I was really excited to see Allison Pohle’s article on the American Girl book The Care and Keeping of You. For me, and for many women in my general age bracket (the book’s been around for 20 years), this was the book your read when you were starting puberty. I can’t even count how many of my friends had it when we were ages of nine to 12. And looking back, it was a pretty radical book at the time given its in-depth illustrations and the breadth of topics.
In my case, my aunt actually gifted me the book without telling my mom (I can feel her sighing at the memory) when I was 10, and it was the first time I’d ever learned about periods, so that was traumatizing. And while there were many aspects of the book that were invaluable, I proceeded to spend the next year and a half until I got my period freaked out that there’d be blood gushing out of me one day when I went to the bathroom.
And therein lies the problem with the book (aside from my aunt not checking with my mom about this “gift” first, because that was definitely not cool): It misses some pretty sizable gaps of the early puberty experience. As sources in Pohle’s article points out, there’s no real mention of sex or general sexual health, the book’s heteronormative, and it glazes over some of the finer points of certain aspects of puberty, like what your first period may look like and what the heck vaginal discharge is. (It freaked me out!)
The weird thing is, puberty books haven’t changed too radically over the past two decades; everyone seemed to like The Care and Keeping of You. But luckily, the end of the 2010s seems to finally be giving us the shift we need.
If you’re worried about the issues with the book or just want something a little more comprehensive and inclusive of the issues girls face, I recommend Naama Bloom’s HelloFlo: The Guide, Period. Full disclosure that I worked for Naama’s company HelloFlo for several years, but I got to read the book cover to cover last year when it came out, and it talks about everything I really needed to know as a older kid/early pre-teen as well as what I wish someone had told me and then some.
And for parents, it’s a great read in terms of finding age-appropriate but still educational and helpful ways to talk to your daughters about what’s changing in their bodies and having those conversations without shame or embarrassment. That’s what I truly wish people had said more often when I was a girl: There’s nothing wrong with periods, smelly armpits, growing boobs, emotions, none of it.
– Lily Herman