I’m sure there are many books on the market today for explaining this question to a preschooler, but I stumbled across an old one at my local library: Where Do Babies Come From? – written by Margaret Sheffield & illustrated by Sheila Bewley. It is beautifully illustrated with artful paintings – not at all cutesy or cartoonish as some books do.
The book explains the different “parts” that make up a boy and a girl in a straight forward yet discreet way, and doesn’t bog you down with too many technical terms or explanations. It uses language appropriate and easy to understand for a young child. For instance, the man’s testicles contain a “special liquid” that holds sperm. A woman’s body contains eggs that are located “near the womb.”
In addition to the technicalities, the book is also a good story. It feels light, and airy, and magical. Each page contains only one short paragraph – just right for holding a small child’s attention. From the point in the story when “the man [is] lying so close to the woman that his penis can fit into her vagina,” through the baby’s growth in the womb, to a loving portrait of a baby coming out of the woman’s vagina, the author is telling a story as if she is the mother and you are the curious child. It lays the ground work for you as the parent to fill in any gaps as you see necessary. And the pictures are beautiful, and provoke questions and intrigue.
My daughter was in awe as I read it to her, and when I was finished she looked through the book again, explaining back to me what was happening in all the pictures. Then? She slept with it under her pillow – the highest honor bestowed on any object.
One thing that cracked me up was when I read, “It’s impossible to tell whether a baby is a boy or a girl while it is still in the womb.” What?! That made me check the publication date: 1973! But though it’s an older book, it’s approach remains strong and true. Sheffield writes a book that is as innocent as its intended audience.
As a naive first time parent, I honestly didn’t think I needed to explain these things at such an early age. Then I read this post on Christa’s blog a year ago about a lecture she attended on the importance of teaching preschoolers the basics of sexuality, and it really made sense to me. Christa writes:
The first thing that kind of “got” me was when she said that our kids should know the basics of how babies are made by age 5…that stunned me until she reminded us that by that age, they are entering school with older kids who are going to tell them all sorts of things about sex, right and wrong and she reminded us that at that age, its all about the science there is no emotion behind it for them yet…I was quickly reminded of the 7 or 8 year old boy from church that told me how babies were made when I was about 6, and boy was he wrong. I really want my kids to know the “real” scoop, from Mark and I, not some kid on the playground.
Another book we checked out from the library is, It’s Not the Stork! by Robie H. Harris. In contrast to the other, this book was published only a couple years ago, and is illustrated like a cartoon. But it contains more information than just the story of one man and one woman making a baby. This book contains other important information such as “good touch vs bad touch,” which teaches kids what to do and say if someone touches them in their private parts. It also discusses how babies are born by C-Section, and how families are made through adoption.
The only thing about It’s Not the Stork! I don’t like is it’s length and the amount of detail it includes. Okay, technically that’s two things I don’t like. For instance, I really don’t think a 5 year old needs to know what her clitoris is. I’m not saying I live with my head in the sand, but I’m much more in favor of handing out information on a need to know basis, if you know what I mean.
It’s a thorough book containing charts of labeled body parts, but there’s so much information to digest I’m not sure a 3-5 year old is going to sit still for the entire thing. This one would be much better read in various sittings, which is easy enough to do since it’s divided into many “chapters.”
When I searched my library there were dozens of books on this subject, and I’m sure if I search Amazon there would be hundreds. What I found interesting is the wide variety of information and approach. Some books were very specific about every little detail, others were more vague. Some had entire pages filled with text that I was sure I wouldn’t have the attention span to read, much less a preschooler.
I discovered the important thing is to prepare yourself by reading the books ahead of time, pick one or two that fit the personality and learning style of your child, and that contain the information you – as the parent – find important. To be honest, reading the book was mostly my way of getting over the hump. I’m sure we’ll be talking about how babies are made all the time, now, at the ZugHaus.
What about you? What children’s books about making babies, building families, and the differences between girls and boys have you found? I’d love to hear from you in the comments, or write your own blog post and link to it from here.