Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health

20th Anniversary Edition—Completely Updated For Today’s Kids and Teens

Candlewick Press, September 2014

Illustrated by Michael Emberley

This newest edition of IT’S PERFECTLY NORMAL now includes the most up-to-date information—including information on how to stay safe and healthy on the Internet—that today’s kids and teens need to have to make responsible decisions about sexual health. Click here for more information about the changes in this newest edition: Download the Anniversary information sheet

IT’S PERFECTLY NORMAL began one day when I was sitting in an editor’s office. He asked me if I would like to write a book on HIV and AIDS for elementary school age children. I had never intended to write a book on this topic, but I had an immediate response. I told the editor that if I were to write a book on the topic, I would write a comprehensive book on sexual health that, of course, would include HIV and AIDS. I told him that kids and teens did need to know about the virus, but that they also needed to know a lot of other things about their changing bodies, growing up, sex, and sexual health in order to stay healthy. That night at supper, I told my family about my idea for this book and asked my husband and children what should be in a book on sexual health for kids 10 and up. My children were in high school at the time. And that started my research, which continued over the five years it took to complete this book.

That evening I called several of my children’s elementary school teachers (including their science teacher), librarians, several pediatricians I knew, people in the field of reproductive health, and parents who were friends. Over the next few weeks, I met with each of them and I asked them the same question I asked my family: “What should be in a book for kids and teens on sexual health?” Again, their thoughts and expertise were invaluable. While writing the book, I went back to these people over and over again, to make sure my facts were accurate and up-to-date and that the text was age-appropriate. Their expertise and answers to endless questions were invaluable. That’s because unless I really understand something well — be it a chromosome or gene, or love or sadness — I cannot write about it well. Each time I meet with one of these experts, I learn new and fascinating things that somehow slip into my books.

When Michael Emberley created the art for this book, we also showed it to the same experts. This process went on throughout the creation of this book and it is one I use for all my books, nonfiction and fiction. Maybe this explains why it took five years to create IT’S PERFECTLY NORMAL! I worked on it for five years, and Michael Emberley worked on it for almost three years! While working on the revisions for the 20th anniversary edition of IT’S PERFECTLY NORMAL and the 15th anniversary edition of IT’S SO AMAZING!, yet again I met with experts to find out and figure out what needed to be updated in these new editions. I do this every time IT’S PERFECTLY NORMAL and the other two books in this series, IT’S SO AMAZING! and IT’S NOT THE STORK! are about to be reprinted as a way of providing kids and teens with the most up-to-date and accurate scientific and psychological information.

  • School Library Journal (starred review)
  • The Horn Book (starred review)
  • Print reviews and feature articles in: The New York Times Sunday Book Review, The Los Angeles Times, The Minneapolis Star Tribune, The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Philadelphia Inquirer.
  • The Century’s Best Children’s Books, San Francisco Chronicle, December 26 – January 1, 2000
  • A New York Times Sunday Book Review Notable Book of the Year, 1995
  • Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of the Year
  • School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
  • Booklist Editors’ Choice
  • Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books Blue Ribbon winner (recommended starred review)
  • American Library Association’s Notable Children’s Book
  • American Booksellers for Children Booksellers’ Choice
  • Parenting Reading Magic Award winner
  • New York Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing selection
  • Wil Solimene Award Winner for Excellence in Medical Communication
  • Boston Globe Horn Book Winner

“In this intelligent, amiable and carefully researched book, Harris (Before You Were Three) frankly explains the physical, psychological, emotional and social changes that occur during puberty-and the implications of these changes. Taking a conversational, relaxed tone, Harris also discusses such subjects as sexual orientation, sexual reproduction, pregnancy, birth control, sexually transmitted diseases and sexual abuse. The author intentionally and effectively repeats certain crucial information, especially on the subject of the possible consequences of sexual intercourse. Alternately playful and realistic, (and occasionally graphic), Emberley’s (Ruby) watercolor-and-pencil art reinforces Harris’s message that bodies come in all sizes, shapes, and colors-and that each variation is ‘perfectly normal.’ Cartoon panels illustrate various complicated processes (e.g., menstruation, the fertilization of an egg, childbirth). Appearing on each spread are two characters-an easy-going bird and an apprehensive bee-whose comments add levity to this solid volume.”

-Publishers Weekly (starred review), September 1994

“This caring, conscientious, and well-crafted book will be a fine library resource as well as a marvelous adjunct to the middle-school sex-education curriculum. There’s no doubt, however, that some libraries and schools will have problems with Emberley’s plentiful pictures, which, besides being warm and unaffected, are eyepoppers-especially in a book for this age group. The bold color cartoon drawings are very candid: a double-page spread of nudes, which beautifully demonstrates the varied shapes and sizes humans come in; a picture of a couple making love; one of a boy masturbating as he sits on his bed; another of a girl examining her genitals in a mirror. Less controversial will be Emberley’s helpful diagrams and the running cartoon commentary he supplies on the main text, which is delivered by an embarrassed bee and a curious bird (modern kids may miss the allusion, and the device eventually wears thin). Harris’ text, as forthright as Emberley’s art, encompasses all the supposedly “age appropriate” issues (the structure of the reproductive system and puberty, for example), as well as a good deal more-from the terms we use when we talk about sex to intercourse, birth, abortion, sexual health, abuse, and issues of responsibility and respect. Readers won’t find answers to their burning questions quite as easily here as they will in the at-a-glance question-answer overview Asking about Sex and Growing Up (1988), by Joanna Cole. Harris’ coverage, however, is much broader and a good deal more detailed. With illustrations scattered liberally across the pages, the format occasionally seems crowded, but the candor of the artwork will help kids view sex as a natural part of life. Such openness will also help them grasp the main message of the text: that sex comprises many things, not just one. Children will find this a comforting, informative precursor to Lynda Madaras’ book on puberty; librarians will find it well worth fighting for if, by some chance, the need arises.”

-Booklist (starred review), September 1994

“Most kids wonder about and have lots of questions about sex,” the introduction says, and this frank and cheerful book attempts to answer those questions. There are seven sections: Lots of Questions, What Is Sex, Our Bodies, Puberty, Families and Babies, Decisions, and Staying Healthy; within these sections the author explores puberty, sexual feelings, reproduction, contraception, and other topics. The text is simple, friendly, and specific, relating valuable information in an unsensational manner. The user-friendliness of the book, however, comes mainly from Michael Emberley’s candid and lighthearted illustrations. Diagrams ranging from male and female sex organs to the position of birth control devices are clear and understandable; an open-minded bird and an embarrassed bee flutter through the pages providing marginal dialogue and comic-strip skits; little Woody-Allen-ish exploits of a released egg and an onrushing sperm appear occasionally and are funny and memorable. The lightness of touch is welcome and serves a useful purpose: where some kids’ books on sex leave themselves open for giggling silliness by trying to avoid it, this one accepts those giggles, acknowledging that readers may be both individually and collectively a blend of curiosity, disinterest, and apprehension, and so much to giggle at that eventually nervousness will die down and interest will proceed unimpeded. Many adults want their children to have information about all the things this book’s subtitle promises, but it’s easy to forget the range of facts children want to know as they fight their way through puberty wondering if they’re doing it right and what the other sex is doing. It’s Perfectly Normal does a good job of demystifying some of those details: particularly useful illustrations depict a circumcised penis and an uncircumcised penis, the placement of tampons and sanitary napkins, and other aspects of the subject that both sexes want to know but are probably too embarrassed to ask about. And naked human bodies appear throughout the book in a reassuring variety of sizes, shapes, colors, and sexes – there are adolescents peering into the mirror, homely and recognizable masturbation scenes, tactful but honest depictions of intercourse, and a terrific double-page spread of rows of different nude people, ranging from young to old, fat to thin, that should make stripping off in the locker room a lot easier for young readers. “Sooner or later, kids get used to, become comfortable with, and feel good about their more grown-up bodies,” the book says, and it does what it can to make that happen sooner. Acceptance and respect, after all, go hand in hand, and readers will clearly get the message that respecting yourself and others is a part of sex and growing up. The book makes it clear that families are as diverse as individual bodies and that there are a lot of different ways – platonic, gay, and straight – of caring for people. It also makes clear that part of the caring should be for yourself – that you’re stronger if you know how to keep yourself safe from disease, safe from sex if you don’t choose to have it, and safe from people who may make these decisions difficult. It’s good to be comfortable with your body; it’s also good to be comfortable with your decisions about it. At first glance, there seemed to be several illustrations in this book that would make an eye-catching cover for the Bulletin. Thinking about it more, however, we decided that pulling pictures of naked people out to stand alone on our cover might mislead our readers and distort the book. One of Harris’ and Emberley’s most valuable achievements is the creation of a low-key atmosphere in which vulnerable readers can explore this touchy subject. They didn’t create that milieu with only one page and we can’t convey it with only one picture. It’s not a perfect book – there are a few scale problems, and the puberty section really ought to discuss female orgasms as well as male – but this is one of the most unintimidating and informative sex books to come along for this age group. That inspired spread of all those unclothed men and women brings home a good message in a way that furtive peeks at magazines or classmates won’t. The book’s title, It’s Perfectly Normal, is a politely impersonal version of the statement young readers really want to hear: you’re perfectly normal.”

-The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (starred review), October 1994

“Teens might like more information about sex, but it’s not always easy for us parents to provide it! Now there’s a new book that provides frank, up-to-date and reassuring information with amusing, but accurate, cartoon illustrations. It’s Perfectly Normal (Let’s Talk About Sex) covers everything from puberty and conception to birth control and AIDs.”


“Illustrator Emberley (Welcome Back, Sun, 1993, etc.) has teamed up with Harris (Hot Henry, 1987, etc.) to present more ethnic and sexual diversity than New York City’s Rainbow Curriculum ever bargained for as they battle all concepts non-PC: They take swings at ageism (“People have sexual intercourse well into old age”) and at homophobia in the military (pointing out that, in ancient Sparta, it was thought “that if a warrior was in the same regiment as his lover, he would fight harder in order to impress him”). But there’s more information than polemic here, s the reader is guided by a corny but never condescending pair – an uninhibited bird and a repressed bee – through puberty, anatomy, reproduction, and a sense of the emotional weight that accompanies sexuality. The books intelligently covers birth-control options, how to have safer sex, how to treat STDs, and, in an especially impressive chapter, how to combat sexual abuse – all without patronizing the pre- or post-pubescent. Emberley’s illustrations are often as funny as they are informative. With affirmations of homosexuality and masturbation – “it’s perfectly normal” – and a choice-leaning (yet cautious) discussion of abortion, this volume will be anathema to social conservatives. But for parents who fear that a school sex-ed class may not be informative enough, it will certainly aid that dreaded birds-and-bees discussion.

A terrific teaching tool that just may help slow the spread of sexual diseases and ignorance.”

-Kirkus Reviews (recommended and pointer), September 15, 1994

“…Sophisticated, comprehensive, reassuring…”

-USA Today, March 31, 1998

“A book about sex that manages to be honest without losing a sense of humor. The cartoon style illustrations are witty, expressive and accurate.”

-The New York Times Sunday Book Review, Notable Books of the Year 1995, December 3, 1995

“Pubescence is quirky and unpredictable, filled with individual variations on a universal theme. Too many instructive books for children have diagrammed sex and reproduction — or worse, romanticized those subjects. But in “It’s Perfectly Normal: A Book About Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health” the author, Robie H. Harris, and the illustrator, Michael Emberley, manage to be honest without losing their senses of humor. Ms. Harris’s text is informal, wide-ranging and candid; Mr. Emberley’s pictures are informal, wide-ranging, candid, and funny. No fact or image is too embarrassing for them to take on. If you doubt me, just turn to page 23 and check out the girl looking upside down into a mirror to locate her anus, vagina, and urethra – all conspicuously apparent to the reader. Other pages discuss and portray different-size penises, different possibilities for birth control and safe sex, and different ways a baby can be born. The illustrations show an array of anatomical shapes, ethnic variations and sexual persuasions. The design is a marvel of coordinated information and illustration. This is cartooning at its best – witty, expressive, and accurately reflective of human antics. Perhaps the cloest relative to the bird-and-bee duo who comment throughout “It’s Perfectly Normal” is the mammoth who chats to the reader in David Macauley’s handbook “The Way Things Work.” In fact, “It’s Perfectly Normal” is a kind of human companion to Mr. Macauley’s marvel of mechanical explanation. One of the advantages of the design of “It’s Perfectly Normal” is that the cartoon illustrations extend its appeal to readers in a remarkably broad age range even though the book is intended for early adolescents. A younger child can enjoy the art while a parent paraphrases an inroduction to the facts of life. An independent reader in the lower grades can seek definitions of both familiar and less familiar terms in privacy. Preadolescents can test their knowledge against what’s so clearly demonstrated here. And adolescents can give a superior smirk while secretly learning what they most need to know about sexual survival in a world threatened by sexually transmitted diseases.”

-The New York Times Book Review, March 12, 1995

“This refreshingly candid tour of the facts of life is just the ticket for jittery parents when it’s time to explain the birds and the bees to their curious kids.”

-People magazine, May 15, 1995

“This is a great sex-education resource for pre-adolescents and parents.

The book is loaded with cartoon illustrations, including a cartoon “centerfold” on pp. 21-21 of people of various developmental stages and body builds. Zany Bird and Bee characters make comments from “gross!” to “I want to change now!” – all those things kids often say when exposed to sex education material. Chapters include an introductory discussion of gender, reproduction, sexual desire, intercourse and sexual orientation. The handling of gay and lesbian relationships is value-neutral. The second chapter on the human body and sex organs is followed by one on pubertal changes. The chapter on families and babies includes a description of types of families, various forms of touch and assertive rights about not touching and not having sex, as well as common teen misconceptions that can lead to pregnancy. Intrauterine development and the birth process are covered in the chapter on families. A chapter on “Decisions” includes words of encouragement to young people to consider postponing sex and/or using contraceptives which are shown and described in detail. Laws about abortion, issues of sexual abuse and STD follow. On the whole, I find this the best book resource on sex education for the pre-teen I have seen in recent years, adaptable for use with normal and sexually traumatized pre-teens. T. Berry Brazelton and Penelope Leach like it, too!”

-Psychologists’ Announcer, January 2000

“At last…a book for young people about sex and reproduction in language they can understand, plus pictures they will enjoy.”

-Ann Landers

“A comprehensive and reassuring celebration of reproductive health, human sexuality and diversity that kids, parents, educators and health professionals around the world will applaud.”

-Michael McGee
Vice president for education, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc.

“A perfectly wonderful treatment of the always touchy subject of sex education for young people. The book treats the subject seriously and its intended readers respectfully. I heartily recommend it to adolescents, parents, and any other adults wishing a refresher course on the facts of life.”"

-Hugh B. Price
President, National Urban League, Inc.

“It’s Perfectly Normal gives growing children a chance to read an honest and explanatory view of their developing bodies. The text and pictures will give them a chance to understand and value themselves. I recommend [It's Perfectly Normal] to parents and children who are coming into adolescence. They will love it.”

-T. Berry Brazelton, M.D.
Author of Touchpoints

“At last! A book that tells pre-teens and teenagers what they need to know about sex without turning off the less sophisticated, turning on the more sophisticated, or offending the moral values or sensibilities of parents and teachers. It’s Perfectly Normal is informative and interesting; reassuring and responsible; warm and charming. I wish every child (and parent) could have a copy.”

-Penelope Leach, Ph.D.
Author of Your Baby and Child and Children First

“This book is a must-read for preteens and teens! It presents honest, clear and scientifically accurate information about puberty and sexual health in a language that kids can and will utilize-critical information that will help them make the wise and informed choices they need to make as they enter and go through puberty.”

-Angela Diaz, M.D., M.P.H.
Professor of pediatrics and community medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine
Director, Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, New York

“A family-friendly guide to everything your kid ever asked you about sex, but you were afraid to answer. With unthreatening, cartoon-like illustrations, and a matter-of-fact text. ‘It makes the whole subject accessible, appealing, and appropriate,’ Dr. Siegler (Director of the Institute for Child, Adolescent, and Family Studies in Manhattan) says.”

-Child magazine

“A concise treatment of vital information. Using a clever array of cartoons to enliven and expand the text, Harris gives readers a better understanding of the special role of sexuality in the human experience. Reproduction, puberty, and sexual expression and health are examined. Birth control, abortion, and homosexuality are treated candidly. Readers will enjoy the frank, yet playful illustrations that convey a reassuring array of body types and ethnic groups. The inventive use of a bird and a bee reacting to the topics throughout artfully contrasts the differing views of early and late bloomers. What the author offers in scope, currency, and a cheerfully engaging format is quite special. An ideal introduction to “coming of age.”

-School Library Journal, March 1995