It’s been a minute since I’ve done a book review, but I was listening to recent episode of the podcast Sex Gets Real, hosted by my friend Dawn Serra and she interviewed author Anastasia Higginbotham about her series of children’s books, “Ordinary Terrible Things”. As I listened to Anastasia describe the series, it sounded right up my alley, so I promptly ordered all of her books. They arrived a few days later, and I was not disappointed. Read on to learn more about this remarkable series. Or if you prefer, you can watch the video review here:
“Ordinary Terrible Things” help kids and their families explore some of the more complex realities of life, bodies and relationships. Currently, there are three books in the series: Divorce Is The Worst; Death Is Stupid; and Tell Me About Sex, Grandma.
As adults, we know that difficult emotional experiences like death and the end of a relationship can be painful. Even sex, which can be wonderful, can also be really intense and overwhelming and in sometimes harmful. As parents, many of us have strong protective instincts. We want to shield our kids from pain and as a result, we might avoid talking to them about complex topics like sexuality, the end of a relationship or the death of a loved one.
As a parent, what I appreciate about these books is that they remind me that my kid lives in the same world that I do. He has a child’s context, but he does see what’s going on in our home, our community in the world. And just like me, he has reactions and thoughts and feelings about all of it.
I also appreciate that Ordinary Terrible Things, validate children’s feelings. It lets them know that it’s okay to be angry or sad. It lets them know that It’s okay to be curious and that their questions are valid. It also lets them know sometimes grown-ups - even the grown-up who love them - get it wrong.
The whole series is lit, but I want to dive more specifically into Tell Me About Sex, Grandma.
Now, if you know me you know that I don’t think sex is terrible and after listening to Anastasia’s podcast interview, I’m confident that she doesn’t either. Anastasia explained that what’s tough and confusing about sex for many kids is that it’s everywhere in our culture - it’s in the music they hear, it’s on billboards, magazine covers and all over the internet. And yet, it’s also something that adults try to hide from kids. We don’t talk about it much. Anastasia believes that those social contradictions around sex can be very confusing for children, and give sex this sort of mysterious power. Tell Me About Sex, Grandma doesn’t go very deep into penises and vaginas and the biology of sex. It’s a story told from the point of view of a child who wants to know why most grown-ups won’t talk about sex. The child goes to Grandma and basically says, “This is super weird, no one will tell me anything. Can you explain what’s up with sex?”
Grandma reassures her grandchild that it’s normal to be curious about sexuality. She explains that sexuality is part of us; that we learn about it over time as we grow. She says that some things we learn when we’re younger; and others we discover when we’re adult. She also explains that certain aspects of sexuality are private and are only for the people involved. Grandma also talks about consent and how each of us has a body that belongs to us. She explains that as we grow, we learn more about what we like and don’t like and that each of us gets to decide those things for ourselves.
Anastasia Higginbotham also illustrates her books as well. The pages are photographs of mixed media collages done with magazine and fabric and bits of paper. It gives the pages a dynamic, textural quality and there’s something about the handmade aesthetic that creates a feeling of intimacy. I kind of felt like Anastasia had made the book just for me.
I also appreciate that Tell Me About Sex, Grandma is the focus on extended family.
There’s often a bond between the oldest and youngest generation in a family. My kid has a very close relationship with his Zadie, that’s very different than the one he has we me and his dad. There are also many kids whose grandparents are their primary caregivers or whose grandparents are part of their extended family home.
Anyway, I highly recommend Tell Me About Sex, Grandma and the other books in this series. If you’d like to check them out, hit up your local library or order them here. You can also check out Anastasia Higginbotham’s website. She’s going to be adding more books to this series that cover racism, same-sex relationships and more!
If you have a favourite book about sexuality, families or relationships you’d like me to review, let me know in the comments below!