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Recently, my good friend Julie Miner, of the blog Rants From Mommyland, asked on her Facebook page for recommendations for books to help her have “the talk” with her daughter. Hundreds of suggestions poured in from parents from all over the country.
Julie and I compiled the recommendations — some of the titles came up again and again.
We’ve labelled the books into those that are written for both boys and girls, books written specifically for girls, and books intended for boys. We’ve also included some books that are written just for parents to help you cope with all the awkward stammering. For your convenience, we’ve also included links for each book to Amazon.
We also included the publishers’ recommended ages for each book. While all these books were recommended as highly on Amazon as by Julie’s readers, each book did have a few negative reviews.
Every single book had the same two complaints:
“This book is way too advanced/inappropriate for this age.” or “This book is way too juvenile/babyish for this age.”
Some parents clearly weren’t aware of the age recommendations to begin with, but many just weren’t comfortable with the amount of information provided. It seems like it should go without saying, but what’s appropriate is going to vary with each kid. As a parent, you have to decide what’s going to help you answer your kid’s questions, what your child is ready for, and what you’re comfortable explaining.
It’s important to read through, or at least skim, these books before buying, or at least before handing it to your kid, so that you know it’s a book you’re comfortable with. Some parents were horrified by a book’s illustrations, referring to anatomically accurate, cartoon-style drawings as “soft core porn” in a review. Other negative reviews had to do with religious objections or just not being comfortable with teaching kids about masturbation, for example. One was horrified to find that a book went so far as to explain that “the male part goes into the female part,” which to me seems like a critical point in explaining reproduction.
Some of Julie’s readers also offered tips, as well, which we thought were pretty insightful.
- Talk while you’re driving. Many kids are more comfortable asking questions and chatting when they don’t have to make eye contact.
- Use the correct terminology.
- Ask your child what he/she already knows.
- Let your child steer the conversation. Unless your child is like, 12, and hasn’t asked anything.
A few websites were also recommended as well:
- KidsHealth.org for Parents Explains birth control so that you can explain it, and answers questions like “How can I reassure my daughter that she’ll get her period?” and “Is it normal for an 11-year-old boy to fondle himself?” (Answer: yes.)
- KidsHealth.org for Kids and KidsHealth.org for Teens, both by the Nemours Foundation, offer age-appropriate answers to all kinds of questions.
- Birdsandbeesandkids.com, by sex educator Amy Lang, MA, helps parents talk to kids about uncomfortable things.
- Girlology.com, a website for parents and girls age 8 to 15. The site is intended to be used by parents and daughters together.
Take a look at these top parent-recommended books below. Did we miss any of your favorites?
1. For Boys and Girls (Ages 4 to 8): What’s the Big Secret?
What’s the Big Secret? Talking About Sex With Girls and Boys is written by Laurie Krasny Brown and illustrated by Marc Brown (yes, the one from the Arthur books). It covers all the basics plus addresses the concept of “good touches” versus bad, uncomfortable touches. Although some reviewers felt it’s too advanced for preschoolers, it’s recommended for ages 4 to 8. Again, it depends on what your child is ready for, and what you’re ready for.
2. For Boys and Girls (Age 4 and up): It’s NOT the Stork!
It’s Not The Stork!: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families, and Friends, by Robie H. Harris, is another great first introduction for young kids. It clearly explains the differences between boys and girls, and also addresses the issue of good touching versus bad touching. Recommended for ages 4 and up, this book is both lighthearted and straightforward.
3. For Boys and Girls (Age 7 and up): It’s So Amazing!
It’s So Amazing!: A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families, by Robie H. Harris, is for the elementary school set — too old for preschool books and too young for the serious puberty books. Recommended for age 7 and up.
4. For Boys and Girls (Age 10 and up): It’s Perfectly Normal
It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health, by Robie H. Harris, really addresses major issues. It covers everything from conception and puberty to birth control and AIDS. A serious book for tweens and teens, It’s Perfectly Normal also talks about masturbation, oral and anal sex, and homosexuality. Recommended for age 10 and up.
5. For Boys and Girls (Age 6 and up): “Where Did I Come From?”
Where Did I Come From? The facts of life without any nonsense, and with illustrations by Peter Mayle is a big hit with lots of parents. However, while many praise the cartoon-style illustrations as accurate without being threatening, others are put off by cartoon images of parents in the Full Monty. As with all these books, it’s about what you’re comfortable with and what works for your family. Recommended for age 6 and up.
6. For Boys and Girls (Age 9 and up): “What’s Happening to Me?”
What’s Happening to Me? An Illustrated Guide to Puberty by Peter Mayle is for the tween set. One reviewer said it was “frank and descriptive without being too graphic and detailed.” It does cover what happens with both boys and girls, which seems like a better idea than just letting kids wonder. Recommended for age 9 and up.
7. For Girls (Age 8 and up): The Care & Keeping of You
The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Younger Girls, by Valorie Schaefer, is hands-down my favorite book about puberty for girls. It covers all aspects of puberty, including emotions, nutrition, and why some people shave their legs. It has a chapter devoted to periods, but it’s dealt with like any other aspect of growing up. Recommended for girls age 8 and up.
8. For Girls (Age 8 and up): The Feelings Book
The Feelings Book: The Care and Keeping of Your Emotions, by Dr. Lynda Madison, is a great companion to The Care and Keeping of You. This book helps give girls a better understanding of the emotional ups and downs that can come with puberty, and gives parents a starting point to help their daughters open up about their emotions. Recommended for age 8 and up.
9. For Girls (Age 9 and up): Is This Normal?
Is This Normal? Girls’ Questions, Answered by the Editors of the Care and Keeping of You, by Michelle Watkins, is based on actual letters girls sent to American Girl. Just reading the questions really lets girls know they’re not alone in their worries, and the answers will leave them excited instead of afraid. Recommended for age 9 and up.
10. For Girls (Age 8 and up): Ready, Set, Grow!
Ready, Set, Grow! A “What’s Happening to My Body?” Book for Younger Girls, by Lynda Madaras, offers an upbeat and accurate look at puberty for preteen girls. Age 8 and up.
11. For Girls (Age 12 and up): The “What’s Happening to My Body?” Book for Girls
The “What’s Happening to My Body?” Book for Girls by Lynda Madaras gives sensitive but straight talk on everything from the body’s changing size and shape to the menstrual cycle; from diet and exercise to romantic and sexual feelings. It also includes information on anorexia and bulimia, sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS, and birth control. Recommended for age 12 and up.
12. For Girls (Age 6 and up): Period.
Period. A Girl’s Guide by JoAnn Loulan focuses purely on menstruation, so if you’re daughter’s obsessing, this book may be the way to go. Age 6 and up.
13. For Girls (Age 9 and up): Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume, is a novel, not an educational text. But it’s a classic, and nobody knows the angst of waiting for your first period like Judy Blume. A great book to re-read with your daughter. Oh, and by the way: it’s been updated. Margaret no longer has to pin sanitary napkins to that belt thing. Age 9 and up.
14. For Boys (Age 8 and up): On Your Mark, Get Set, Grow!
On Your Mark, Get Set, Grow! A “What’s Happening to My Body?” Book for Younger Boys by Lynda Madaras, responds to real-life questions and concerns from younger boys about their changing bodies. This book covers a wide range of topics at a reading and understanding level that’s just right for preteen boys: the growth of sex organs, body hair, and facial hair; weight and height spurts; the unwelcome appearance of acne and body odor; shaving; circumcision; erections and ejaculation; feelings about puberty; and bullying. Recommended for boys age 8 and up.
15. For Boys (Age 10 and up): The Body Books for Boys
The Body Book for Boys, by Rebecca Paley, presents frank information for boys entering adolescence, on such topics as hygiene, the changes brought on by puberty, exercise, and dealing with girls. While some felt that some of the topics could have used more detail, it’s also likely that many boys will appreciate that the book makes its point and moves on. Recommended for age 10 and up.
16. For Boys (Ages 9 to 15): The “What’s Happening to My Body?” Book for Boys
The “What’s Happening to My Body?” Book for Boys by Lynda Madaras covers all the basics of puberty, and a lot more. It also includes information on steroid abuse, acne treatment, sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS, and birth control. Recommended for ages 9 to 15.
17. For Boys (Age 10 and up): Then Again, Maybe I Won’t
Then Again, Maybe I Won’t, by Judy Blume, is another classic novel, not a sex ed book. But again, no one covers the icky awkwardness of being a preteen boy like Judy Blume. For what it’s worth, I learned a lot about boys myself when I read this book many years ago. Recommended for age 10 and up.
18. For Parents: Preparing for Adolescence
Preparing for Adolescence: How to Survive the Coming Years of Change is written by James Dobson, Ph.D., a family psychologist. If you’re freaking out talking to your kids about not just sexual development and sexual health, but about drugs, peer pressure, and making good decisions, start here.
19. For Parents: Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They’d Ask)
Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They’d Ask) by Justin Richardson. This “survival guide” from Harvard researchers explains how to stay sane through every stage of your child’s development. From what to do when your toddler is rubbing on her teddy bear or your 6-year-old walks in on you having sex, to how to avoid unnecessary clashes with your middle-schooler while managing privacy, crushes, and what to wear. It even addresses that weighty topic: how to encourage your teenager to use contraception without encouraging her to have sex, and how to help her choose the method that’s best for her.
20. For Parents: How to Talk to Your Child About Sex
How to Talk to Your Child About Sex: It’s Best to Start Early, But It’s Never Too Late by Linda and Richard Eyre emphasizes that parents can play a role in their children’s healthy development throughout childhood, adolescence, and the teen years. Provides clear, specific guidance on when and, most important, how to help children begin to understand sex, love, and commitment from a positive viewpoint.