Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Banned Book Week REVIEW: It's Perfectly Normal

Harris, R.H.  (1994).  It's Perfectly Normal:  Changing bodies, growing up, sex & Sexual Health.  Cambridge, MA:  Candlewick Press.


Holy crud, is this book thorough!  It's Perfectly Normal  uses aloof, nonjudgemental language to describe the differences between sex and gender, the process of reproduction, puberty and on and on.  The 85 page information book takes into account the psychological and physical aspects of growing up.  The book includes multiple illustrations on every page of children and adults from various racial backgrounds.  It shows both bi-racial and homosexual couples without judgement.  To help lighten the topics a roughly drawn bird and bee share jokes and
common responses to the information being presented.

It's Perfectly Normal is the most thorough sex-ed book I've seen.  It doesn't omit any topic.  It explores aging, specific sex acts (including masturbation, vaginal intercourse, oral and anal sex--all described in distant non-judgmental terms), sexually transmitted diseases, abuse, birth control, etc.

Now having said that, It's Perfectly Normal isn't the type of book I'd personally want to get caught reading on my own in public...or in private.  There are many, Many, MANY illustrations of nude figures that realistically show the many variations of human bodies (we're talking different races, ages, weights and disabilities).  While this is meant to make readers comfortable in their own skin, if a reader, say, opened this book to a random page while picking up the book at her local library, I might have been just a tad bit shocked and embarrassed.  But I got over it.

Did I mention that this information book was thorough in terms of the topics it addressed and maintained a nonjudgemental scientific voice throughout?  Yes, yes, it does.  I was very impressed.

Reasons Censored:

It's Perfectly Normal was the 13th most challenged book of the 1990s, and has made a few appearances on the top ten lists during the current decade.  The reasons cited for the challenges are "homosexuality, nudity, sexual content and sex education."

Potential Counter-Arguments:

Here all the accusations are 100% true.  But, umm, it's kind of the point.  I can't think of many sex-ed related questions that It's Perfectly Normal doesn't answer in honest nonjudgemental language.

This is a valuable resource, even if some parents, school administrations, religious institutions, etc. disagree with some of the details shared.  It's Perfectly Normal  lends a scientific and honest voice to many topics that students are too often encouraged to remained silent about.

The book specifically attempts to welcome readers from different backgrounds into the text and to remind them that not only their experiences are normal, but that they are too.

Uses in the Classroom:

Sex-ed, focusing around the time of puberty.

As with most books that present awkward or challenging topics, it's important to allow for open and honest discussion about the topics raised.  Handing off a book to a child is never enough.  An adult has to be willing to talk with students, no matter how awkward.

Quotes of Note:

"Sometimes between the ages of eight or nine and fifteen or so, kids' bodies begin to change and grow into adult bodies" (p. 9).

"Both girls and boys have crushes.  They have crushes on people they know, as well as on people they don't know--like TV stars, movie stars, rock stars, or sports stars.
They have crushes on people of the same sex, as well as on people of the opposite sex, on people who are the same age, older or younger.  Having a crush on someone is perfectly normal" (p. 13).

"Babies and children grow up in all sorts of families.  There are kids whose mother and father live together, or whose mother and father live apart, or who have only one parent, or whose parent or parents have adopted them, or who live with a parent and a step-parent, or who live with an aunt, an uncle, a grandmother, a grandfather, or other relative, or who have gay or lesbian parents, or who have foster parents" (p. 50).

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

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