would say!
    Thanks for this opportunity Jennifer! I would LOVE to have these books.

  4. Estey

    I recently read “A Signature of All Things” by Elizabeth Gilbert. Finishing it felt like quite an accomplishment since I have a 16 month old and write regularly. Thanks for offering these books up, Jennifer! The idea of getting a parenting tip in the time it takes to check my Facebook page sounds right up my alley.

  5. Tanessa Toten

    The last book I read was Heart and Hands: A Midwife’s Guide to Pregnancy and Birth by Elizabeth Davis. I will apologize now for any grammatical errors. Haha. I laughed reading this! Thanks for making me smile and inviting me to enter this giveaway Jennifer. As you know, you are awesome! I look forward to expanding my parenting knowledge reading one of these books! Xoxo

  6. My kids are 11 and 14, so I have time to read these days, usually in the evening alongside my 11-year-old. It is perhaps my favorite part of the day. Recently I read Three Junes by Julia Glass, which I loved, and I re-read Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich. I would happily give the offered books to a friend who is in the thick of the 0 to 5. Thanks!

  7. Angela Decker

    I just finished “Edible: An adventure into the World of Eating Insects and the Lat Great Hope to Save the Planet,” for a Daily Tidings Review. It was great, and I may start eating crickets. I hear you on getting review copies with no explanation, but lots of expectation.

  8. Lindsay Berryman

    What gets in my way of reading? A 3.5-yr-old, a 1.5-yr-old, and expecting the 3rd. There’s no sleep happening in this house right now, so any free time is devoted to getting as much sleep as I can!

  9. The last book I read was “Little Blue Truck” for one of my 1 year olds. I usually read reference books for funzies and I have a few books I need to write reviews on as well! 😉

    Thanks for the post and giveaway!

  10. Vee Savage

    I’m really not sure what the last book I read was. The internet has replaced my book reading days in general. That and my extremely busy 3 yr old. I like to sit down & read a whole book. Or watch a whole movie. I don’t have time for that much so I do shorter things for entertainment/relaxation that I can stop at any time. This book sounds good for that!

  11. michele

    The last book I read was a novel – The Dinner, by Herman Koch. The plot is structured around a five course meal. What happens in the story is nasty. The way the story enfolds is full of surprises, which made me like each character less and less. This book was tense and chilling. And compelling. And now I am reading the Well Tempered Heart, by Jan-Philipp Sendeker – and it is indeed a story of the human heart.

  12. bethany

    If anything, I read more now that I am a parent… sometimes books feel like my only connection to the adult world and to my past as a graduate student. Half of the books I “read” are audio books that I listen to while completing household drudgery tasks. The latest was _Flight Behavior_ by Barbara Kingsolver, which I especially liked because it was read by the author. I’m also in the middle of reading Savage Girl by Jean Zimmerman.

  13. Nicole

    I’m re-reading the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. I read on my phone because it is most convenient. I get most of my reading done while breast feeding my daughter.

  14. The last book I read was Vivian Gornick’s Fierce Attachments. I’d heard so much about it, finally took the plunge. What was I waiting for? One of the best all time memoirs. If you’re into memoir, it’s a must read. Also, her “The Situation and the Story” especially if you’re into writing memoirs. Which I am. Is anyone else out there writing a memoir? Of course, you are, but perhaps you don’t know it yet.

  15. Kathy b

    I read Hiking With Kids yesterday and the Grinch today. Four kids interfere with reading a lot but there is always time to find!

  16. The last book I read was The Presence Process which is about living in the present moment and meditation. I am about to read (actually listen, it’s an audio book) to Grain Brain which is all about why grains are bad for our brains and nervous systems.

  17. For some reason, I decided to read Another Great Day at Sea, in which an oldish, quirky British journalist (Geoff Dyer) spends two weeks on an American aircraft carrier. And what a good decision that was! It was entertaining and the author was a real charmer in that classic British self-deprecating way.

  18. Hilary

    I read the Obituary Writer and couldn’t put it down. I would hope for long naps from my son just so I could read more.

  19. Becka

    My son is almost 2.5 years old, half way between zero and five. He’s been undergoing a lot of developmental changes and it’s been too long to remember what I read in the developmental books I polished off when I was pregnant. Fortunatelly he takes long naps which means I could potentially have time to read a book instead of staring at Facebook or doing other random stuff around the house. I need a literary break, especially if it will help me understand what’s going on with my kiddo. It would be wonderful to understand the “terrific twos,” “testing threes,” through the “formidable fours” and “fabulous fives.” 🙂 Please pick me!

  20. Jinnee

    The last adult book I read was The Quickening by Stuart Wilde at the same time as I was reading the “No Cry Sleep Solution”. It seems my child induced multi-tasking has even spilled into reading. What prevents me from reading? The sound of turning pages actually wakes my little one no matter how covert and stealth I am in my effort! Hope to read these two books side to side tehe!

  21. The last book I read was Loving Your Kids on Purpose – about creating relationship with your children rather than regulating and controlling them. But, to be honest, I went from reading a book every couple days to not reading much at all. I just had my first baby on May 23, and I feel so overwhelmed with all the conflicting parenting books that I avoid them. Then I feel guilty for reading fiction because I should be reading parenting books. So I watch tv to veg out while I’m nursing because I feel like all my brain power dribbles out through the boob. And check Facebook because that way I can keep up on at least some grown up things. So many things keep me from my favorite hobby now. Perhaps it’s time to start again. 🙂

  22. Laurie Green

    I’m pretty sure the last book I read was “Where is My Piko” to my 3 and 5 year old… And before that… “The Pigeon Finds a Hotdog”…

  23. Kelly

    I love books and have a 10 month old! I would be very interested to read this, although I generally stay away from ‘parenting’ books. Also I feel you re: book club requirements, I suggested reading Anna Karenina to mine once and nearly got the boot 😉

  24. My last very many books are art books, Mostly taschen about my favorite artists like Klimt, Schielle, Hundertwasser… But I have two little ones that sometimes ( or quite often) I fell I need some advice to get through too!!

  25. Timber Hart

    I would love these! I have a six week old and I’m trying to read everything I can to learn how to raise them the best that I can!!

  26. Lesley Adams

    I am a first time mama of a 9-month old and I sure can soak up the baby development and child-raising books! Thanks!

  27. Sarah

    I start books all the time. I love the idea of reading, but my concentration lacks since having a 19 month old, so I never finish. The most recent book I started was “the Honest Toddler.” I love the humour and it feels close to my reality. Thanks for the giveaway!

  28. Lisa Nichols

    Well, let’s see. I just enjoyed Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor’s Traveling with Pomegranates in audiobook form, and now have moved on to Awakening the Entrepreneur Within. Can you tell I don’t have kids yet? 😉

  29. Katja

    Thanks for offering out free books! And thank you for clarifying to comment here! Looked like you meant to comment on your mmw post. Got it!

  30. Donna

    It’s the ages I work with so I would love to not only read them, but add them to our schools lending library for other mommas

  31. Brandi

    The last book i read….the birth partner. I was prepping my husband for our natural birth. It was almost 2 years ago. Help!

    Ohh I started reading “its OK not to share”…. But my toddler thought it belonged to him and I haven’t seen it in months.


  32. wanda morris

    I love to read but haven’t had much time lately since, I went back to school to finish a degree. I have nine kids and gave up reading except when waiting for the kids when picking them up from places. Last books I read were Rose’s Garden and the Book of Lies. Now reading Brilliant Stress Management for school. With nineteen grandchildren and one great granddaughter, I would be glad to win have the books offered. If not, I will eventually pick them up somewhere and read them. Thanks.

  33. Good for Tracy. We need more books that translate brain research into practical tips for parents. The last book I read to kids was Gary Larsen’s “There’s a Hair in my Dirt” – for anyone interested in irreverent ecology.

  34. Andrea Laurel Merg

    I have very high hopes that this will be the year I start reading again, alongside of re-learning to play the guitar. My 2 1/2 yr old is showing signs of possibly letting me have a moment while his three older sisters are at school this year. Trying not to get my hopes up too high.

  35. I just read Cut, Stapled, and Mended by Roanna Rosewood. I’ve heard of this book for years now from others in the birth community. I finally ordered a copy of my own. I literally could not put it down! It was so good!! It made me cry; it made me laugh!! I really enjoyed it and will now be suggesting it to others!!

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