(Courtesy Candlewick Press)
Way back in 1988, children’s book author Robie H. Harris was sitting in a New York editor’s office batting around ideas for possible books. The editor proposed that she write a book about AIDS for elementary school children; she counter-proposed an all-encompassing look at “almost every single question that kids might have” about anything related to sex.
She rattled off a list of topics, and the rest is history: “It’s Perfectly Normal” is just out in its 20th-anniversary edition, with more than a million copies already in print. The mix of text by Harris and illustrations by Michael Emberley do indeed seem to cover all the sexual topics pubescent kids wonder about, from masturbation to menstruation to orientation to contraception.
“Of course,” Harris says, “over the years, I’ve added more topics as the times have changed, as information has changed, and as kids coming into puberty and adolescence have changed in some ways.”
What might those topics be? And what do they say about how kids’ worlds have changed over the last 20 years? Herewith, 10 significant changes in the book and what Harris says about them:
1. The Infosphere:
“There can be a lot of inappropriate, weird, confusing, uncomfortable, creepy, scary or even dangerous websites that you can end up on when looking for information.”
The biggest change in kids’ lives over the last 20 years, Harris says, is how they get their information. “With the explosion of information happening everywhere, kids are bombarded by sexual images, sexual words, words in songs. And then there’s the Internet: Kids can go on the Internet and find responsible information, and they can also go on the Internet and find information that is not accurate and sometimes absolutely dishonest.“
“And so the biggest change is the need to help kids know how to understand the information you get, and how do you get help with it? That’s when you go to a trusted adult. There’s just much more information to sort through for kids, and that’s why the biggest expansion in the book is the Internet chapter.”
And just a note on porn: Harris says every mental health expert she consulted says youngsters should stay away from it. (The book is for age 10 and up.) So “It’s one of the few judgments I put into the book, because I think it has to do with the health and wellbeing of our kids.”
“Gender is another word for whether a person is male or female. Gender is also about the thoughts and feelings a person has about being a female or being a male.”
Author Robie H. Harris (Courtesy Candlewick Press)
That’s the broader definition of gender in the opening chapter, and the new edition also includes an explanation of “transgender” and “LGBT.” Harris acknowledges that the section on transgender youth “should have been in the book earlier, but it’s in there now.”
The section also includes a discussion of some people’s disrespect for gay and transgender people, and says it generally stems from ignorance. “I can’t write without a point of view,” Harris says. And her litmus tests has always been, “Is this what I would say to my own children?”
3. Long-acting birth control
The IUD, the implant and Depo-Provera are the most effective kinds of birth control.
The ranking of the most effective birth control methods is new, Harris says. It reflects a strong consensus among medical authorities that those long-acting methods are appropriate for teens who become sexually active — and desirable because they’re by far the most effective: they require no further action by the user — no daily pill, no pause for diaphragm insertion. Continue reading