In celebration of Banned Books Week 2020, I wanted to discuss books I’ve shared with my son over the years that have, at one point over the years, ended up on a banned or contested books list. I’ll be the first to admit that as a parent, I’m definitely more liberal than others. My son is obsessed with apes and our distant human ancestors, which sometimes means reading books and watching documentaries that show primate breasts and male reproductive organs. As most of us acknowledge, apes and humans are primates so when it comes to bodies, there are many similarities.
I understand that comfort levels with children and nudity vary greatly and to that I subscribe to the ‘good for you, not for me’ approach to parenting. This means that what works for you, might not work for me and vice versa. Parents should always do what works best for their families but I don’t think it’s my place or anyone else’s to determine whether a book should be off limits to other families that have different values than my own.
With that in mind, I’m sharing three books; two children’s books that have been banned or contested due to the depiction of nudity and the third, a book for children about their bodies and related topics, including puberty, sex, reproduction and sexual orientation. Feel free to skip today’s entry if you don’t think you’ll enjoy it. Remember, ‘good for you, not for me’ may come into play today.
If you’re still with me, thanks for sticking around! I promise this won’t be a scarring experience. Anyone who has ever cared for a young child knows that they need no help in finding their private parts. At times, they seem positively magnetized, especially in the early days of 1-3 years old. I’ve always found that when it comes to situations that might be somewhat uncomfortable to adults, such as nudity and bodily functions, my son is really just looking to me to know and share the age appropriate answer just like I would for any topic. If I’m not awkward, then the situation isn’t awkward.
Maurice Sendak is best known for his book, Where the Wild Things Are, but in 1970, he published In the Night Kitchen, drawing criticism for showing the main character, a young boy, naked on several pages. I’ll admit that the first time we read this book, it caught me by surprise because I hadn’t perused it ahead of time. Of course, my son (4 at the time) zeroed in on the tiny penis on the page right away. He laughed, he pointed, he asked for the naked book day after day. But one day, he didn’t. He moved on. It was a phase, totally natural for his age. I didn’t make a big deal out of it or shame him for wanting to see those pages and over time, he lost interest.
Along the same lines, Eric Carle is better known for childhood staples like The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? But at least four times since it was published in 1992, he has found his book Draw Me a Star on the banned books list. Though some believe that the book contains a biblical style creation story, this isn’t the reason it’s so often contested. Rather, there is a page which includes a drawing of a naked man and woman.
Painted in Carle’s trademark style, they’re not graphic in any way. Again, I can understand how the photos might surprise some parents and perhaps some children. But kids don’t see naked bodies with the same disgust as adults. Until they’re told that their bodies are shameful, they don’t know that nakedness is something to feel ‘bad’ about.
With that in mind, let’s delve into It’s So Amazing: A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies and Family by Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley. I bought this book when my son was 4 or 5, as I knew that he might start asking questions about his body and others at any moment. As someone who never learned about puberty or sex from my own parents, I was determined to provide more (any?) information than I’d been privy to.
Topics include the reproductive systems of males and females, sexual intercourse, conception, pregnancy, birth and adoption. Even the most liberal parent may find themselves squirming in their seats by now and I get it! But I’m of the firm belief that if you don’t raise your kids, you’ll raise your grandkids so I’m committed to having the challenging talks that help kids and teens make safe and healthy decisions.
Research shows that children who know the scientific names for their body parts as less likely to be abused by adults, as their ability to tell others where they’ve been touched scares would-be predators away. Having been propositioned by a friend’s stepfather as a young teen and having no idea how to handle the situation, again, I aspire to help my child know what to do if he ever finds himself in a compromising situation. Have no fear, I somehow avoided assault that night and never went near my friend’s home again. But I also never told my parents; I didn’t know how. The situation would have been different if I’d been given the tools to understand my body and talk to my parents about uncomfortable topics.
Though I’m a huge proponent of this book, I do want to warn parents that for younger kids, this is not a title I’d recommend just giving to them with no input from you. I feel it’s best if you read it together. There are some later topics that the book builds on over time. This is a book that can be used over time as your child grows up or as a primer for tweens and teens if you’re just learning about it now and have older children.
I urge you not to be afraid of so-called banned books. Decide for yourself if they’re right for your family but please don’t make those decisions for others. This whole parenting thing is hard enough. Give each other a break and trust yourself.