I recently heard some very good news from a member of my family, and was permitted to share this news with my little family. From my husband, it prompted a “Mazal tov, I’m so happy to hear that!” From my daughter it prompted a pleased wriggle, “Will I get to hold the baby?” and then some Other Questions.
Now, this isn’t the first time the Changeling has Asked Questions. When she was a little over three, maybe closer to four, she started exploring her anatomy and asked some Questions. Questions like: “Mama, what does this do? Why do I have a bum over here” patting her behind “and a smaller bum over here?” patting in front of her. So I accordingly did what I always do– I went to the library and talked to the librarians. I was shocked to discover that most of the books explaining bodies to young children were somewhat older, but they’re actually pretty darned good. So I bought two of them: Amazing You! by Gail Saltz, illustrated by Lynne Cravath, and, thinking ahead, What’s the Big Secret? by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown. I was very proud of myself for thinking ahead, too. And it was great! We talked a bit about anatomy and where babies come from and how and why, and it was fabulous and I was so proud of myself for handling tricky territory with grace and openness.
And then a year passed. And now the Changeling has started asking New Questions, Questions which are more pointed, more detailed, and don’t let me get away with answers like, “Well, maybe we can discuss that in a year or two, what do you think?” Questions like, “If the daddy has the sperm and the mummy has the egg, how does the sperm get to the egg?” and “What does sex look like?” and the follow-up “Then how old do you have to be to see sex happen?”
I did some additional research (which is to say, I consulted the expert– Erika Moen –NSFW– Erika’s site is wonderful and educational, but save that link for a private space), and she directed me to It’s So Amazing! by Robie S. Harris and Michael Emberley, which is for ages 7 and up.
So the Changeling and I have talked and talked, she comfortably, and I calming down as I become more comfortable, and it’s all gone so much more smoothly than I thought it would. Partly, I realized, because I know more than I thought I did, partly because librarians and Erika are wonderful and directed me to great resources, and partly because the Changeling is teaching me more than I am teaching her!
So I thought, after talking to a few friends and family members who also had curious youngsters, or anticipated some curiosity in future– maybe a brief exploration of these resources would help you all out, too– and provide a forum for people to share their stories, experiences, and helpful resources.
Amazing You! is a lovely early book for explaining the basics: what your body is, what it looks like, and how it’s private and individual to YOU. It really emphasizes anatomy and privacy and is wonderful, I think, starting at about age 3. It has excellent basic diagrams and is packed with accurate information reframed for a foundational level. My daughter has moved past it at age 5, but, as I said, she is perhaps unusually curious, so your experience may vary.
What’s the Big Secret? is a great next step: it’s more explicit about sex, sexuality, and, particularly, about being open and unembarrassed with your questions in the face of a society which casts shame on these subjects. It still emphasizes privacy and bodily autonomy for both boys and girls. My daughter still had more questions than were answered here– we have homosexual friends she didn’t see represented in here, for example– but for the basics of explaining how sex works, this is more direct and a little bit older than Amazing You! I’d say the target age here is around 5 or 6.
For questions that go beyond just “how are babies made?” and into questions about love, sexuality, and, basically, living life beyond childhood, It’s So Amazing! is a wonderful introduction to what an adult universe looks like. It still affirms basic facts about anatomy, biology, and science. It also talks about loving relationships (of all kinds– this is where my daughter was able to see our homosexual friends represented), families, and where sex figures into that. It even has some basic information about sexually transmitted diseases, which I was certain would confuse the Changeling, but was so well presented that it hasn’t. I love the graphic novel + text format: some pages are funny discussions between the bird and the bee in a standard graphic novel page, which engages a new child reader, and some are laid out in a more “picture book” page, but more text-heavy and informative. As it says right on the cover, it’s for ages 7+, but even before I got to it the Changeling (now aged 5 and a half) zoomed to it and I decided to let her. She was absorbed in about five seconds flat and had only lucid questions. It’s very basic, very clear, and very engaging.
So, these are three stepping-stone books for you all! The only “complaint” I have is that they are all rather old. That said, the books are excellent, and have served me well. I have no problem with these books and recommend them without reservation, but I do question why no new child-oriented books about sex are being published in this era. I’d have thought it a topic which could use updating on a regular basis.
So, dear readers, since I understand that I’m not the only parent with a curious child, I want to present this information to you with a little giveaway treat, and here’s the only rule:
Tell me (in the comments or at firstname.lastname@example.org) your story about your kid’s sex ed question (the funniest, cleverest, or just most thought-provoking question) and I’ll enter your name in the hat!
I will use a random number generator to pick one of you and you can choose which of these three books you prefer for your child. If you have questions about the books, I’ll happily answer. Open to anywhere in the world. You have ONE WEEK (March 1-7) to get your entry in!