Child & Adolescent Development: Overview

Review of "It's Perfectly Normal"

By Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley
Candlewick Press, 2004
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Jan 6th 2005
It's Perfectly Normal

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 don't like. 

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. 

 

© 2005 Christian Perring. All rights reserved. 

 

Christian 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.

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