Originally published in 1994, the book ‘It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health,’ written by Robie Harris and illustrated by Michael Emberley, continues to be a subject of controversy decades after its release.
A children’s book intended for youngsters age 10 and up, the book is aimed at discussing puberty with those experiencing it. Unfortunately, this includes questionable topics of discussion for youth, such as masturbation, intercourse, homosexuality, and abortion. More disturbing than the subject matter are the pornographic cartoon depictions of the topics in question. Because some of these are so graphic and vulgar in nature, we have chosen not to include them in this article. Although some are seen in the video below, they have been censored. If you would like a glimpse of what we are talking about, images can easily be found on the internet by searching for the book.
This book has been found in public libraries, as well as on suggested reading lists for elementary school age children. Parents may want to check with their schools and/or libraries to see if the book is available to their children. With the masturbation section including how-to-pics, this may not be content you want your child to be able to check out without your knowledge or permission.
Another disturbing fact involves the entire section on abortion. Laws and rulings are discussed, which may be information that is way over the intended reader’s head. What’s more troublesome is what’s not discussed. There is no mention of adoption as an alternative to abortion. Many critics are not surprised by this apparent pro-abortion stance, as the book is applauded, promoted, and endorsed by Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides abortions and is no stranger to controversy.
Although some of the information is arguably useful, the question is, when is it appropriate? Again, this book is recommended for children as young as 10, but includes details with pictures on how to use a condom. I think most parents would agree, a 10 year-old should not need to know how to use a condom. Also discussed is the definition of sex, which the book identifies as involving a penis and vagina, genitals and mouth, or penis and anus. Once again, what’s missing may be more bothersome than what’s included, as there is no mention of chastity. Remember, this is reading for 10 year-old children!
According to the American Library Association‘s Most Challenged Books of 2000-2009 list, this book ranks #12. It made national news in 2007 when JoAn Karkos, from Lewiston, Maine checked out the local libraries’ copies of the book and refused to return them. As reported by the Associated Press:
LEWISTON, Maine – A Lewiston woman who was upset by the content of an acclaimed sex education book published 14 years ago has checked out copies from two libraries and refuses to give them back.
“Since I have been sufficiently horrified of the illustrations and the sexually graphic, amoral abnormal contents, I will not be returning the books,” JoAn Karkos wrote the Lewiston and Auburn public libraries last month.
Each letter was accompanied by a check for $20.95 to cover the cost of the book, “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex & Sexual Health.”
“This has never happened before,” said Rick Speer, director of the Lewiston Public Library. “It is clearly theft.”
Speer returned the check, along with a form Karkos could use to request that the book be removed from library shelves. But he said he may seek help from police if she doesn’t return what she borrowed.
“That’s really what we want,” Speer said. “We want the book back.”
Written by Robie H. Harris and illustrated by Michael Emberley, the book features frank but cartoon-like illustrations of naked people in chapters on topics that include abstinence, masturbation and sexually transmitted diseases.
The publisher, Massachusetts-based Candlewick Press, said “It’s Perfectly Normal” has been sold in 25 countries and translated into 21 languages.
Championed by Planned Parenthood, the book has come under fire from conservative groups such as Concerned Women for America and the anti-abortion American Life League. It was the American Library Association’s most challenged book in 2005, topping a list that also included books by J.D. Salinger, Toni Morrison and Judy Blume.
The battle against this book and its 1999 follow-up, ‘It’s So Amazing: a Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families‘ (for ages 7 & up) has been ongoing, as explained by Banned Books Awareness:
Though the books have been highly honored by the ALA,Booklist, Child Magazine, The New York Times, Planned Parenthood, and Publishers’ Weekly, controversy arises from the open discussions in them about homosexuality, abortion, sexuality, detailed pictures of human anatomy, and sex education in general.
It’s Perfectly Normal was the ALA’s #1 Most Challenged Book of 2005, and It’s So Amazingclosed out the top 10 that same year. It’s Perfectly Normal currently sits at the #12 spot on the ALA’s 100 Most Banned Books of the 21st century and It’s So Amazing joins in at #37.
In 2002, residents of Montgomery County, Texas, wanted the books banned from the local public library system. Montgomery County Library Director, Jerilynn Adams Williams, fought the measure for three months before both books were finally allowed to return to the shelves. Williams won the 2003 PEN/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award for her efforts.
In 2004 they were moved from the young adult to the adult section of the Fort Bend County Library in Richmond, Texas; and moved to the restricted section of the Fort Bend School District’s media centers after a resident complained via an email about the books.
In 2006 they were removed from the Holt Middle School library in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in response to a parent’s complaint that it was too sexually explicit. A review committee’s later recommendation returned them to general circulation with “some limits on student access.” Also in 2006 they were moved to the Reference section of Northern Hills Elementary School’s media center in Onalaska, Wisconsin because a parent complained about its “frank yet kid-friendly discussion of reproductive topics.”
In their YouTube video below, American Life League exposes the contents of this controversial book. Interestingly, the book was found to be inappropriate for inmates! The pornographic cartoon images contained in this book, as described in this article are seen in this video, but have been blurred:
I’m not calling for a book ban or boycott of the book with this article; however, I do feel certain subject matter should not be available to minors, especially those of elementary age, without expressed permission of their parents. This book with its controversial subject matter and pornographic illustrations of the topics falls into that category. It is my intent to educate and promote informed decisions by parents. As always, feedback and thoughts are welcomed in our comments section.