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Children's Book Reviews

SEX! (that got your attention)

SEX! (that got your attention)

Kate Marley

And it usually gets your children’s attention also. There is debate whether that is because it is a learned behavior, and the kids are interested in what the grownups pay so much attention to, or because it is the natural biological pull. Perhaps both. Either way, sex is a definite factor in our culture, and must be dealt with. How each parent deals with this is, of course, up to them, but as the parent of a young adult, and three teenagers, let me offer my two cents worth. First cent: Communication. Talk honestly and often, and make yourself available for questions no matter how sqeamish you feel. Better you than some ignorant kid in the locker room! Lots of the books below stress communication, and it is essential. For if you want your children to follow your values, you have to make sure that they are crystal clear about what and why these values are. This includes setting the example as well. Do not ignore the topic and hope it goes away. Do not assume, that since your child has not mentioned it to you, that they are not interested, and heave a deluded sigh of relief. Talk. Listen. Communicate. And talk some more. Expect to do this for years. Second cent: Moderation, in talk and action. Avoid extremes, such as sharing dirty jokes with kids, letting them watch raunchy movies at nearly any age, or assuming the worst about their behavior. (I saw you making eyes at that boy! You’re grounded for a year!) Moderation. Communication. Books can help a lot, and here’s just a few I found in the local libraries and bookstores. There’s lots more, so set a good example to your kid, and ask for more if you need them.

First Comes Love by Jennifer Davis. c 2001, Workman Publishing. Cute without being cloying, this recital of bare minimum of facts, told in rhymn, will be great for little ones. Filled with colorful, whimsical illustrations by Clare Mackie, this book could be a good choice for parents reluctant to give little ones too much information. The underlying premise, that reproduction is a wonderful and normal part of life, is most important.

How You Were Born by Joanna Cole. c 1984, 1993, Morrow Junior Books. An excellent book with great color photographs by Margaret Miller. Focus is on how baby grows and is born, a little on the early life of a baby. No explanation of how egg and sperm join, just that when they do, a baby grows. Great for pre-schoolers.

Making Babies by Sara Bonnett Stein. c 1974, Walker and Company. While old, the basic (and limited) information here for toddlers and preschoolers is still the same. Subtitled as an “open family book for parents and children together”, it’s meant as a lap book, with a large print text suitable for reading to little kids, and a larger section, in smaller type, with pointers and guides for parents. Clear black and white photos by Doris Pinney are a great compliment to this clear but simple book.

Bellybuttons are Navels by Mark Schoen. c 1990, Prometheus Books. A brother and sister in the bath talk about their body parts, starting at their head and going down to their toes. It seemed a little lame at first, but my toddler just loves it, so obviously it fills a need, and having the proper names for all the major body parts is important.

Birth and Growth edited by Pippa Pollard. C 1995, Steck-Vaughn Co. A restrained book, which will be welcomed by parents who don’t want their young elementary school kids to see naked pictures or illustrations, however educational. Fertilization is just mentioned as an egg and sperm joining (no mention of how they meet), and discreet drawings of how baby grows in utero. Never any mention of penis, breast or vulva. Shows how children grow, but only briefly. Indexed.

Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle. c 1977, Carol Publishing Group. The basic facts of reproduction , with cartoony but clear and explicit pictures. Subtle touch by illustrator Arthur Robins in having parents being older and heavier instead of looking like teenagers was inspired. Focus is on how babies are born, no mention of puberty, and all the rest.

It’s So Amazing! by Robie H. Harris. c 1999, Candlewick Press. Large format, and amusing color illustrations make this a visually appealing book that talks about puberty and how babies are born. There is no mention of STDs or birth control.

What’s Happening To Me? by Peter Mayle. c 1975, Carol Publishing Group This illustrated (by Arthur Robins) guide to puberty has a light approach to the subject that puts embarrassed kids at ease. The major stages of puberty are just briefly explained, with no explanations of intercourse or STDs, so this makes a great book for kids eight on up. If that seems too young, remember that American girls, in particular, are starting puberty earlier than ever, and this can help prepare them.

Let’s Talk About …s-e-x by Sam Gitchel and Lorri Foster. c 1987 (5th printing) Planned Parenthood of Central California. Meant as “a read-and-discuss guide for people 9-12 and their parents”, this older book is still good. It focuses on the facts of puberty and what kids can expect of their changing bodies, and to a lesser extent, their emotions. The authors encourage kids and their parents to work together by including lists by each of, for instance, what the kids would like to know about their own birth, what are the advantages and privileges of growing up, and why people have, or should not have, intercourse. Not too long, sprinkled with line drawings, and written in a colloquial manner, this is an excellent book for youngsters on the brink of change. There is no mention of STDs.

Growing and Changing by Kathy McCoy and Charles Wibbelsman, M.D. c 1986, Berkley Publishing. Subtitled as “a handbook for preteens”, this older book is still very informative. That’s mostly because it talks about the changes of puberty, how one’s body changes, the moods and hygiene problems, and that’s it. Black and white drawings are explicit, but only for showing growth stages and internal organs. Intercourse, STDs, pregnancy and parenthood are handled in a later book called the Teenage Body Book by the same authors.

Period Book by Karen Gravelle & Jennifer Gravelle. c 1996, Walker Publishing. Obviously geared for girls, this colloquially written and informative book talks about all that can happen during your period. The question and answer format was particularly interesting, and the amusing but correct illustrations by Debbie Palen make this a very comfortable book. Indexed.

It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris. c 1994, Candlewick Press. Visually appealing, this book covers a lot of ground…puberty, sex, including abstinence, birth control and STDs. Some folks will not like the presentation of masturbation as normal, or that gay couples are just one type of family, or the existence of bisexuals. Sexual abuse is also touched upon. Great watercolor illustrations by Michael Emberley add immeasurably to this book, not only with a multicultural cast, but by including all ages, sizes as well as those with disabilities. Clear and frank, with no sensationalism.

What’s Going on Down There? by Karen Gravele, with Nick and Chava Castro. c 1998, Walker and Company. Here’s an excellent book to find some “answers to questions boys find hard to ask”. Cartoonish but realistic (and frequently funny!) illustrations are by Robert Leighton, and add a lot to this book. Chapter entitled If I’d Known Then What I Know Now was very enlightening, and should be comforting to boys with similar concerns. Covers sex, birth control and STDs. Indexed.

What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Girls What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Boys both by Lynda Madaras. c 2000, expanded third edition, Newmarket Press. Each book is a modern classic in the sex education field, and rightly so. Aimed for kids on the brink of or during puberty, everything is covered here – reproduction, pimples, menstruation, wet dreams, STDs – in clear, colloquial language and plenty of explicit black and white drawings. Indexed and excellent.

Sex and Sensibility by Deborah Roffman. c 2001, Perseus Publishing Don’t be fooled by the clever title into thinking that this is just another pop psychology book about parenting – this is a really GREAT book about “the thinking parent’s guide to talking sense about sex”. And the author really does make one think. She points out that if trends such as freak dancing, the rise in oral sex, or co-ed sleepovers confound parents, what must be the kids’ reaction? And these are just the trends, and not the basics. She urges parents to think through their values, pull themselves together and “be willing to parent”. “We (families and schools) have to take responsibility for raising our children to cope with culture as it is, not as we wish it to be.” Most importantly, both sides of the sex education debate are clearly and ruthlessly examined for strengths and flaws. She believes that “schools should have the freedom and flexibility to acknowledge the great importance of religion in determining sexual mores for many people” but lambastes the abstinence only movement for ignoring reality. “After all,” she points out, “it is adults who have created or who tacitly support the sexually obsessed culture in which we live. And, if the most immediate, caring, and trusted adults in their lives project silence about this topic (sex), while so many other adults – perfect strangers with nothing but crass, commercial interest - can’t wait to get their attention about sex through the media, what exactly does that teach?” she asks. It was this ability to take the best of both sides, in an honest, moral and intelligent fashion, that impressed me most. Nationally certified as a Sexuality and Family Life Educator, this Baltimore author certainly knows all the nuts and bolts about sex, but her obviously deep commitment to the sexual health of children and teenagers was touchingly powerful. I highly recommend this book to all parents, no matter your child’s age.

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