It has been a short while since my last book review, so I thought I would present my thoughts about a sex and puberty education series I bought recently. As a primary classroom teacher, I deliver a program called Bodies and Relationships. All of the resources I use are provided, but having a quick and colourful reference helped me with nailing the terminology in a child-friendly, succinct manner when I was planning ahead for my lessons. That is why I purchased these two books originally.
The entire collection is called the Secret Business series and contains titles such as Secret Boys’ Business, Secret Girls’ Business, The Secret Business of Relationships, Love and Sex, and two titles for boys and girls with special learning needs.
I only bought Secret Boys’ Business and Secret Girls’ Business to start with. When I first opened both of these books, the first thing I noticed was the body positive language used to describe changes and the differences between individuals. Each book contains a few simple sentences with the message that every body changes differently and that each person should feel proud of their body as it changes. The girls’ book contains a range of illustrations that present some different-shaped bodies, but the boys’ book contains illustrations that portray boys’ bodies as fit and slim. Possibly, this could have been considered when creating the storyboard, but otherwise, these are two excellent books that I would recommend.
Title: Secret Boys’ Business and Secret Girls’ Business
Authors: Rose Stewart, Fay Angelo, Heather Anderson
Illustrators: Jeff Taylor, Julie Davey
Age range: 8 and older
Themes/genre: Puberty, sex education
Even though children are beginning puberty at younger ages in our modern time, adults still seem to find it an awkward topic. The fact that children’s hormones are starting to shift as early as Year 3 to prepare their bodies for change means that the outward markers of puberty are often occurring between the ages of 8-10. This trend demonstrates that the start of adolescence is encroaching further into childhood than it did in previous generations. An earlier start is a big deal – it means that educating children about what is going on with their bodies can no longer wait until the last year of primary school. Whether we like it or not, it is undeniable that the ‘tween’ age category (8-12 year olds) needs simple, positive, age-appropriate information about what is happening to them.
The girls’ book contains simple, illustrated information about body changes for both sexes. It also provides information that is intended to dispel common fears about development. For instance, that it is normal for one breast may develop earlier. I can remember wondering if that was normal when it happened to me (it’s totally normal!)
The girls’ book is mostly dedicated to puberty and periods, which reflects the fact that this change is the most overwhelming for girls to deal with. It is an ideal resource for girls in middle primary school to prepare for body changes. Seperate books titled More Secret Girls’ Business, and The Secret Business of Relationships, Love, and Sex are targeted towards older girls and contain more detailed information about sexuality and feelings.
Secret Boys’ Business contains more information by comparison, with double the pages and added information about masturbation, sex and fertilisation, which isn’t presented in the first girls’ book. There are many logical explanations for this, but above anything else, the girls’ edition contains a lot of information about periods, because this event can be overwhelming on its own. The other books in the series cover these topics in more detail for girls.
The boys’ edition acknowledges the idea that boys can be attracted to either sex and presents it as a normal reality of how people can be different. It also talks about consent, personal hygiene, emotional intelligence, and how to take care of testicles.
Although the boys’ edition contains lots of information, I would suggest that it is the kind of resource that needs to be explored with a growing boy, and probably in bite-sized sessions, as there are more topics than the girls’ version. The amount of information available, while comprehensive, could be overwhelming to a young boy, especially if he is adverse to reading – or prefers to avoid topics he finds embarrassing!
The other noteworthy feature of both of these books is the Hints for Mums, Dads and other Significant Adults section in the back. In the past, many parents would provide their children with books about puberty to avoid talking about it. However, it is far more beneficial for this to be an ongoing conversation between parents and children. The guide in the back provides succinct dot points about vocabulary, forward-planning, age-appropriateness, privacy, feelings and how to have open conversations that don’t harm a developing child’s self-esteem. Same-sex attraction is also approached in this section, and the authors suggest that parents respond positively to this topic to ensure their child doesn’t receive negative messages about sexual orientation
Overall, I would recommend purchasing the whole series (including the sequels) and reading the books first to familiarise yourself with the content. That will make it easy to determine which topics need to be discussed first and how much you will share at each stage. Everyone is different and the approach you take will depend on the age and development of the individual child. These books are not resources to be given to a child without discussion, rather they serve to provide an excellent, positive introduction to body changes and sexuality that is easy to read and age-appropriate.