Saturday, March 30, 2019

Review - Under Our Clothes: Our First Talk About Our Bodies

Under Our Clothes: Our First Talk About Our Bodies
by Jillian Roberts
illustrated by Jane Heinrichs
Date: 2019
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book non-fiction
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

This illustrated nonfiction picture book by child psychologist Dr. Jillian Roberts introduces children to the topics of bodies, body safety and body image through a conversation-based story that begins with an observation at the community pool. Modesty, privacy and boundaries are discussed, along with how self-image is formed and how some people are more sensitive than others--sometimes at different stages in their lives. Relevant themes around body shaming, body positivity and self-esteem building are explored, with a final call to action empowering children to build their own confidence and speak up when something doesn't feel right.

The World Around Us series introduces children to complex cultural, social and environmental issues that they may encounter outside the comfort of their homes, in a way that is straightforward and accessible. Sidebars offer further reading for older children who have bigger questions or care providers looking for more information. For younger children, the simple question-and-answer format of the main text will provide a foundation of knowledge on the subject matter.

This is the newest title in The World Around Us series, following books that address poverty, tragedy, prejudice and online awareness and environmental stewardship.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'm not sure about this one. I might recommend it, but with some caveats. I don't know if it's really the sort of book you can just hand to a kid without further engagement on the subject, as there are some things that could be potentially confusing.

The layout and question-and-answer format is well done, and helps present the information in an easy-to-read way. The first part of the book is probably the strongest, as it talks about concepts such as modesty, privacy, and consent... although there could be confusion on that last point. The book continually reinforces the fact that our bodies are our own, and we have a say about who gets to touch them. Unfortunately, this is somewhat confusingly negated when the book states that sometimes people like doctors need to look at or touch your private parts. I can see how this could be potentially confusing for a child. You've just been told that you're allowed to determine who touches your body, based on whether or not you feel comfortable... and then you're told to ignore those feelings because it's a doctor. Feelings are feelings, and while medical exams can be important, this contradictory message could be very confusing for the target audience. It's basically asking kids to say no if they're feeling uncomfortable... but only if the person isn't in a position of authority. (I'm not really faulting the author for this. I don't know the right answer here. I'm just saying the message could be confusing.)

The second part of the book is a little weaker for me. It focuses mostly on body image and self-esteem. I was given numerous books on the subject when I was a kid, and none of them ever helped much. We can't expect a book to counteract all the social and cultural body-image damage that's being done on a daily basis through our media and social interactions. I like that body shaming is defined, but knowing what it is doesn't exactly help a person deal with it.

Finally, the message of being comfortable in the body you have is good in principle, but it kind of ignores people who might not feel comfortable with their body because of gender issues. Would this book be okay for cisgender kids? Yes. For transgender kids? Probably not. Passing mention is made of gender issues in a little blurb on bathrooms, but there's really nothing about body acceptance and self-esteem for kids who are transgender, gender-fluid, etc.

So... would I recommend this one? Possibly. The first part of the book is pretty universal and covers some important topics. But the fact that the second part of the book relies so heavily on cisgender norms to promote body acceptance means that it's not going to be appropriate for everyone. Use your own discretion when giving this book to a child.

Thank you to NetGalley and Orca Book Publishers for providing a digital ARC.

Premise: 3/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

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