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Review: I am EXTRA Special. An IVF Story.

My apologies that this post has taken so long. I was out of action for most of this weekend with an ovarian cyst rupture. The upside is that I got to go out for sushi afterwards. Turns out that sitting in hospital on a weekend afternoon makes you rather hungry… hmmm.

SushiToday’s reviewed book is one that I happened upon in my IVF clinic – how very fitting when you consider the theme. This particular title has been self-published by two Brisbane authors, Belinda Messer and Rosie Luik. Both of these authors have published numerous books on similar topics and I would encourage you to explore the resources on their websites. Belinda’s can be found here and Rosie’s can be found here. You can also buy a copy here. 

For those of you who have started on the journey of fertility treatment, you would understand how confronting it can be. For my partner and I, walking into a clinic for the first time and seeing folders filled with reams of research about infertility was…. well, rather upsetting, especially because I had issues with how IVF was going to fit into my working situation when we first started the process. I used to worry about how I could time appointments around limited leave time was hard. Additionally, knowing that needles, scans and the ‘waiting game’ were all on the other side of that clinic door was another level of tough. Rather than flicking through the asinine magazines or the clinic statistics, I found great comfort in noticing this beautiful book on the bench….

An IVF Story

Title: I am EXTRA Special! An IVF Story

Author/Illustrator: Belinda Messer and Rosie Luik, illustrated by Jessica Smith

Age range: 5 and older

Themes/genre: Fiction narrative, IVF conception

From the very start of this process, my partner and I were always of the opinion that full disclosure to our child about their origins was really important to us. Not only is this recommended by research, but trust and truth are two of our family values. We both wanted our future child to not only be given their truth from day one, but to feel proud and strong in it. We were a little bit lost about how we would actually achieve this, but figured we wouldn’t need to think about it for a little while. Actually getting pregnant was the first obstacle.

IVF Baby Soccer

Nonetheless, this book was a timely gift for our future. It uses simple sentences and accurate illustrations to explain, step by step, how IVF can help people become parents. There is only one sentence per page with a focus on illustration, so it is most suited towards parents who are ready to have the first conversation with their child about their conception. It also doesn’t completely explore sex, which may suit a younger audience. Overall, it is an easy read that is not overwhelming.

The two parents featured in the book are heterosexual, but it is still a story I will read to my child because it focuses on how this process can give two loving people the chance to be parents. It is presented in a very positive light which I believe is important for a child in developing a confident self-concept. I would highly recommend this book as a starting point for the important conversation about the extra special way some babies are made.

 

 

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You can’t read that to your children!

As an educator, I have had many enjoyable conversations about children’s books with people who possess a wide range of tastes. I have found that when it comes to books in the home, opinions can be divided. It is quite a common school of thought that children’s literature should be light, fluffy, and full of happy endings. Parents especially feel that the time they spend with their children should be fun, not spent in unpacking difficult topics, particularly right before bedtime. I personally love the light and fluffy and get a real kick out of funny books with rhyming words, but I think there’s more to childhood reading than just the entertaining titles.

While heart-warming stories should have pride of place in every child’s reading routine, it is also important to remember that conversations about difficult topics can develop skills for dealing with tough situations. It can also help a child to live and navigate their truth, knowing that they are not alone in what they are going through. For a child who may not experience a lot of difficulty in the early part of their lives, stories about the tough stuff can sharpen a their empathy and sense of perspective, which helps in forming relationships with others. In my view, there is no better way to help  a child become well-rounded than to expose them to life through a different lens – but these conversations are often difficult to start and even more difficult to explain in kid-language.

For any trial a child may come across, there is likely to be a book that covers it. I have seen exceptionally well-written books about divorce, death, having a parent in jail, experiencing childhood illness, homelessness, being a refugee, knowing someone with a mental illness, and just about everything in between. Some books even look back through history at some of humanity’s darker times, with stories about wars, September 11, and even the Holocaust. The topics may be deemed dark, but these narratives represent the lived experiences of real people and for some children, it may be a part of their life. If we hide their truth away by discouraging engagement or conversation about it, we prevent that child from coming to terms with what they are going through and making peace with it. Put simply, we shouldn’t be uncomfortable about the things that make up our lives. Modelling a closed mindset to children about the bumps in the road can send the message that some things are too difficult to overcome, let alone talk about.

I will never forget one of the first books I read independently about a tough topic. It was called Pink Balloons by Beverly McGregor and it told the story of a girl my own age (9, at that time) who had succumbed to the AIDS virus through a blood transfusion. The story was weaved with tragedy and ultimately had a sad ending, but I felt a connection to the life of this little girl who had hopes and dreams so similar to my own. All she had wanted was to ride a motorbike, spend time with her siblings, and to live to see enough birthdays so that she could collect 100 pink balloon cake ornaments. Fortunately, I grew up with parents who never censored my reading material, and I feel that these experiences helped me to see life from a different vantage point. It isn’t always easy to relate to that which we have not been through ourselves. Books can bridge that gap.

There should always be time for humour, whimsy, fairy tales, and rhymes, but there should also be opportunity for children to explore the more complex narratives of life with guidance. Some stories may provoke feelings of sadness in children, but the emotional highs and lows are a natural part of the human experience. The more we talk about tricky things, the more we can be empowered in overcoming them. Books send a powerful message to children that they are not alone; that other people (even little people) have slayed the particular monster that looms in the shadows of their lives, waiting to bother them. What an empowering notion.

Just to get you started, here are some excellent children’s book titles that can help in exploring both the ups and downs of life.

Quotefancy-208432-3840x2160

Image sourced from www.quotefancy.com – check it out for lots of cool literary quotes with pictures.

 

 

 

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Review: The Amazing True Story of How Babies are Made by Fiona Katauskas

When I first started to consider having a family of my own, the obvious question was, ‘How will I answer the inventible question…. where did I come from?’ It is a question that any parent ponders at the appropriate time (usually closer to puberty), but in the lead up to that, it is standard to use an age-appropriate explanation… you know, when a man a woman love each other, he will share his seed with her egg… At least, that is how my parents kept my questions at bay before I was mature enough to understand this combination of relationship and biology. When a child is IVF and donor-conceived in a same-sex relationship, it adds a whole other layer of creative explanation. I understood this from the moment I knew I would have a family and I made it my business to find out how I could go about it.

One of the first ‘birds and bees’ books I came across whilst I pondered this conversation wasn’t found in a boutique book store or in some obscure place – I came across it at a regular Australian retailer in the suburbs. At the time I saw it, I thought it was quite progressive that this sort of book could be found in a forward-facing bookshelf alongside The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Possum Magic (great books, by the way). It covers a lot of the standard topics, as well as some of the not-so-standard topics, and is beautifully illustrated to book.

Click the picture to buy a copy from the publisher, Harper Collins

You should also check out Fiona’s website here. Her art and writing is definitely worth a look.

HowBabiesAreMade

Title: The Amazing True Story of How Babies are Made

Author/Illustrator: Fiona Katauskas

Age range: 8 and older

Themes/genre: Non-fiction without narrative, puberty, early sex education, anatomy

Review: 

This beautifully illustrated book is intended as a child’s first exploration into body changes and how babies are made – it is a great bridging piece that is appropriate for children who are approaching the age of the tween, where they may be craving to take their first steps into understanding their body, but not quite ready for a textbook style education. The first pages of the book presents the varied myths about where babies come from, but implores the young reader to consider that the true story of how babies are made is much more interesting… 

 

The first few pages of the book explore anatomical differences between boys and girls. The joy of this is that a parent could elect to share just these pages, and share the rest of the book as their child is ready to grasp the various concepts.

The next part of the book explores puberty and how each sex plays a role in making a baby. The book initially acknowledges the trick language that is often used to name these parts and processes which helps to familiarise the young reader, but it introduces correct scientific language to clarify the appropriate terminology. What really stands out about this book is that the illustrations are beautiful, clear, concise, and accurate.

Eggs-

The author throws in a few jokes that appeal to the young reader (as pictured above), but  these clever puns don’t take away from the accuracy of the book, nor do they cast the topics as ‘taboo’, which is a balanced approach to a topic that can be tough to get right. It is certainly a challenge to appeal to a young audience through their sense of humour, while still using scientifically accurate language, and without instilling shame about the human body.

Throughout the book, it presents the differences between boys’ and girls’ bodies, the process of puberty, fertilisation (including male-female sex), gestation, birth (including caesarean section), breastfeeding, and IVF (including sperm and egg donation). The illustrations detail these concepts, but are very age-appropriate.

What sets this book apart from other early sex education picture books is that it is written for the modern age. It acknowledges that children are made in different ways, and normalises this process alongside all of the usual routes to conception. There isn’t necessarily a mention of same-sex conception and relationships, but it is still a progressive step towards comprehensive and age-appropriate sex and puberty education that is well-written, accurate, and helpful for parents.

 

 

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Review: And Tango Makes Three – By Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

As well as being an avid reader, I am also a lover of animals – all sorts of animals! Last Christmas, I was fortunate enough to travel in various African countries and I spent many a day on safari, taking in the sight of animals in their natural environment. I spent an afternoon in Capetown, viewing the penguins at a beach and was captivated by the way they congregate and spend time together.

When I found And Tango Makes Three, I simply had to order a copy for my home bookshelf. This book is the true story of Roy and Silo, two chinstrap penguins who live in the zoo at Central Park in New York City (a place currently untapped by my travels). These two penguins fell in love and were given an egg that belonged to a male and female penguin, who were having trouble hatching it. Roy and Silo then raised the baby penguin, called Tango. The practice of two same-sex penguins raising a baby is apparently not uncommon and it has occurred a number of times. The way this book presents the story is sweet, normalised and heart-warming. It introduces the idea of having two fathers within the context of a real-life animal story.

Click the picture to buy a copy from the publisher, Little Simon (Simon & Schuster)

Tango

Title: And Tango Makes Three

Authors: Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

Illustrator: Henry Cole

Age Range: Suitable for 3 and older – comes in board book and eBook format

Themes/Genre: Short story, narrative non-fiction, board book, fathers, families, diversity, same-sex parents, zoos, wildlife

Review: 

I have always been fascinated by how animals in the natural world form family and kinship groups, especially in ways that challenge the idea that certain roles or family structures are ‘not natural.’ The diversity of the animal world is a lesson to humanity in many ways, that we can thrive under a range of circumstances and one type of family unit is not necessarily superior to the other.

The two main animal characters, Silo and Roy, start off with a friendship that is illustrated by natural behaviours (bowing, swimming together, and singing to each other).

Bowing

The two penguins then build a nest, but are dismayed when they realise they cannot hatch a rock inside it. Although they are two male penguins, they still have a strong and natural desire to do what the other penguins are doing. They are given an egg by the zookeeper that cannot be hatched through the usual means, and the rest of the story follows the process of keeping the egg warm, watching it hatch, feeding the baby penguin, and teaching it penguin behaviours.

The book describes how Roy and Silo, as two male penguins, do the same things as the other families in the zoo and in the city around them. Tango grows up in the same way as her other penguin peers and all is well. At no point in the book is their family structure made into a big deal by the penguins, the zoo visitors, or the zookeeper – which is really how it should be. The book as a whole successfully portrays a same-sex family with two fathers within a real-life narrative context, and it is a story that I connect with as someone who desires for all family structures, including my own, to be viewed as no different.

My favourite part in the story is the final page; ‘At night, the three penguins returned to their nest. There, they snuggled together and, like all the other penguins in the penguin house, and all the other animals in the zoo, and all the families in the big city around them, they went to sleep.’ 

Isn’t that the sweetest?

RJ Miles

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Welcome!

RJMiles

Hi there! I’m RJ Miles and I would like to welcome you to my blog.

I published a picture book in a dialogue narrative style that aims to explain IVF and IUI with donor sperm to children in families where there are two mums. This became my passionate project when I personally started the IVF journey in mid-2016 with my wife. The book is called One in Many Millions. 

I noticed that there were a number of appealing and well-written picture books to explain IVF to children in the clinic I visited and I bought all of them. I also found some titles in a big retailer here in Australia that broached puberty and regular conception. I bought these books, too. But I felt that something was missing from the bookshelf – a book that is especially for children with two mums that not only explains and celebrates their family, but how they came to be with each aspect explained in age-appropriate detail. I felt that these children deserve access to their truth as any child does and what better way to normalise a child’s truth than to portray it in a picture book?

This got me thinking and reflecting on the words of Harmony Korine, one of my favourite film makers; that if something you deeply desire doesn’t exist in the world, whether it be an image, a story, or a song, then you should feel compelled to create it. That is exactly what I did.

In the meantime, I am continuing to work in my classroom during the daylight hours and as such, I am preparing for the term ahead. I plan to regularly update this blog to share book news, relevant book reviews, and other topical anecdotes that I feel are of interest to relationships and sexuality education.

Life is busy, but it’s amazing. Thanks for stopping by. 

RJ Miles