Sometimes, the bookstore is a confessional of sorts. Last fall I had two moms in the store, giggling over the "how to talk to your child about sex" section. They were far worse than any kid would be. "Erections," one wondered, "don’t they just happen?" Well, no actually, spongy tissue allows them to happen, I explained, trying very hard not to just start laughing. These women, these married women with sons, had never heard of spongy tissue. "How are you going to have the talk?" I asked. They blushed and said they had no idea.
This conversation happens with shocking regularity in my store. I feel bad for these kids whose moms and dads think the sex talk is uncomfortable or have no real clue how to start. I point them in the direction of my Life Issues section. I suggest that they start with an easy refresher book. I have my six or seven books that I find invaluable to help parents and kids, understand the joy, the agony and the unknown of talking to your child about sex and puberty.
Regardless of what the book is, the best advice always seems to be to just nonchalantly leave the book on the coffee table. Within a week, the book will find its way to the right child’s room and then the questions start. Parents, especially parents like the moms above, would do well to get the same books as their kids, so they have the same frame of reference. It’s funny: The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls, from American Girl Library, is almost always purchased by the good customer who confides that her daughter is carrying an odor for the first time. Many girls have been known to secret this book away while simultaneously asking for better shampoo and deodorant. American Girl added a new book to this series with Is This Normal?: Girls’ Questions, Answered by the Editors of The Care & Keeping of You which tackles some of the harder questions, i.e. embarrassing, that girls have with the onset of puberty.
Of course, to my mind, the gold standard for the changing body talk is Robie Harris’ It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health, illustrated by Michael Emberley. The friendly cartoons do much to take the uncomfortableness out of talking frankly about sex. The book is newly updated to include a chapter on being safe on the Internet; this new updated version comes out in the beginning of September. Robie has added to the original book with It’s NOT the Stork: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families and Friends for younger kids. This book really just answers the age-old question that still makes some parents squirm: "Where do babies come from?" And then when parents are ready for a little more there’s It’s So Amazing!: A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families.
For families that want more text, the My Body, Myself series is quite good and has recently undergone a cover redesign and and resource update. On Your Mark, Get Set, Grow!: A "What’s Happening to My Body?" Book for Younger Boys and its companion book for On Your Mark, Get Set, Grow!: A "What’s Happening to My Body?" Book for Younger Girls, focus on getting younger boys and girls ready for the changes of puberty. Full of real information and questions from real kids, this book can help start the "what is puberty going to be like?" questions.
And there there’s one book designed just for parents that’s been very popular at the store this spring: The Talk: What Your Kids Need to Hear from You About Sex. We’ve had entire book groups read this to get ready to be better at talking to their kids. It continues to sell well and parents say it gives them the background to know what issues they want to focus on — responsibility, how to say no, etc.
These are not new books, but they are the best in their field at helping parents and kids navigate puberty. It’s our job to listen and do our best to hand the parents the right book and not laugh when nervous parents have no clue. I can happily say, after reading several of these books, the moms came back into the store and told me everything about spongy tissue I could ever want to know, really, ever.