Marshmallow is reading about growing up and this week she wanted to talk about a recent book she read about puberty, growing up, and sex written for young people who are around her age: You Know, Sex: Bodies, Gender, Puberty, and Other Things by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth. Sprinkles is taking notes and asking questions.
Sprinkles: First of all, as we begin this review, I want to thank you for reading this book, Marshmallow. After reviewing a collection of books about where babies come from, I had intended to write a post about a handful of books about puberty next. And one of the books I chose was this one, a huge, 432-page tome written in graphic novel form. But when I began to read it, I realized that my personal discomfort with the form (due to my poor eyesight) would mean I would probably not be able to give it its full due. So thank you for helping me out and checking the book out on your own.
Marshmallow: Well, that’s alright, Sprinkles. It was an interesting read.
S: That’s good to know. Can you tell us a bit about the specifics of the book?
M: Sure. You already said it is big, and has 432 pages. And you said it is written as a graphic novel.
S: The two who wrote this book also were the writer and the illustrator of What Makes A Baby?, one of the books I read for that review of books about where babies come from. And the pictures have the exact same style.
M: Yes, there are people with many different skin colors, like orange and purple and green and blue, and many different shapes and sizes.
S: Does that work well?
M: Yes, it is interesting. I think the people all look quite unique.
S: Well, I guess that makes the book more realistic, right? We are all quite different from one another.
S: So tell us more about the book.
M: There are eleven chapters. They are titled: What is Sex? Bodies, Gender, Puberty, Feelings, Consent, Talking, Relationships, Reproduction, Touching, and Safety.
S: So the book covers a lot of ground.
M: Yup. It is also very contemporary.
S: What do you mean by that?
M: It has some ideas which I think are contemporary. They talk about gender identity and sexual orientation, transgender and non-binary people, and people having relationships with multiple partners.
S: The last one does not sound too contemporary to me. Polygamy and polyamory have been around for a long time. They have not always been accepted or legal though. I guess the authors are trying to teach the reader to be open minded about different arrangements.
M: I am not sure all readers would be too open to all of these ideas at this point.
S: I agree with that. Actually I too find some of these ideas challenging, especially polygamy. Though rabbits are typically not monogamous, according to Wikipedia, “scientific studies classify the human mating system as primarily monogamous, with the cultural practice of polygamy in the minority”. In any case, it is good to learn about how different people can relate with others.
M: Well, the book does not talk so much about polygamy as polyamory. But yes, it is good to learn about these different things.
S: They also talk about the changes a young bunny goes through in puberty, and more generally about biology and mechanics of sexual reproduction, right?
M: Well, yes. There are also very vivid depictions of things. They make an effort to show all kinds of things, so that the reader does not end up assuming that a body part has to look in one specific way. And they show people doing all kinds of different things together or alone.
S: I did look through the pages a lot, too, and I’d say there really are a lot of illustrations that some parents may not be comfortable with.
M: The self-discovery and self-exploration parts might also be kind of touchy topics for some folks, I’d imagine.
S: I did see a section on pornography, and that too is a very challenging topic. Perhaps grownup bunnies should read this book together with their young ones when they feel like the conversations about the various themes and issues that come up will be constructive.
M: I’d agree with that.
S: What were some of the other topics in the book? What topics did you find were most important?
M: They talk a lot about relationships, and I thought it was useful to learn about that. They talk about consent and power in relationships, and sometimes how people talk about being with people as a competition.
S: Yes, I did see that page about how sometimes people talk about “scoring” and the book instead encourages young people to think about “trust, respect, justice, joy, and choice”.
M: Yes, I did find those parts useful. All in all, it is an interesting and useful book, but I think grownups should probably check it out before sharing with their little ones.
S: Agreed. So what would you tell our readers as we wrap up this review?
M: Stay tuned for more amazing book bunny reviews!
Today Sprinkles reviews a collection of children’s books that parents can share with little ones to help answer the curious question “Where do babies come from?”
Sprinkles has reviewed several books for the book bunnies blog before. Last October, she reviewed a handful of children’s books on gender identity. Today she once again discusses a selection of books on a topic that is both important and useful but may sometimes be challenging to talk about with little bunnies: Where do babies come from?
As a parent of young and growing children, I have occasionally needed to field curious questions such as “why is the sky blue?” or “why are there only seven colors in the rainbow?” or “why does ice cream taste so much better than cabbage?”. Sometimes these questions lead me to interesting discoveries, as the world is enormous and little ones have no limits to their curiosities but I certainly have a finite amount of knowledge. So often we look things up together online, or check out books, and learn something new together. And these turn out to be quite pleasant learning experiences for all. In fact many grownups I know love to rediscover the world through the questions of the children in their lives.
However there is one question that often challenges grownups: “Where do babies come from?” Some eventually figure out how to give an at least somewhat satisfying answer to this question, or children seem to lose interest eventually, seeing how their grownups are fumbling with words, and move on. But readers of the book bunny blog might want to know if there are smoother ways to talk about this question and the related ones about human sexuality. That is why I decided to read and write about a handful of books that explore these issues and claim to be age-appropriate.
I begin with the first book on this topic that I myself have read (because, yes, I was a curious young bunny once, too): Where Did I Come From? The Facts of Life Without Any Nonsense and With Illustrations. Written by Peter Mayle, illustrated by Arthur Robins, designed by Paul Walter, and published first in 1973, this book might perhaps be the first in this genre. Quite progressive for its time, I think the book holds up relatively well.
Where Did I Come From? The Facts of Life Without Any Nonsense and With Illustrations begins with the natural question almost all curious young bunnies ask their parents at some point. The answer is almost all accurate and illustrated with hilarious and quite anatomically detailed drawings. The explanation starts with a woman and a man wanting to be close to one another and then goes into some of the details of sexual intercourse (called “making love” here). These stages are illustrated with a cute and round mom-to-be and a cute and round dad-to-be. You do not see things in very graphic format, but you do get a full understanding of the mechanics of the process. Then there is a detailed and illustrated description of the uterus and the various stages of pregnancy, and the book ends with a message of love to the child addressed as “you” throughout the whole thing:
You might think it sounds like a lot of hard work for such a little person. But there’s a very good reason why your mother and father went through it all. And if you want to know what that reason is, just take a look in the mirror.
This is where I find that the book is somewhat not completely ready for our times. It assumes that the child asking the titular question is living with a mom and a dad, and that these folks are the child’s biological parents. There is no acknowledgment of other alternatives, such as adopted children or children being raised by people other than their biological parents. Other than this particular shortcoming, the one minor mistake I can find in the book is about baby math. That is, we are told that “one sperm plus one egg makes one baby; two sperm plus two eggs makes two babies, and so on.” This is of course not always true; twins and triplets can come from a single fertilized egg.
But perhaps adults might not want to complicate things, and perhaps theirs is a nuclear family structure made up of a mom and a dad who are the biological parents of the curious child. In that case, I think that Where Did I Come From? The Facts of Life Without Any Nonsense and With Illustrations is still quite capable of doing its job effectively, and all along the way, entertaining everyone involved. Depending on the parents’ level of comfort, the book might be appropriate for bunnies as young as 6 years of age. Readers should know that there are a lot of naked baby illustrations along the way and a few adult naked bodies, too; the inside covers are also full of over a hundred smiling sperm. Visually, the tendency is all on the cute and humorous, and there is absolutely nothing erotic or sexualized, but most characters depicted have no clothes on.
A book, or rather a pair of books, on the same topic where everybody except the unborn is fully clothed is Where Do Babies Come From: A Guide for the Christian Family. This is in fact two separate books, one written for boys aged 6-8 and the other written for girls in the same age range. Folks do not need to be Christian to have some concerns about having images without clothing in a book they are sharing with their young ones. So I thought it might be a good idea to see what this book pair had to offer.
This pair of books does not have a visible author; published by a Christian publisher the author voice is captured by an invisible “we” addressing the parent at the beginning and giving them some ideas about how to share this book with their little ones. Most of the rest of the book is written in the form of a story about a boy named Simon or a girl named Alisa, turning seven and wanting to learn about where babies come from. The Christian nature of the book is very tangible, with Christ being mentioned in the address to the parents; however, the rest of the book mainly focuses on a single God, who creates and loves, so it is possible other religious folks might be able to find it palatable for their context as well.
The books develop content in parallel for most of the time, and they make an effort to mention alternatives to the child living with biological mom and dad setup. There is mention of an adopted neighbor and possibly grandparents living with the child. But the focus seems to be the nuclear, mom and dad setup. The actual making of the baby event is described by mom and dad loving one another and “bringing their bodies together very close and in a special way.” There is not any more anatomical or mechanical details, though words like egg, sperm, uterus, and vagina do come up.
Then comes the part where children are told boys and girls are different and a boy cannot be the mother when playing house (though, thankfully, we are told men can be cooks and women can be firefighters or doctors). Then there is the part about how “sin has ruined God’s perfect plan” so some moms and dads don’t stay together. Furthermore the binary and biological essence of sex is emphasized throughout (boys are like this, girls are like that). These might make it harder for some grownups to choose these books for their little ones.
All in all, I found this pair of books to be an interesting attempt, and I thought that they provided lots of messages which might align with the values of some families. However, I believe they do not provide a concrete answer to the actual question. It was also not clear to me why the authors felt a need to make the two books separate; the only difference I could discern was the main character of the story was a boy for the book meant for boys and a girl for the book meant for girls.
Another book with a similar title is Where Do Babies Come From?, written by Katie Daynes, illustrated by Christine Pym, and designed by Suzie Harrison. Designed as a lift-the-flap book, this book also does not give away too much about the mechanics of how babies are made. We are told only that the father’s sperm and mother’s egg met and became one. It is not clear how or where the meeting happened, but somehow this egg and sperm pair made it into the mother’s body.
The main distinction of this book, in my opinion, other than the flaps that would most effectively engage young bunnies who would likely love to discover what is hidden under each, is that it puts the human process in the context of the larger animal kingdom. The pages of the book are colorful and full of all sorts of animals courting one another, mating, and taking care of their eggs and their young. Each of the animal groupings point to a flap which, when opened, explains a particular animal behavior which leads to the making of offspring (like a bird dancing to attract a mate). And in the middle of each two-page spread is a human mother or a pregnant woman, and a curious child asking her questions.
Where Do Babies Come From? in this way puts human reproduction in the context of natural animal behavior. This might appeal to grownups who know that their little ones like and enjoy books and documentaries about animals. The flappy design of the book makes it accessible to a younger readership; bunnies as young as four years of age might be able to enjoy and learn from the book. And perhaps the lack of information about some of the details of the baby-making process is perfectly fine for this particular audience.
Where Do Babies Come From? Our First Talk About Birth is yet another book with a similar title, aiming for the younger crowd. Written by the child psychologist Jillian Roberts and illustrated by Cindy Revell, this book is part of a new series called “Just Enough: Difficult Topics Made Easy.” As expected, the book does not give too many details, just enough to satisfy a curious five-year-old bunny perhaps. Where do babies come from? The mother’s body has a place named a womb, right under the stomach; that’s where. To make the baby an egg and a sperm need to meet. And how do they meet? “When it’s time to make a baby,” a mommy’s body which has an egg and a daddy’s body which has a sperm fit to one another and get the two pieces of the puzzle together. So again, there is a lot of handwaving and indirection, but the goal is to just say enough so the child is satisfied and not misled, but also does not get confused by the details.
Just like most of the books reviewed earlier in this post, Where Do Babies Come From? Our First Talk About Birth aligns itself more with the attitude that younger bunnies do not need too many details, but they can get to know about the sperm and the egg, and this allows them to think about how two humans came together to make one baby (no matter how vaguely that coming together is described).
For grownups who want their younger ones to have more of the details and who are not worried they will be confused, scared, or inordinately curious (some grownups do prefer less curious bunnies!), I can recommend It’s NOT The Stork: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Families, and Friends. Written by Robie H. Harris and illustrated by Michael Emberley, this book is perhaps the best option for the 4-7 age group. The presenters are a bird and a bee, one curious and wanting to know more and the other a little embarrassed and kind of tentative about things. They start with the stork and other stories children may have heard about where babies come from, and then go into the facts. The illustrations are cute, fully colored, and very helpful.
Unlike any of the earlier books reviewed above, It’s NOT The Stork: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Families, and Friends actually uses the phrase “having sex” and describes in detail the reproductive systems of the biologically male and biologically female human bodies. It also accounts for a range of families including adoptive ones. The binary nature of biological sex is still omnipresent in the book however. The differences and similarities between the body of a boy and a girl are explored in great detail.
One thing I really like about this book was the section on “Okay Touches, Not Okay Touches”. One of the reasons why young bunnies should learn something about their bodies and where babies come from is so that they are aware of the notion of the privacy of certain parts of their bodies. This book takes this concern to the next level and explicitly differentiates between good and natural and healthy ways people can touch them and the not-so-good, and unwanted ways. Reading this book together (maybe a couple sections at a time, as each two-page spread makes a rich section on its own), a grownup bunny and a young one can have some very important conversations.
It’s SO Amazing: A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families, written by Robie H. Harris and illustrated by Michael Emberley, the same team who produced It’s NOT The Stork, is also a neat book, in the same spirit, providing a lot of useful information in digestible chunks, this time for the 7-and-above age group. In fact It’s SO Amazing! was written first, in 1999, and then came It’s NOT The Stork for the younger crowd, in 2006. Both books are great options, in my opinion, if you want to answer your young bunnies’ questions fully.
If your young one has already read It’s NOT The Stork, they may already recognize the bird and the bee in It’s SO Amazing, who are once again the main narrators of the story. This book also talks about how babies are made, but also, as its intended readership is approaching puberty, there is some mention of the typical changes that a child’s body goes through during this time. The “Okay Touches, Not-Okay Touches” distinction shows up once again.
I was surprised to see that there is a whole section on HIV and AIDS in It’s SO Amazing: A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families. First I wondered why the section was not more broadly on sexually transmitted diseases. My explanation for myself is that the point was probably not to explain HIV / AIDS as one of many sexually transmitted diseases, but rather to make sure that young readers know and understand the context of HIV / AIDS. Sexually transmitted diseases are not typically discussed in mainstream conversations involving young people, and many may not have heard of them. And perhaps it is okay for a seven-year-old to not learn more details just yet. However, HIV / AIDS is a topic that many will hear about before they turn ten, and some will know people who are living with HIV / AIDS. There are a lot of myths about how the HIV virus is transmitted and the two pages dedicated to it aim to dispel some of these.
The team who created It’s NOT The Stork and It’s SO Amazing! also wrote a book for older children, age 10 and up. I plan on reviewing that book together with a few other books about puberty. Stay tuned for that, coming up in a few more weeks.
Finally, I wanted to share with you some thoughts about a slightly more recent book, What Makes A Baby, written in 2012 by Cory Silverberg and illustrated by Fiona Smyth. Formatted as a picture book, this book, too, seems directed towards the younger crowd. As the most recent book among those I am writing about here, this book is perhaps the most flexible in terms of audience and inclusivity. The subtitle of the book says it explicitly; this is “a book for every kind of family and every kind of kid.”
The book mentions people who have sperms and people who have eggs and people who have uteruses. The words boy, girl, woman, man, mother, father do not appear anywhere. But there is repeated mention of those who wanted you, those who cared for you, those who loved you. There is also a lyrical description of the conception process, involving the stories of the egg joining the stories of the sperm, and being ready to tell a new story together. In other words, a baby is made by love, bringing together stories of multiple people and generations, and is to be loved by the people around them. Anatomy is mentioned to an extent; we hear of the baby coming out of the vagina, we learn how to say the word uterus, but the mechanics of the baby-making process is not included.
I think What Makes A Baby is a neat book which offers grownups the opportunity to share a more inclusive and metaphorical explanation of how babies are made with the young bunnies they love. This will be especially helpful for young ones who themselves do not feel like their identities are captured by words like boy or girl, and those whose families may not fit the traditional biological parents living with their offspring template. However, many young bunnies are ready to love and be loved, and so sharing this version of the story of the beginning of their life when they are not yet ready for the full technical story might be a good idea.
More generally, I think that What Makes A Baby is a good first read for all young bunnies and their grownups. For the ones interested in nature and animals, the flapbook Where Do Babies Come From? might also be very appropriate. For young ones who have a pregnant person close to them and are curious about the process, Where Do Babies Come From? Our First Talk About Birth might also offer a feasible option. If and when the young ones ask for more information, you can move on to some of the more detailed texts, such as Where Did I Come From? The Facts of Life Without Any Nonsense and With Illustrations, or either of the birds-and-bees books (It’s NOT The Stork and It’s SO Amazing!) All in all, I think there are a lot of interesting options out there!
This week Sprinkles reviews a few books about gender identity written for children.
Marshmallow and Caramel have been complaining that Sprinkles has not written a post since last Halloween (when she had reviewed a handful of children’s books about zombies). So she decided to write another one before the anniversary of that post came around. This is the post that resulted.
This week Sprinkles reviews a few books about gender identity written for children, with a nod to the International Pronouns Day, which was just this past Wednesday.
There have been a range of children’s books about gender identity written recently. In this post I would like to share some of my thoughts about eight of them: Julián Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love; Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall; Neither by Airlie Anderson; Pink Is For Boys written by Robb Pearlman and illustrated by Eda Kaban; The Gender Wheel by Maya Gonzalez; Who Are You? The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity, written by Brook Pessin-Whedbee and illustrated by Naomi Bardoff; It Feels Good To Be Yourself, written by Theresa Thorn and illustrated by Noah Grigni; and They, She, He, Me: Free To Be! by Maya Gonzalez and Matthew Smith-Gonzalez.
I begin with a review of a handful of them that aim to emphasize the point that being different is alright, and there is a place for all of us in this world.
In Julián Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love we meet a little boy named Julián who wants to dress up as a mermaid. He finds acceptance in an unexpected place. The book ends as a celebration of differences. The colors of the book are pastel and lively at the same time, inviting us to Julián’s beautiful world.
In Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall, we meet a little crayon who is blue but is in a red covering paper. He has a difficult time at the start trying to fit in. But in the end he finds that he can be who he is, and life is good again. The color scheme used is simple and reminded me a bit of the book series about crayons by Drew Daywalt. (Caramel reviewed The Crayons’ Christmas, the third book of that series, for our blog.) The illustrations are not intricate but they do exactly what they are meant to and give us a sense of this crayon’s inner world and the world around him as well.
In Neither by Airlie Anderson, we learn of a land of This or That, where every creature has to be this or that, and when there is an individual who does not fit either, they are mocked and excluded from the two groups formed around being This and being That. Eventually we see our outcast, who sees themself as a Both but is called Neither by the two groups, finds themself in a land where they are accepted, along with everyone else. The colors are bright and cheery, and the little creatures are simply drawn but pretty cute.
All three books remind me a bit of a fascinating little book Caramel reviewed a while ago for this blog: From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea by Kai Cheng Thom. That book had a dreamy atmosphere, and the main character was a child though magically different from others. Julián from Julián Is A Mermaid is also a little child, and I can see a little boy being comforted by reading about him and his dream of being a mermaid coming true. In some ways though, Neither and Red: A Crayon’s Story might be easier for parents who want to broach the subject of being different without explicitly bringing up gender identity. It is easy to identify the perceived and assumed boy-girl gender binary underlying the stratification of the land of This and That in Neither, though it is never explicitly stated. Similarly, the Blue Crayon in Red: A Crayon’s Story is also suffering from his peers’ expectations about how he should behave given what he looks like, but there is no explicit discussion of boyhood or girlhood.
On the other hand, Pink Is For Boys, written by Robb Pearlman and illustrated by Eda Kaban, brings up the boy-girl binary right up front. The main point here is that boys can like pink just like girls can like blue. Similarly boys can enjoy bows on dresses and girls can like baseball. The binary is not really questioned here, but instead, children are told that the boundaries of the two categories are porous in many ways, that boys and girls can enjoy all sorts of things and still be themselves.
The first three books I described above were stories and could easily be viewed as fictional, though obviously the authors were writing with a particular goal and an intended moral. The fourth book was more an advice book, a nonfiction text that openly tells the child reading it (or being read to) what to think about the topic.
The next four books fit this mold as well. They are more like an adult talking to a child who is maybe a bit concerned about being different or simply curious about gender identity, even if they may not be asking explicitly to talk about the topic.
Let me start with They, She, He, Me: Free To Be! by Maya Gonzalez and Matthew Smith-Gonzalez. Among the four books explicitly about gender identity, this one is perhaps the simplest though definitely not oversimplified. The book starts with page after page of pronouns and pictures of people, and the pictures are pretty amazing.
The emphasis of the book is on pronouns, but the main text that starts after the pronoun depictions is quite extensive. Though organized under headings of Pronouns, Freeing Pronouns, Claiming Pronouns, Creating Pronouns, Using Pronouns, and Playing With Pronouns, the text touches upon the uniqueness of each individual, the creative possibilities of pronouns, and the freedom to be who you want to be. Creators of this book share a bit about themselves too and then have a few words for the grownups. They summarize the main goal of this book really well in their personal introduction:
As parents we want our kids to feel fully free to blossom into their maximum magnificence.
They, She, He, Me: Free To Be! by Maya Gonzalez and Matthew Smith-Gonzalez
The Gender Wheel is written and illustrated by Maya Gonzalez, too. This book is a bit broader in its coverage of gender identity, and is beautifully illustrated, with lyrical language that explores the implications of thinking of the world and our identities as parts of a circle. I loved how the author kept coming back to the circle as a metaphor and a reflection of the world as well as our own inner lives.
However, the book is very U.S. centric, and explicitly asserts that the boy-girl gender binary was brought to North America by European settlers, who had “linear and rigid” beliefs and so they “boxed people in and kept nature out”. Though I sympathize with the author’s perspective, I see it as quite limited in the global context, as the gender binary is alive and well all around the world, without direct need for any seventeenth-century European influences. And though some native peoples of this continent may have had more fluid perceptions of gender than the ones we are living with these days (according to this Berkeley website for example, “more than 150 different pre-colonial Native American tribes acknowledged third genders in their communities”), this was definitely not always as freeing as some might imagine, and may not have meant what we might think it does. (The same website asserts that “By no means did all pre-colonial Native American communities accept or celebrate gender and sexual orientation diversity.”) So I saw this pass at colonialism as an unnecessary distraction.
The gender wheel in the title of the book is extremely useful as a tool however. It is a beautiful way to visualize and understand the complexities of the construct of gender and it allows the reader to be able to distinguish between physical and biological bodies, how one feels inside their body, and how one chooses or needs to engage with the outside world. While scholars of gender studies dig deep into the nuances of their constructs and appreciate all their complexities, for the rest of us these very same intricacies might be barriers in understanding ourselves and our loved ones. Gonzalez and her wheel make the ideas quite transparent and very much easier to understand (and even discuss with young ones in our lives).
A similar idea is used and offered as a tool in Who Are You? The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity, written by Brook Pessin-Whedbee and illustrated by Naomi Bardoff. This book, too, explicitly describes gender as made up of three layers; these are called Body, Identity, and Expression. (In The Gender Wheel, Gonzalez labels the layers as the body circle, the inside circle, and the pronoun circle.) Having read the two books together, I now find both sets of labels making a lot more sense to me. Unfortunately it seems that the latter book (Who Are You?) does not acknowledge the source of their own wheel construction, and as a result, it is highly likely that this is a case of plagiarism (see Maya Gonzalez’s blog post about the issue here.)
The illustrations in Who Are You? are in some ways a bit less whimsical than those in The Gender Wheel, which definitely reflects its creator’s particular style (as also seen in her book with Matthew Smith-Gonzalez, They, She, He, Me: Free To Be!). But they are definitely not boring or unattractive. Actually they occasionally reminded me very much of the style of the If You Give … series written by Laura Numeroff and illustrated by Felicia Bond, and could sufficiently capture a young reader’s attention.
Who Are You? also comes with a few pages of advice for the adult reader. I think the author makes the (probably correct) assumption that an adult who shares this book with a young person will likely want to have as much support and ideas for resources as they can. So there are resources about how to use the wheel tool provided, how to engage with particular parts of the book with a young person, and where to find other resources (books and films) that can help support a conversation with a young person exploring these issues.
Finally let me say a few words about It Feels Good To Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity, written by Theresa Thorn and illustrated by Noah Grigni.
It Feels Good To Be Yourself introduces the reader to a few different children who have different gender identities and sexual expressions. Terms like “transgender” and “non-binary” are explicitly defined in child-friendly language, and the book depicts all gender identity-related difference positively and ends with the main moral:
No matter what your gender identity is, you are okay exactly the way you are. And you are loved.
It Feels Good To Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity, written by Theresa Thorn and illustrated by Noah Grigni.
Having read these eight books, what can I tell the reader who probably already regrets diving into such a long blog post?
First I have to admit I am grateful. I am grateful that our children today have these types of books. I am also grateful that we the parents, too, have access to these types of resources to help support our kids in finding and growing into the people they want to be, despite prejudices and oppressive social models of being a boy / man or a girl / woman in the world. I have found each and every one of the books I mentioned in this post to be helpful, and I think there are little people out there that could very much benefit from reading any of them.
Secondly I think these books would be great conversation starters, with all young people. If your child is not comfortable with the gender binary and its impositions on their life, then pick up one or more of these books and let them read it and then discuss. Or why not curl onto a couch or into a bed together and read them together? Depending on how you usually choose to broach various issues with your little one, there is definitely a book out there that will open the right communication channels for you.
Even if your child is already comfortable in their gender identity, it makes sense to bring these books and topics up for conversation. Sometimes children can be rigid adopters of social assumptions without questioning, and their reactions and comments can be hurtful to other people. If you want to raise children who are open-minded and flexible, and who can respect and love people of all ways of being, then these topics do belong, if not at your dining table (and then again why not there?) then definitely somewhere.
Finally I will add that Caramel told me his two favorites among these were Red: A Crayon’s Story, by Michael Hall, and Neither, by Airlie Anderson. I can see how the less openly didactic texts might be easier to share with young ones. At some point, though, especially for the slightly older crowd, the books with more explicit discussion of gender identity might be more appropriate. These books can easily introduce these growing readers to the correct terms and constructs to think about, understand, and express their own gender identities as well as to learn about other people around them.
This past week Caramel got his paws on a handful of board books from the Baby University series, written mainly by Chris Ferrie. He is a voracious reader, and these little books, written for tinier bunnies and their adults, were all read within the course of one evening. Then he reread them and reread them again. And for today’s review, he insisted that we should talk about them. So that is what is happening today: Caramel is reviewing six books on physics from the Baby University series, and Sprinkles is taking notes and asking followup questions.
Sprinkles: So Caramel, why did you want to review these books?
Caramel: Well, I liked them. I review only the books I like.
S: But aren’t these books for babies?
C: Yes. So? I don’t care. I liked them!
S: I agree they are cute and fun. But did you find them amusing? Did you find them informative?
S: They do explain some basic physics in simple terms. And even for a little bunny like you, who can read big books, they could teach some basic principles, right?
S: Okay, let us start from the beginning. The earliest physics these books talks about is Newtonian physics. Can you tell me a bit about what you learn in that book?
C: This book talks about gravity, and mass, and acceleration.
S: Hmm, those are big important words. Do you know what they mean?
C: Yeah. For example the book tells me what gravity is. It says: “We can’t see gravity. It is the force that keeps us on the ground.”
S: I see.
C: There are forces and they make a ball move faster. That is what accelerate means. And when an apple falls from a tree, it “feels the force of gravity, and Sir Isaac Newton feels the force of the apple.”
C: I knew only one of them before reading this book, the one that says “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. So I learned two more.
S: That is good! Then let us move to the book on electromagnetism. That is I believe the next one, in terms of the history of science.
C: Hmm, let me quickly read it again… Okay, this one, like all the others, starts with a ball. All of the books start with “This is a ball.”
S: It is a good starting point, especially if you want babies to be interested, right?
C: Yes. I like balls too.
S: I know! So okay, in this book you learn about electric charges and then magnets and then finally that the ideas of electricity and magnetism are related. Right?
C: Yes! I heard that they use big magnets in wind turbines to generate electricity! They are using this idea!
S: That is cool! Here is an article we found about “the critical role of magnets in wind turbines” and read together.
S: Next let us talk about the book on quantum physics. Tell me about this one.
C: This also starts with a ball. Then it tells us about atoms and electrons. Electrons have energy. This energy is “quantized”.
S: That means that the energy electrons can have has to be among a few possible values. Not all values are allowed.
C: Yes. I learned that from this book.
S: That is some quite fancy knowledge Caramel. I’m glad you are learning all this already!
S: Tell me next about the astrophysics one. This is written by Chris Ferrie and Julie Kregenow.
C: This too starts with “This is a ball.” And then it says planets and stars are like balls. Then it talks about elements on the periodic table. They were all created in stars!
S: Yes, that part made me think about that Symphony of Science song we like to listen to. There is a part in that song where Carl Sagan says, “We’re made of star stuff”. He then says “We’re a way for the cosmos to know itself.” I love that!
C: Yeah, let us embed the video here!
S: Sure, why not?
S: “And there is much to be learned.” I love this song. But let us get back to the books. Next if you want, we can talk about the book about general relativity.
C: This begins with the same sentence: “This is a ball.”
S: Then what happens? What do you learn?
C: I learn about mass and how it warps space, and then about black holes.
S: All pretty cool stuff really…
C: And now let us talk about my favorite one.
S: Yes, let us talk about Rocket Science for Babies.
C: This is my favorite! It again starts with “This is a ball.” Like all the other ones. Then it talks about lift and airplane wings and thrust. And rockets.
S: Why is it your favorite?
C: Because I love rocket ships and planes and balls. And the book is all about them.
S: Yes, that is a good reason to like the book. Did you learn something new from this book?
C: Well, not really. I already knew a bit about lift and thrust and such. But it is still a cool book.
S: So do you think it is time to give these books away to a baby bunny?
C: No! I like them and want to read them a lot more times before we do that!
S: Okay, you can read and reread them as many times as you like. I do think they are good ways to set up the fundamental ideas of some of these things. Do you think these books would work well for babies?
C: Yes, I would have loved to have read them with you when I was a baby.
S: So would I! I myself would recommend these books to parents, especially if they are willing to talk to their little ones about the science a bit, even if it has to be with the help of the internet. But we only found out about them this year. Oh well, better late than never, right? Let us wrap this up. What three words would you use to describe these books?
C: Helpful, colorful, fun.
S: I think those work! So what should our readers do?