10th Anniversary Edition
Candlewick Press, January 2009
Illustrated by Michael Emberley
This book was created in response to requests from parents, educators, librarians, health professionals and clergy for a book on sexual health for younger children, ages 7 and up.
I immediately went to all the experts I had gone to when creating IT’S PERFECTLY NORMAL. I asked them what should be in a book on sexual health for these younger children ages 7 and up. When I visited schools and talked with school age kids, ages 10 to 14 or so, I asked them the same question. And they said to me, “Almost everything that’s in IT’S PERFECTLY NORMAL, but not all the details, and less about puberty and more about babies and how they are made. And kids that age, even though their parents and teachers don’t think so, they do wonder and want to know about sex.” That’s when I realized that this book would have to talk about sex — not through the lens of puberty as in IT’S PERFECTLY NORMAL — but through the lens of where babies come from. I also understood that kids this age are very interested in science and how things work and that would be a way to talk about how babies are made.
I realized that this book could not and would not work as a “shorter/cut-up/slimmed-down version” of IT’S PERFECTLY NORMAL. This book would have to stand on its own. Michael Emberley had been very interested in using a comic-strip format for kids’ books, and actually did use that technique in some places in IT’S PEFECTLY NORMAL. I also realized that since many beginning or emerging readers would be reading this book, we would have to make the text shorter. We spoke with a reading expert who said that boxing the text would make it seem less dense and would really appeal to younger readers, which is exactly what Michael had said. And Michael’s use of comic-strip format in many places in this book is one reason I believe the book is so accessible to younger children.
The biggest challenge in this book was to include almost everything that was in IT’S PERFECTLY NORMAL by writing in a way that would be comfortable for kids ages 7 and up and would be age-appropriate. That’s why this book took almost three years to create. It was also a challenge to write a book for younger children on most of the same topics I had written about for older children. What was difficult was deciding what and how much information to include. I did have fun writing the words of the BIRD and BEE cartoon characters that had appeared in IT’S PERFECTLY NORMAL as the voices of children. But of course, the BIRD and BEE characters had to talk in a younger manner. In order to fit in all the art and all of my writing information and all the BIRD and BEE cartoons, we decided to make the book 84 pages long. We did not worry about the length because we felt that some kids would only look at the parts of the book they were interested in, while others would read through the whole book. Teachers and parents have told us that’s just how kids use this book.
“The creators of It’s Perfectly Normal, targeted to middle-schoolers, here reach out to a slightly younger audience with candor and humor, neatly distilling various aspects of sex, reproduction, and love. An inquisitive, loquacious bird and an embarrassed bee act as comic and straight man and serve as diverting foils to Harris’s conversational narrative; kids will both identify with and chuckle at the two characters’ reactions and asides. The duo’s cheerful banter also clarifies some potentially confusing issues (“So the fetus doesn’t grow where the pizza goes!” proclaims the newly enlightened bee). Specific topics covered include changes in boys’ and girls’ bodies during puberty, intercourse, birth control, chromosomes and genes, adoption and adjusting to a newborn sibling. The roster of experts in the closing acknowledgments speaks to the sensitivity and intelligence with which Harris and Emberley handle their treatment of masturbation, sexual abuse, HIV and AIDS and homosexuality. Emberley’s artwork ranges from lighthearted cartoon panels of a talking sperm meeting up with an egg in the fallopian tube to straightforward drawings of reproductive organs and a developing fetus.
With its informal yet informed perspective, this volume renders much ‘amazing’ phenomena reassuringly comprehensible.”
-Publishers Weekly (starred review), December 1999
“Another barrier-breaking contribution by Harris and Emberley that seamlessly bridges It’s Perfectly Normal (1994) and Happy Birth Day! (1996, both Candlewick). This oversized, attractive guide on reproduction and birth answers common questions such as “Exactly what is sex?” and “Where does the baby actually come out?” The familiar enthusiastic bird and reluctant bee narrate the comic cartoon panels, eventually deciding that the miracles of birth, families, and love are just “so amazing.” Readers will appreciate the life-size illustration of a full-term fetus, and adults will be grateful for the many different ways Emberley portrays situations not always easy to explain to children. People are represented with a variety of body shapes and ethnicity, and Harris discusses sexual preferences and alternative family situations. While the illustrations are engaging, and often hilarious, factual information is effectively presented in a clear, nonjudgmental tone that will inform and assure readers. Topics covered include basic anatomy, conception, fetal development, birth, genetics, adoption, and love. Sexual abuse and HIV are sensitively mentioned in short, informative chapters.
An essential guide that will delight and inform and appeal to young readers as well as adults.”
-School Library Journal, (starred review) February 2000
“The author of It’s Perfectly Normal returns to the subject matter of sex and reproduction, this time producing a friendly and sensitive guide for younger children.
As in their first book, Harris’s words and Emberley’s cartoon illustrations merge seamlessly to explore a wide range of topics – from the parts of the body to definitions of love – though the focus of It’s So Amazing! leans toward the biological rather than emotional issues involved in reproduction. Once again, an amusing cartoon bird and bee – one gleefully grabbing, the other mortified to be thinking about sex at all – navigate the reader through the text and give voice to children’s concerns, questions, and misconceptions about sexuality. The book opens with detailed, accurate terminology for body parts and the ways in which they change during puberty, with particular emphasis on the production of eggs and sperm. Middle chapters take readers on a detour through sex and love – the basics only, but with good attention to the many ways people express affection for one another. Then it’s back to the main event: fertilization of the egg, growth of the fetus, and birth. While the illustrations here don’t avoid imbuing egg and sperm cells with gendered characteristics, they commendably avoid overly stereotypical portrayals. Harris throughout manages to leave no stone unturned in this thoughtful, intelligent, and most importantly, exuberant celebration of the creation and operation of children and adult bodies. The nonjudgmental text includes sections on adoptive families, families that include every combination of parental gender and marital status, sexual identity, masturbation, HIV/AIDS, inappropriate touching of “privates” by adults, and how to deal with a new baby sibling. Parents looking for a way to keep embarrassment to a minimum when discussing sexuality with their young children will appreciate this book.”
-The Horn Book Magazine, (starred review), November 30, 1999
“The author and illustrator duo that broke new ground with their frank talk and depiction of puberty and changing bodies in It’s Perfectly Normal, (1994) returns with an equally outstanding book. It’s for children who may have “noticed kids who are going through puberty” but are not there themselves and have questions about sex and “where babies come from.” The simple and straightforward prose focuses on reproduction and birth, including information on eggs, sperm, male and female body parts, the multiple meanings of sex, fetal development and delivery, family composition, and “okay touches” and “not okay touches.” Related issues such as puberty, sexual orientation, birth control, and AIDS receive less detailed attention. The text is browser friendly; important information and reassuring words are repeated. Harris is also very good at recognizing children’s misconceptions and teams up with Emberley to address myths in humorous ways: one illustration clears up the confusion over where the pizza goes (in the mother’s stomach) and where the baby grows (in the uterus, or womb). The inquisitive bird and the embarrassed bee of the first book are back, but in more prominent roles as commentators, word definers and pronouncers, and official punsters. The bold, colorful illustrations fill the pages and are not as graphic as in the previous book. With the exception of two pages showing male and female bodies, from infancy to older adulthood, examples feature clothed children and adults, and comic-strip art chronicles the amazing adventures of egg and sperm. A welcome book that meets the needs of those in-between or curious kids who are not ready, developmentally or emotionally, for It’s Perfectly Normal.
-Booklist, January 1 & 15, 2000
“Harris and Emberley fill the gap between their picture book, Happy Birth Day (1996), and the instant-classic It’s Perfectly Normal (1994) with this equally sensitive, good-humored take on love and sex, puberty, genetics, pregnancy, and related topics, from sibling rivalry to HIV. Emberley supplies side (and snide) commentary from an eager bird and a reluctant bee to go along with cartoon depictions of anatomical details, human figures in a marvelous variety of ages, shapes, and skin colors, and a dramatic sequence covering fetal development from one month to nine in actual size. Never talking down to readers, Harris takes wide-angled views of sexual preferences, birth control, and the meaning of “family,” while making the terminology less forbidding by mixing it with familiar comparisons: “The epididymis is a long, twisty, coiled tube. It is shaped somewhat like a telephone receiver, but smaller.” The collaborators expertly walk the line between frankness and bluntness, keeping the actual sex act under the covers, and nimbly explaining how abuse differs from normal human contact and affection. Closing on a cheery note with a look at new baby customs in several parts of the world, this book provides sensible, reassuring answers to readers’ questions and concerns, and interrupts the rain of information with occasional silliness.”
-Kirkus Reviews, (starred review), November 1, 1999
“A welcome book that meets the needs of those in-between or curious kids who are not ready, developmentally or emotionally, for It’s Perfectly Normal.”
-Booklist (starred review), January 1 & 15, 2000
“An upbeat look at where babies come from, this book is a good reference for the whole family. It addresses all those questions that children have about love, sex, and babies and helps you to find the answers together. The children reviewing this book really enjoyed the life-size pictures of a baby’s development in the womb and the adults appreciated the warm and funny description of love and what it means.”
-The Green Parent
“Talking to your child about sex just got easier. With the authority of a biology text and the humor of a comic book, this friendly-toned book tackles everything from fetus development to puberty with sensitivity and responsibility.”
-Child magazine (recommended), February 2000
“It’s So Amazing! is the amazingly upbeat and caring book that children have been waiting for-because it answers the many questions most children have about babies, bodies, love, sex, reproduction and family. This book is totally child-friendly and the perfect read-aloud book for children and families. Try it for the best-ever depiction of the real meaning of family.”
-Penelope Leach, Ph.D.
Author of Your Baby and Child and Children First
“When I brought home Robie H. Harris’s “It’s So Amazing! A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families” — which follows Harris’s very successful previous collaboration with Michael Emberley, “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex & Sexual Health” – the book soon disappeared. My wife informed me that our 9-year-old daughter had spirited it away, and this seemed notable, given not only that our daughter has a younger brother, but that both of them are well aware that their mother is pregnant. When I asked if she liked the book, my daughter was enthusiastic. “Yes,” she said, “because it’s for kids.” I didn’t ask her to elaborate, because I wanted her to feel free to disappear with the book again. Indeed, “It’s So Amazing!” is written and illustrated with such thought that a child can hide away and study it. Harris very clearly explains reproduction, the differences between males and females, how babies grow to children and children to grown-ups, what eggs and sperm are, how babies are made, pregnancy, the growing fetus and birth. The tone is patient and gentle, even a bit soothing to grown-ups. Accompanying the main text are two cartoon characters — a bird and a bee, appropriately – and their comments and reactions afford the child reader the opportunity to either accept the information in the text or resist it. The description of the female’s ovaries, for example, elicits “So a girl has parts from her mommy” from the bird and “I’m interested in the EGYPTIAN MUMMY – not mommy parts!” from the bee. The exposition of matters male and female is handled with absolute balance, and the bodies, which come in all colors and sizes, are reassuringly normal: flawed, hairy, a little fat, nobody’s idealized beauty. The depiction of the aged male and female is, well, accurate. The book steadily approaches the more difficult aspects of human sexuality. Emberley’s pastel-colored illustrations are reassuring in their humor and easy to understand. We watch the egg descend merrily down the fallopian tube and eager, puppylike sperm cells race through the vas deferens, boosted by seminal fluid. We don’t watch intercourse, however; Mom and Dad keep their sheet on while the text explains. This section is handled particularly well; Harris explains that “sex can be about …loving, caring and touching.” But appropriately does not explore adult passion, what an orgasm is, when the cigarette gets smoked, etc. Indeed, here Harris includes one of the few straight-on, no-argument value judgments in the whole book: “Kids are much too young to have sexual intercourse.” Sexuality is about a lot more than sex and babies, of course, and Harris ably unpacks homosexuality, artificial insemination, birth control, miscarriage, adoption and even abortion (which, parents will want to know, she handles briefly and factually). Despite the difficulty of these topics, I found the tone reasonable and warm: “A person’s daily life – having friends, having fun, going to work, being a mom or dad, loving another person – is mostly the same whether a person is straight or gay.” There are two chapters dealing with sexual abuse and H.I.V. Despite (or perhaps because of) the ubiquity of these topics in the news, parents may take pause. I certainly did. But if one’s children are to learn about such things – and, alas, they are – then it’s hard to imagine a more sensitive treatment than in these pages. The text recognizes children’s feelings and fears, and reassures, line by line, that they are always lovable and always loved, no matter what. Beyond biology, “It’s So Amazing!” is finally about love, and that, we hope, is where babies come from.”
-The New York Times Sunday Book Review, November 21, 1999
“Even if your child hasn’t reached puberty, talk with him or her about what lies ahead. If you’d like some help, check out the excellent picture book It’s So Amazing!, which is geared to boys and girls ages seven to nine. It could help prepare your son or daughter-as well as reassure you.”
-Time magazine, August 21, 2000
“This thoughtful, innovative and comprehensive book helps children with issues that are on their minds anyway-and gives all of us the language we need to share with them.”
-T. Berry Brazelton, M.D.
Author of Touchpoints: Your Child’s Emotional and Behavioral Development
“As a pediatrician, I know that children have many questions about reproduction, birth, bodies, babies, and families. Finding the answers, in a comfortable, appropriate, and interesting way, is an essential part of growing up healthy in body and mind.
This book provides an opportunity for children to find answers to their questions with clarity of explanation, fabulous illustrations and humor, together with an all-important sense of wonder.”
-Perri Klass, M.D.
Medical director of Reach Out and Read, Boston, Mass.; Contributing editor, Parenting magazine
“In the section on “What’s Inside?” “What’s Outside?” adults may learn something they didn’t know. It is a brilliant book and the illustrations are delightful and informative. The book addresses homosexuality and adoption. And a child’s right to privacy of their private parts and that sexual abuse is always wrong. “Sexual abuse can hurt. Or it can feel gentle. This can be very confusing because it’s almost impossible to understand how something so wrong can feel gentle.”
This is a very important book that will make it easier to talk with your children.
The book should win awards from parent groups.”
-The Courier, November 5, 1999
“The team that produced the excellent It’s Perfectly Normal (BCCB 10/94) has returned with a book for younger kids. Those familiar with the previous title will recognize the brash bird and the squeamish bee who comment on proceedings, the comic-strip panels featuring cheerfully personified ova and sperm, the calm and straightforward discussion, and the matter-of-factly frank illustrations. While love (of all kinds), families (of all kinds), and culture (of all kinds) are discussed here, the emphasis is on explaining the physical mysteries of growth and reproduction. The book does a capable job of presenting some really quite complicated facts in ways that offer information suitable for different levels of investigation: the anatomical examination is handily divided into what’s inside and what’s outside, for instance, and each sex’s section finishes with a helpfully basic enumeration: “In all, from front to back, there are three openings between a female’s legs…In all, from front to back, there are two openings between a male’s legs…” While the previous book invited browsing this one essentially requires it, as there’s too much information for single-sitting absorption here, and kids will need adult assistance and sharing to profit fully from the text (though it might be a good idea to leave the book around for some at-their-own-pace exploration after the initial introduction). That’s a characteristic, however, rather than a flaw:
the breezy tone, accessible approach, and breadth of material makes this a useful volume for young questioners, and the book’s assistance in exploring important questions by reading and by prompted discussion with an adult will be significant and valuable.”
-The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, February 2000
“This fact-filled book comes with its own bird and bee – cartoon characters whose responses and questions echo those young readers might have. The book is organized into 22 sections, picturing wildly diverse families in Michael Emberley’s color pencil and watercolor artwork. In addition to the predictable topics, others include “twins and more,” chromosomes and genes, “lots of kinds of love,” adoption, “okay and not okay touches,” and essential information about HIV. This is a valuable book, one of a limited number about this subject for children of elementary school age. Harris and Emberley respect the ways children learn, what they want to know, and how they want to get this information. In an opening section, the author explains that science can change, that not all scientists agree, that there are questions without answers, and there can be more than one answer to some questions. Readers with questions are encouraged to talk either with a parent or teacher, librarian, scientist, doctor, nurse, or clergy member.”
-CCBC Choices 2000
“An excellent resource on sex education for young children, presented in a lively and engaging style for both kids and parents. A book every family should own.”
-Alvin F. Poussaint, M.D.
Clinical professor of psychiatry, Harvard Medical School
Co-author of Raising Black Children: Two Leading Psychiatrists Confront the Educational, Social and Emotional Problems Facing Black Children
“Moving from growing plants to growing people and from fiction to non-fiction, Robie Harris and Michael Emberley have given us another gift. Their first collaboration gave us one of the best books on sex for kids ten and up, It’s Perfectly Normal. Now they’ve turned their attention to the younger set, probably from five to nine years old. It’s So Amazing: A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies and Families has that same combination of warmth, humor and fact that the first one did. Like the first, it pulls no punches and it’s most likely something parents will want to read together with their child with plenty of conversation along the way.”
-Teaching K-8, January 2000
“The same folks that brought us It’s Perfectly Normal have turned their talents to a larger format using the same straightforward, humorous, and informative approach to sex education, this time for younger elementary school children. The cartoon characters of a bird and bee from the first book are back, one expressing the curiosity and the other the discomfort that many children share regarding such matters as conception, sexual anatomy, puberty, and sexual intercourse. The information is presented in one-paragraph-long cartoon-like boxes, and it is as clear, concise, sex positive and non-judgmental as anyone could ask (e.g., “An abortion is a medical way to end a pregnancy. Most women who have had an abortion can become pregnant again…”). She deals directly with homosexuality, adoption, HIV, sexual abuse, and alternative conception without rushing through or glossing over these potentially touchy issues. There is an index and a long list of people whom they consulted in some way, from a librarian to teachers and many medical people.
An admirably honest and excellent addition to any collection.”
-BayViews Association of Children’s Librarians, December 1999