In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Do tadpoles lead to the birds and the bees?

Dear Aunt Debbie,

I love the image of your new store, all those books waiting to be discovered by kids and parents.  Sounds like a busy, fun time.

This week, Eleanor picked up a book at the library called Growing Frogs, by Vivian French.  It's part of a series put out by Candlewick Press (they have such good taste) called "Read, Listen, & Wonder": the narrative is meant to teach a bunch of interesting facts, and the book comes with a CD containing both a read-aloud version and a bunch of extra facts, in this case about frogs.

Perhaps it's my English-teacher-fiction-loving heart, but I didn't expect to like this book as much as I do.  It's quite charming: the story of a girl who lives near a pond and her mom, who teaches her how to take frog spawn out of the pond, bring it home, and grow tadpoles in a fish tank.  (There are many clear instructions on how to do this without hurting the pond or the tadpoles.)  When the frogs get big enough, the girl and her mom return them to the pond.  There are clear, readable explanations of all the stages of tadpole-to-frog development, including a few bits in smaller font that add to the narrative without being exactly part of the story: "Tadpoles have gills on the outside of their bodies at first.  Then they grow gills inside their bodies, and the outside ones disappear."  It's enough to make you want to go out and get some frog spawn -- if, you know, you didn't live in the middle of a city.

One of the extra-informational bits in this book explains the process of fertilization: "Male frogs croak to attract female frogs for mating.  Mating occurs when the male frog covers the female's eggs with his sperm.  A tadpole will only grow if an egg joins with a sperm -- this joining is called fertilization."  Reading this aloud to Eleanor last night, I wondered if it was going to spark questions about how babies are made -- I was very aware that it was the first time I'd introduced her to the word "sperm."  She hasn't picked up on it yet, and probably won't in this context, but it gave me a moment of Huh, I wonder when and how the sex conversation is going to happen.

I'd just finished reading a very funny article by Jill Lepore in the Oct. 18 New Yorker magazine on the subject: a round-up of several new How to Explain Sex to Kids books.  As far as I remember, we never had any of them in the house growing up.  My dad enlightened me on the facts of life when my mom got pregnant with Michael -- I was 3 1/2, about Eleanor's age, and can actively remember being embarrassed by the conversation.  But I was never misinformed.  Still, I remember friends talking about having childhood sex-ed books (including one pop-up book, which just seems like a bad idea).  What's your take on this genre, animal husbandry or human sexuality-wise?

Love, Annie

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