By Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley Candlewick Press, 2004 Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Jan 6th 2005
It's Perfectly Normal is an
impressive book about puberty and sex for young people because it manages to
keep the tone light yet serious and informative. That's largely because of the
wonderful illustrations by Michael Emberley. Throughout the book a bird and a
bee comment on the topics: the bird is larger and more enthusiastic about finding
out about sex, while the bee would prefer not to know and thinks it is gross.
The drawings also show the stages of sexual development in boys and girls, the
many various different kinds of bodies people have, drawings of genitalia and
the reproductive organs, different forms of contraception, tampons and pads,
and people engaged in talking about sex and even having sex. There's nothing
pornographic here and this is certainly not a how-to manual for any sexual
activities. The aim of the book is to help reassure children and teenagers
that what they are experiencing in puberty is perfectly normal.
The book is non-judgmental and
accepting about homosexuality and bisexuality, and represents gay and lesbian
sexuality as simply another way of being. It does explain that some people
feel hate towards homosexuals and says that their opinions are usually based on
misinformation. It promotes self-acceptance and self-knowledge, and gives
fairly detailed information about the different parts of the body and what
happens through puberty. The text acknowledges that some people, both adults
and children, feel uncomfortable talking about sex but it points out that
others find it quite comforting and helpful. One of the main themes throughout
the book is that it is not necessary to feel embarrassed or anxious about
puberty, masturbation, or nocturnal emissions. The book also emphasizes people
should respect other people's feelings and should never force to something they
One feature of It's Perfectly
Normal that I like a lot is its attention to language. It gives clear
definitions of words and explains how different people have different names for
the same thing. But it does say that sex includes activities apart from
vaginal intercourse, such as oral sex and anal sex. Strangely, the book says
very little about virginity, and the word does not appear in the index. Many
young people place value in either staying a virgin or in losing their
virginity, and so it is an important question what counts as losing one's
virginity. While the text does not really discuss this, it does explain that
abstinence or postponement are options for couples and it explains the
importance of avoiding sexually transmitted diseases as well as staying in
control of any sexual situation to avoid rape or abuse.
So It's Perfectly Normal does
a great job in explaining sexuality to young people. It would be appropriate
for children of any age so long as parents felt comfortable explaining it, but
it is probably best for children aged between 8 and 13. Older teens might find
the drawings too silly and young for them, although they might still well
benefit from some of the information the book provides.
Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities
Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island.
He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main
research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.