Everyone Has One: Books about Bodies

A Notes from the Windowsill annotated bibliography by Wendy E. Betts. Copyright 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008

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Last Updated 09/08/08

Picture Books

(Click for Middle Grades or YA books.)

Where Willy Went written and illustrated by Nicholas Allan. Knopf, 2005 (0-375-83030-8) $15.95

"Where babies come from" is one of the Big Questions for parents... but Big Questions don't always require Big Answers. And silly answers can be a plus. It doesn't get much sillier than this story about a smiley little sperm named Willy, who isn't very good at math--"'If there are 300 million sperm in the race, how many will you have to beat to win the egg?' the teacher asked. 'Ten?' said Willy"--but who luckily, is VERY good at swimming. All of the essential facts are presented here, including two hilarious "treasure maps" Willy and his competing sperm are given of Mr. Brown (Willy's place of residence) and Mrs. Brown (home of the egg), so it's easy to use this book to open up dialogue with interested kids--and the humor in it is a great help for parents overcoming some embarrassment about the topic. We never do find out exactly where Willy went when he disappeared into the egg (sorry if that's a spoiler!)--and it's puzzling that a "boy" sperm could produce a girl baby--but those seem to be questions that only bother adult readers. (4-8)

Pants by Giles Andreae. Illustrated by Nick Sharratt. David Fickling, 2003 (0-385-75014-5)

A paean to pants--underpants, that is--which celebrates everything from loose pants to tight pants to lighting up at night pants! Sharratt has a field day illustrating this gleefully rhyming book: "cheeky little monkey pants" are monkey-decorated underwear worn by a boy sticking out his tongue; across the page, a monkey wears underwear decorated with the boy's face. "Tight pants" are clearly making a superhero very unhappy and "scary pants" are huge underwear with a terrifying wicked smile. A zestful introduction to wearing (or sometimes, not wearing) underwear. (2 & up)

The Skeleton Inside You by Philip Balestrino. Illustrated by True Kelley. HarperCollins, 1971; HarperTrophy, 1989 (0064450872) $4.99 pb

An amiable skeleton accompanies a girl as she explains basic facts about bones, cartilage, and joints. Stories from her life--pushing her nose against a window and having it come back to the same shape, seeing a soup bone cut up, falling and breaking her arm--give a relevant background to the facts. Kelley's pictures of dancing skeletons and people as floppy as beanbags offer humor and whimsey as well as factual visual information, though their lack of a consistent depiction of the narrator can be confusing. (3-8)

Dem Bones written and illustrated by Bob Barner. Chronicle, 1996 (0-8118-0827-0) $13.95

A blend of fact and fancy, this picture book describes some of bones in the human body in conjunction with vivid illustrations of the classic African-American song "Dem Bones." Skeletons gleefully dance and play musical instruments as they demonstrate "knee bone connected to da thigh bone," while a text-box tells us a few facts about the thigh bones, such as that it's the longest and heaviest in the body. On the last page, the whole skeleton band comes together, urging us to "Hear the Word of the Lord." The playfully gyrating skeletons stand out vividly against brilliantly colored backgrounds, for an eyecatching look. (5 & up)

What's Inside Your Tummy, Mommy? written and illustrated by Abby Cocovini. Henry Holt, 2007 (978-0-8050-8760-4) $8.95 pb

An oversized format is the biggest selling point of this book about pregnancy, because it gives an actual size view of an embryo/fetus as it grows from month to month, from "smaller than a grain of rice" in month 1 to "as big as... a baby!" in month 9. (Month 9 requires a fold-out page.) Each month has its own two-page spread, with the illustrated tummy on one side and various facts on the other: "The baby has little bumps on its body, which are growing into arms and legs. A tube connects the developing baby to its mommy. This is the umbilical cord." Lighthearted little spot drawings illustrate the facts, but the baby itself, very simply sketched in charcoal, is always depicted with reasonable accuracy.

What's Inside Your Tummy, Mommy? is designed more to appeal to a sense of curiosity and wonder than to give concrete information. The emphasis is completely on the baby's growth during a very typical, textbook pregnancy. There's no mention of how conception occurs or much about childbirth, other than "When the time is right, the mommy starts to squeeze the baby out. It's a lot of hard work." (This is also one of the few mentions of what pregnancy is like for the mother.) Almost no technical terms are given.

Overall, although this would be an okay choice as a very general introduction to pregnancy for young children, for those not looking for a lot of facts, its obvious audience is kids who are expecting a new sibling; they will most enjoy the chance to "see" the baby month by month, and to try out things like shining a light at the pregnant woman's belly to see if the baby will turn its head. (2-6)

How You Were Born by Joanna Cole. Illustrated by Margaret Miller. 1984; Mulberry, 1994 (0-688-12061-X) $4.95 pb

"It is natural for children to ask 'why?' Just as they are curious about how a telephone works or what snow is made of, children also wonder where they came from and how they were born." And with a little thought and preparation, parents can answer this natural question in a natural way, giving children simple, truthful answers that will not only help prevent misunderstandings that may upset them, but will also reassure them that it's okay to want to know.

This book is an excellent tool for achieving that goal. Its clear, understandable text describes the basics, from fertilization to birth, concentrating on the aspects that will be of most interest to children--the stages of growth inside the uterus--and avoiding euphemisms without getting confusingly technical. Colored drawings illustrate aspects that would be unclear in photographs--like the sperm and egg cells joining--but most of the book is illustrated with beautiful photos. An unborn baby sucking its thumb will fascinate children, while pictures of different families lovingly preparing for a new baby and helping in a birth are tender and reassuring. (The birth pictures are a lot cleaner than pictures of a real birth would be, presumably because it might be frightening.)

One of the nicest things about How You Were Born is that it is very inclusive. Births happen at a hospital, childbirth center or home, assisted by a doctor or midwife; milk comes from a bottle or breast. Not everyone's experience can be covered, of course, nor is that necessary--in the introduction, Cole talks about reading the book to her own child and comparing her cesarean birth to what's described in it, stressing that the important parts of birth--the happy expectations and love--are the same. In describing more than one option for childbirth in this book, Cole avoids setting up a rigid scenario in children's minds, making it possible for most parents to adapt the book to their situation. The helpful introduction also gives suggestions for adapting it to a child's different needs at different ages. One thing left out of the book is how the sperm and ovum get together: according to Cole, the youngest children aren't usually interested in knowing, but parents should still think about how they want to answer that question. A bibliography of suggestions for further reading may be helpful.

Overall, this is a superb book, as enjoyable as it is useful. Sharing it with your children can help make answering "why?" a delightful adventure rather than an embarrassing chore. * (4-8)

Maisy's Bedtime written and illustrated by Lucy Cousins. Candlewick, 1999 (0-7636-0908-0) $3.99 pb

A down-to-earth bedtime routine for Maisy includes washing her face, brushing her teeth and using the toilet. Her favorite lovey Panda sits on his potty too. A nice, simple description of bedtime necessities, with Cousin's usual cheerful, childlike illustrations.

Potty! written and illustrated by Mylo Freeman. Tricycle, 2002 (1-58246-070-1) $13.95

Some animals find a potty in the jungle, with a note that says "Only the best bottom of all will fit on this potty." Each naturally thinks their bottom is the best... but Zebra's is too big, Giraffe can't quite manage to sit down, and Snake can't get the potty to ssstay ssstill while he tries. The animals decide to go have something to eat while Tortoise tries it out, since he can take a while--and when they get back, they find something very surprising on the potty: a small African boy who fits it just right! "That's the best bottom of all!" they all agree, as he haughtily displays it. I can't say I care for the human-chauvinist tone, but the animal antics are enjoyably silly fun and the expressive watercolors are filled with affection. (2-5)

Standing Up by Marie-Anne Gillet and Isabelle Gilboux. Kane/Miller, 2005 (1-929132-71-9) $14.95

A little boy is fine sitting down on his potty like his big sister, until one day he sees HIM: Menneke Pis, the most famous statue in Belguim. "He was right in the center of Brussels and he was peeing! He was peeing STANDING UP! It looked faaaaantastic." The rest of the book describes (and shows) the little boy's experiments in peeing standing up, which sometimes don't go that well, landing on his shoes, his mother in the tub, and several unfortunate bystanders. But soon he can do it just about perfectly, and is finally ready to stand up next to his dad and proudly pee in a urinal.

Like Everyone Poops (see below), this book from Belgium is more frankly illustrated than most American readers are used to; if the sight of penis holding or pee splashing is too much for you, I warn you, it happens on just about every page. Parents should also be cautious about their own little boys following the example of peeing on the street at will, and might want to apply some tactful censorship to fit their particular neighborhood standards. But as a paean to masculine pride, this is a funny story that boys will love. The pictures, done with simple dark lines and colorful pastels, are clear and expressive; I especially enjoyed the hero accidentally peeing on a highly disgruntled snail. (3-5)

Everyone Poops written and illustrated by Taro Gomi. Kane/Miller, 1993 (0-916291-45-6) $11.95

This ground-breaking book from Japan, originally published in 1977, has become quite well known for its frank, child-appropriate treatment of a subject children are quite naturally curious about. Embarrassed parents will find its simple message--"All living things eat, so everyone poops,"--an easy and reassuring way to help satisfy that curiosity without making children feel ashamed of it. However, some adults will feel discomforted or even shocked by the illustrations, which definitely break American cultural taboos by showing animals and people quite literally in the act of "pooping." Kids generally love this book, but I would advise adults to look it over carefully before deciding to share it with them: you may well find an initial distaste turns into appreciation of the refreshing honesty of the pictures--or then again, you may not. (2-4)

The World is Full of Babies written and illustrated by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom. Doubleday, 1996 (0-385-32258-5) $14.95

The subject of birth and growth is especially accessible and appealing in this look at babies, human and animal. Readers will be captivated from the first page, which compares a human embryo to those of fish, whales, crocodiles and other beasts; it's fascinating to see in what ways the embryos are similar and in what ways the reflect the beings they're going to become. The book goes on to describe how human babies sleep, eat and cry, relating them to evocative details of animal life: "If you were a baby rat, you'd sleep upside down, hanging on with tiny fingernails in a drafty old roof space." Cosy, playful colored pencil and watercolor illustrations being a world of happy babies to life. Parents should note that this book leaves most aspects of sexual reproduction unexplained, but it does illustrate elimination. (2-6)

Bottoms written and illustrated by Tanja Kirschner. North-South, 2005 (0-7358-2026-0) $3.99 board

What might a cow look like from behind? A frog? A fish? Pretty goofy! Compact, stylized drawings make this less of an a actual guessing game than a chance to laugh about bottoms. The fronts are pretty funny, too, with the animals looking--with justification!--somewhat aggrieved. A fun book for most kids, but especially those starting to get interested in body-related humor. (2-5)

Here Are My Hands by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault. Illustrated by Ted Rand. Henry Holt, 1985; 1998 (0-8050-5911-3) $6.95 board book

Short, bouncy rhymes give a rollicking tone to this look at different parts of the body. As the text briskly names the parts--"here is my head for thinking and knowing. Here is my nose for smelling and blowing"--a multicultural group of children proudly show them off. Pastel crayon illustrations used bold strokes and broad shapes to emphasize the children's faces and happy expressions, as they enjoy their bodies--only knees, which are "for falling down," aren't much fun. (2-5)

Big Girls Use the Potty; Big Boys Use the Potty by Andrea Pinnington. DK Publishing, 2005 (0-7566-1452-X; 0-7566-1451-1) $6.99 ea. board

As you'd expect from DK Publishing, these books are illustrated with bright, lively photographs, but surprisingly from these non-fiction specialists, the emphasis is less on straightforward instruction than on you-go-girl/boy enthusiasm. Identical rhyming texts for each book sing the praises of potties and being big; the photographs are also basically the same, but strictly gender stereotyped: adorable little boys get blue backgrounds and car underpants, adorable little girls get pink with little bows. Toddlers will enjoy seeing the children in the books show their teddies how to use the potty, although unfortunately, this method leaves out the important step of pulling underwear or pull-ups down first. What to do with the full potty afterward also isn't mentioned. Squeamish adults may appreciate this carefully non-graphic approach--the most direct bathroom related term used is "tinkle"--but supplementary instruction will definitely be needed. Sticker charts and stickers are included. (18 months-3)

Welcome With Love by Jenni Overend. Illustrated by Julie Vivas. Kane/Miller, 2000 (0-916291-96-0) $15.95

Vivas, who so beautifully drew the very pregnant Mary in The Nativity, here shows a pregnant woman in labor and birth. Little kid Jack describes how the family prepares for the birth of Mum's new baby: big sisters Bea and Janie make a giant bed by the fire, Anna the midwife spreads her equipment out, and Jack helps Mum put out the baby clothes, "socks tiny enough to fit on my thumb."

Words and pictures both capture the physical intensity of birth, as Mum labors hard, the head finally appears, and the baby is born. At the end of the long night, Jack cuddles in with Dad and tells the baby goodnight, on his first night in the world.

This is a lovely, authentic telling of a home birth, with warm, muted pictures that are not exactly realistic, but very real in their expressions and body language. In that same vein, Vivas leaves out some of the scarier, gorier aspects of birth--the newborn is exceptionally clean--but you're left feeling that she's left in everything that really matters, especially the exquisite sight of the new mother on her knees, tenderly clasping the baby who is still attached to her by the placenta. (5 & up)

First Experiences: It's Potty Time by Roger Priddy. Priddy Books, 2004 (0-312-49242-1) $5.99 board

This straightforward book covers just about everything you'd want to know about using the potty. A little boy named Michael explains that he's not a baby anymore, so mommy says he can wear training pants. He and his mom look at various different potties, finally choosing a bright red one. Numbered instructions show all the steps required to use the potty; then Michaels's bigger friend Sam shows how to use... the toilet! Michael thinks he's ready to use the toilet too--so it's time to choose some big kids underwear! No more diapers--Wow! Hoorah! Yippee! Set against brightly colored backgrounds, the photographs of the boys and of Michael's sister are vivid and eyecatching. An excellent basic instruction book. (1-4)

Back Into Mommy's Tummy by Thierry Robberecht. Illustrated by Philippe Goossens. Clarion, 2005 (0-618-58106-5) $15.00

A little girl knows exactly what she wants for her 5th birthday: to be back inside her mommy's tummy. "I'd never have to get up early for school again," she says. "I'll stay up as late as you and I'll get to listen to all the grown-up talk. I'll even watch TV through your belly button!" But the real reason she wants to be back inside is the little brother growing in her mom's tummy now. This delightfully fresh and funny story honestly portrays the negative feelings a child can have over a parent's pregnancy, including resentment over feeling left-out: "Grown-ups like babies in tummies more than they like five-year-old girls," she explains. But with her mom's reassurance of equal love, she is able to enjoy feeling her little brother move, and to think that he can recognize her voice. Sweet, whimsical illustration show the little girl floating happily around inside what must be the world's most enormous tummy; one particularly funny picture portrays her as she imagines she would look on an ultrasound--pigtails and all. (3-7)

Oh Baby! by Sarah Stein. Photographed by Holly Anne Shelowitz. Walker, 1993 (0-8027-8261-2). OP

Simple facts about infant development are described and illustrated here in a way that will have readers of all ages utterly smitten. We see the amazing miracle of babies grasping fingers, sticking out their tongues, and stepping forward when they're held; even a photo of a crying baby is intriguing, because of the powerful expressiveness of its face. A charmingly designed and wonderfully enthusiastic introduction to the irresistible qualities of babies. (2 & up)

Potties! written and illustrated by Stuart Trotter. Random House, 2007 (978-0-375-83933-7) $6.99

Printed on tough laminated pages suitable for the youngest toddlers, this book shows all kinds of silly potties, from one that floats in space attached to the bottom of a young astronaut to an exciting one that gallops like a horse for a little cowboy. Even princesses and pirates have to sit on the potty, we see--though it's definitely more fun when they're adorned with crowns or skull 'n' crossbones. A page of reusable paper stickers can be used to decorate the pages, though probably won't last long in a toddler's hands. With action-packed pictures but an uncomplicated design, this is a fun way to introduce the concept of the potty to the very young. (1-3)

Potty Time written and illustrated by Guido Van Genechten. Simon & Schuster, 2001 (0-689-84698-3)$12.95

All kinds of bottoms can use the potty, as this book shows. Ziggy Zebra uses a potty for his striped bottom, Hatty Hen uses one for her white-feathered bottom, and Missy Mouse uses one for her teeny weeny bottom. And a boy named Joe uses one too, telling himself, "Well done, Joe!" The book isn't explicit, but the chunky collages, paint on print, have a cheerfully frank tone. (1-4)

Time to Pee! written and illustrated by Mo Willems. Hyperion, 2003 (0-7868-1868-9) $12.99

How refreshing to find a book on this topic that approaches it with creativity--but not so much creativity that it becomes opaque and useless to the children it's intended for. Clear, step-by-step instructions about using the toilet are delivered by a helpful band of mice, whose advice is cleanly displayed on signs, kites and balloons. Meanwhile, various children go through the steps, their faces expressing bemusement, concentration, relief and pride. The book ends with the important reminders that when you're done, "Everything will be right where it was" and "Don't worry if you don't get it right the first time--you'll get another chance." (This last on a sign held by a mouse over a puddle.) As usual with a Willems book, there's lots of whitespace, with the pen & ink illustrations focusing on the essentials: the toilet, and the kids. Oh, and don't forget the mice. (2-4)

Middle Grades

It's Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris. Illustrated by Michael Emberly. Candlewick, 1994 (1-56402-199-8); 2004 (0-76362-433-0) $10.99 trade pb

The information in sex education books goes rapidly out of date, so I sincerely hope that It's Perfectly Normal will be available in a revised and updated edition by the time it would be useful in my family. (Note: it has been updated for its tenth anniversary, but I haven't yet seen the revised version.) Or perhaps by then there will be dozens of books around that are as fun, honest and informative as this one. For now, though, It's Perfectly Normal is probably the best of its kind.

This cleverly designed book is a happy combination of straightforward text, enjoyable pictures, and a cartoon-style commentary appropriately delivered by a bird and a bee. These characters--the bird eager and curious, the bee timid and squeamish--are an amusing Greek Chorus for child readers, who can empathize with both the bird's "Gr-r-reat" and the bee's "Gr-r-ross!" The illustrations, also, are very fun. A few are simply informative; I particularly admired cross-sections that show where different birth control devices fit inside a woman's body. Others, like a cartoon history of how the sperm meets the egg, are absolutely hilarious. Nervous readers can happily browse through the pictures alone, yet the solid facts are right there whenever they want them. Best of all, most of the illustrations show a beautiful and still quite rare diversity: one marvelous two-page spread shows a bunch of naked people of all ages, colors, sizes and physical abilities,'their ordinary curves, hairs and lumps all drawn with honest, friendly detail. Throughout the book, couples and families are illustrated in many different ways, including same-sex pairs (although oddly, no interracial families).

Although the pictures are gems, the text is also very well done: carefully factual and mostly non-judgmental, with an emphasis on feeling good about bodies and sexual feelings. I appreciate that it doesn't try to cover up normal reality: for example, sections on disease prevention stress, "If you have your ears pierced or get a tattoo, you must make sure that the needle used is brand-new, germfree, and disposable." How many books are willing to admit that adolescents sometimes get tattoos? (It might have been even better if they'd mentioned body-piercing in a more general way, as that is becoming quite common.) Similarly, the section on sexual abuse is one of the best I've seen, including information that is often neglected (such as that children, including siblings, can abuse other children) and ending on a very important note: "You should also never abuse anyone in any way. It's not fair. It's not your right. When someone says no to you, you must believe that person and honor that person's wishes." How many other books would be willing to tacitly admit that their reader might be capable of abuse?

This book certainly won't please everyone. It is openminded and accepting about homosexuality and masturbation, non-judgmental about abortion, and although it by no means encourages premarital sex, it stresses personal responsibility and careful decision-making, instead of demanding that kids "just say no." Even readers who approve of these aspects may be a little shocked by some of the illustrations of sex and masturbation--although not really graphic, they are a bit startling in a children's book. I believe, however, that it was wise to include these pictures: you may say something is "perfectly normal" but kids will pick up on the real message if you can't show it. For its useful and necessary information and for fostering a healthy attitude towards puberty, sexuality and reproduction, this book is a winner. * (10 & up)

Young Adult Books

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