March 11, 2013
There are a lot of books out there that explain the facts of life. Why did you want to write one?
Partly because I disagree with the facts as they are usually presented! The“facts of life”usually mean the facts of only some people’s lives, and really they end up meaning the facts of some idealized life that no one actually lives. So I wanted to write a book for kids about where they came from that would more closely represent the actual story. I’d like to think this is the book Mrs. G would write.
What Makes a Baby is surprisingly funny in parts (I hadn’t ever thought of the uterus as funny before your book). Was it important to you to make the book humorous?
I wanted to write a book that both adults and kids would actually want to read. So much sex education is well meaning but has a feel of required reading to it. Parents often approach this topic with anxiety and I wanted to give them something that would make them laugh and hopefully relax a bit, since young children don’t have anxiety about this topic at all. They learn it from us!
You’ve described the book as a social justice approach to sex education. Can you explain what you mean by that?
Well a social justice frame is about, among other things, not centering one experience because it’s the most common, or easiest to explain, or simply because it’s the experience of people with the most power and privilege. In concrete terms that meant not starting with intercourse. Interestingly, once you decide to shift the center of the story (in this case from intercourse to the desire to make a baby however it’s made) a whole range of new possibilities present themselves. And so what the book does is teach the very basics about what one needs to make a baby, what all of us need to be made, and then it asks the parent or adult reader to do some of the work, filling in as much or as little detail on the unique story of that child’s conception, gestation, and birth, as they like.
A second social justice element to this book is that I don’t give all the answers. Which is appropriate. It’s not for me to say how or why every child is born. We need to give parents and caregivers flexible and fun tools so they can tell their own stories. At the same time I want to encourage us to tell children some stories about what connects us to each other.
Storytelling is a theme that runs through the book, you describe the egg and sperm as meeting and telling their stories to each other, DNA is, in the world of What makes a Baby, a series of stories about bodies. What is it about storytelling that you find so compelling when talking about baby making?
Everything is story telling. Baby making is storytelling. When it comes to things related to our bodies and sexuality we have a tendency to think of them as somehow“natural”and fixed, more true then, say, our values or beliefs. But they aren’t. Our bodies, even at the cellular level, are influenced by our environment, our communities, our culture, and our planet. One way we compartmentalize sexuality and reproduction is by teaching our children and ourselves that it’s something different from the rest of life. I don’t see it that way. I want kids to grow up knowing that the world is full of stories, and they are full of stories, and they have a right to hear stories that reflect their experience and write their own stories, not just about how they feel, but about who they are.
What do you say to parents who think learning about eggs and sperm is something to discuss with an older child, not a preschooler?
Sex educators, like myself, say all the time that sex education is a lifelong endeavor. It’s not one talk you have with your kids it’s thousands. And it’s never too early to start, as long as one is following the child’s lead. One of the most important aspects of What Makes a Baby is that it allows both child and adult to enjoy a story and only dig deeper if there are questions and there is comfort answering the questions.
Having said that, there’s nothing inappropriate about explaining, in a way that makes sense to a 3 or 4 year old, the basics of conception, gestation, and birth. In the best-case scenario, these are beautiful stories about love and family and identity. The way you would share them with your five year old will be different then the way you’ll share them with your ten year old. But kids need stories at every age and stage of their lives.
What is the one most important thing a child should know about their birth?
I wish I could say that they were wanted and they are loved. Unfortunately that’s not always the case. But hopefully every child has someone in their life who loves them and is happy they were born. That’s about as close to a universal message as I could come up with; you are here, you are beautiful, and I’m glad you were born.
You’re writing two more books about sexuality for older children. As a sex educator you probably see a lot of misinformation out there. What do you hope to accomplish with this trilogy?
I’m not, by nature, very self-confident or self-assured. And to be honest I don’t really like to take up a lot of space. Having said that, my answer to this has to be that what I hope to accomplish is a complete re-imagining of how we talk about reproduction, sexuality, and gender with young children.
For further information or to arrange an interview with Cory, please contact Ruth Weiner at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.sevenstories.com/trianglesquarewww.sevenstories.com/trianglesquare or www.what-makes-a-baby.comwww.what-makes-a-baby.com.
What Makes a Baby – $16.95 – Pub Date: May 7, 2013 –