Updated: Aug 29, 2020
Book Author: Robie H. Harris
Illustrator: Michael Emberley
Titles: It's Not the Stork (Age 4+) It’s So Amazing (Age 7+) It’s Perfectly Normal (Age 10+)
Genre: Children's, Non-Fiction
General Note: I’ve read all three books but explored It’s Not the Stork the most, so that will be the focus of this review.
Content Warning: Child Sexual Abuse Gender Identity
Did you know sex education starts in early childhood? In the United States we have this collective idea that sex ed is a birds-and-the-bees lecture that happens once in adolescence in pairing with a classroom lecture about abstinence and all the diseases we’ll get if we don’t practice it. It’s been vulnerable for me to share these books with children. It’s so ingrained in me that we don’t talk about sex in “polite company,” which includes everyone except our sexual partners, apparently, and sometimes not even them. The thing is, I don’t want to be “polite company” as a nanny or parent. I want to be someone with whom the child feels safe around any conversation topic.
I’ve done my best to keep a neutral tone while reading these books to children. I want to present them with the same normalcy I’d present a book about dinosaurs or how a house is built. It’s been a self-development journey as much as a journey as an educator, to see where my social conditioning is, how I brace myself to read the sentence about how a person with a penis gets an erection and puts it into the person with a vagina’s vagina. Reading that section, I’m ready for the 4-year-old to have a big reaction and...there isn’t one. It’s not a big deal unless it’s made to be a big deal. Children love the truth, and I believe they have a right to it.
The young children I’ve read It's Not the Stork with have been especially interested in the anatomy pages of the sex identity they associate with. The song “Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” is great, but not exactly comprehensive. Children also seem to love the pages about babies and specifically how a fetus grows. They’re processing having just grown out of being a baby themselves and love having context for their existence. Don’t we all? Meanwhile, while children are typically most excited about those sections, I’m most excited about the “Good Touches, Bad Touches” chapter. (In It’s Not the Stork, adorably, chapters are a 2-page spread.) That chapter defines what are okay touches: self-touch (yay--such a good message) and doctor’s exam touches, for example. It also explains what are not-okay touches: any touch you don’t want, especially in areas typically covered by a diaper or underwear. It also empowers the child with permission to say, “No,” “Stop,” or “Don’t,” if they don’t like a touch, and the part that always makes me tear up: If you experience not-okay touches, tell a grown-up. If that grown-up doesn’t believe you, tell another grown-up until someone believes you.
What I Hope to See in Future Editions:
"The clitoris is for good feelings." Simple, accurate. The clitoris is labeled on the female anatomy page, and this all I say when asked what it does. Credit to Rebecca Scritchfield of the Body Kindness podcast for suggesting that language. It may have been a different episode in which she mentions that line about the clitoris, but I was able to confirm that I learned about the It's Not the Stork series in Episode 31, “Intimate Justice with Bestselling Author Peggy Orenstein, Girls and Sex.”
More inclusion of intersex, non-binary, and other LGBTQ+ identities and bodies. Current editions offer a refreshing amount of representation of diverse families in the “All Families Are Different” chapter. The book talks about adoption and in-vitro fertilization, families with two mommies or two daddies or just one mommy or one daddy or grandparents, nannies (represent!), etc. Overall, though, the book still presents a binary. I know children can understand many complexities of gender. I’ve seen that the author of this series has quite a bibliography, and I’m keeping my eye out for more books for children on gender identity. The world is more beautiful with an understanding that difference is normal. I want my kiddos to have that.
TL;DR: These books were created in collaboration with and reviewed by a panel of child development experts. They’re so well done. Overall, I can’t recommend them enough. Sharing them with the children in your care sets you up to be someone they can talk to about sex, relationships, families, and gender, and gives you the language to do so in an age-appropriate way.