Nonfiction Monday: It’s So Amazing by Robie H. Harris

Well, the good news about this book review is that there are no spoilers to worry about. Okay, that’s true of most nonfiction book reviews, but I wanted something to ease the jolt of talking about sex so early on a Monday morning. The truth of the matter is, I hadn’t planned to write a review, but here I am!

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It’s So Amazing: A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth Babies, and Family (The Family Book)
written by Robie H. Harris
illustrated by Michael Emberley
published by Candlewick Press, 2004

Mom, I want to know everything about everything!

Those are the words that at times make me dance a jig, and at others want to reply “great, but does it have to be today?” Over the past few months, the Inquisitor in Chief (age 9) has been asking questions about how babies are made, growing up … you know, reproduction, aka sex. When I was growing up, we went to the library to do “homework,” searched the card catalog to figure out the right Dewey Decimal Number, went to the shelves to thumb through the textbooks, and then proceeded to ooh/yuck/look at this/giggle while we pointed to the pictures with our friends … ultimately getting a “shhh” from the librarian!

While sneaking worked for my friends and me, I didn’t want to keep perpetuating that. Times have changed and there is too much at stake. So Catherine owns a book that arms her with the information she needs to know … and she can go back to re-read it whenever she has a need or desire to.

The first time, however, we read It’s So Amazing together. First I wanted her to hear me read aloud words that she is starting to hear her friends whisper and giggle about. Second, I wanted her to see that we can talk about anything. And last but not least, I wanted to be there to answer any questions or remind her that yuck and gross are natural reactions … but that biology is nature, too.

I started at the very beginning: with the Note to the Reader (dated 2009). It is exceptionally well done and makes it clear that the author and illustrator view the reader as the child, not the parent.

While creating this book, both of us were fascinated by this story of how we all began. And we bet that kids your age will be fascinated too … We have spent lots of time talking and checking with experts to make sure that all the ifnormation in this book is as scientifically accurate and as up-to-date as possible.

It sold me right away – which is why I read it from beginning to end, despite the whines! It helped reinforce the idea that slang isn’t an accurate way of describing anatomy or relationships.  The bird and the bee who help narrate the story mirror kids’ attitudes toward learning about our bodies and sex. The bird is curious and wants to know everything about how babies are made. The bee doesn’t want to know about body parts or anything else. There are humorous asides and lots of playing with words, but the main narrative is presented in a way that is specific without sounding clinical.

The computer has become the default research tool for just about everything these days … and it is the first place Catherine goes to look for answers. There is plenty of great information on the Worldwide Web, but there is a lot more stuff that we don’t want our kids to see. I like how this is handled in the book.

[Even if you’ve talked with your parents or your friends] it is perfectly normal to have questions about where babies come from … if you are thinking about going on the Internet, ask a grownup to hel you find a safe site for kids where you can get information about questions you may have.”

There is a dual message: kids need to get permission, and parents need to let kids have some privacy to learn in their own way.

As many regular readers know, we are an adoptive family, and there is a section of this book that talks about how families are created. Both the bird and the bee offer their opinions about the awesomeness of being adopted … which resulted in a huge smile on Catherine’s face. Obviously adoption is a tertiary theme, but Catherine found assurances in what the characters said. This was an important “take away” for her as she wants to know how she came into the world and understand who she is/will be.

Truth be told, I hadn’t expected to be reading a book with information about eggs, sperm, genes, and chromosomes; HIV, AIDS, and sexual abuse with a brand shiny new nine-year-old. Ready or not, though, it was time. It’s So Amazing offered just what we needed to offer specific, candid information and also open doors for conversations yet to come. Even the squeamish will find this to be a comfortable, effective presentation that they can share with their kids.

Highly recommended for ages 9 and up. I know the booksellers say “7 and up” and one even says “4 to 8” but there are concepts that I’m not sure kids those ages are ready for … or know how to talk about appropriately.

So, it is with a bit of a giggle that I mention that  Wild About Nature is hosting his week’s Nonfiction Monday roundup.