The Change. The Talk. Down There. It all sounds so ominous. But it doesn’t have to be. Depending on your own comfort level with the topic of puberty — which can sometimes segue into discussions of sex and sexuality — there are plenty of books that will help you and your tween daughter or son muddle through armed with facts, funny anecdotes, and a good dose of tender loving care and reassurance. (In general, these books are meant for girls and/or boys ages 8 to 12 or so, unless otherwise noted.)
Just when I was trying to rid my home of all things American Girl, our pediatrician recommended The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Younger Girls for my then 9-year-old daughter. I looked at her like, REALLY?! She smiled back, REALLY! It’s possible I rolled my eyes in a manner more befitting my child than me, the aging mom.
That said, I was surprised how well the book was received. I found it, months later, stuffed in a drawer with sticky notes affixed throughout. This first book is meant for girls at the earlier end of the pre-pubescent spectrum — ages 8 and up — and covers basics (“from hair care to healthy eating, bad breath to bras, periods to pimples, and everything in between”).
For girls 10 and older, there’s The Care and Keeping of You 2 — which delves deeper into periods, puberty, and peer pressure, though all from a very safe and sanitized POV. (Discussions of sex and sexuality are notably absent.) If American Girl is a motivator in your household, there’s also a slew of other relevant titles that address other aspects of this age group, including Is This Normal?, The Feelings Book, and the latest in the series, Your Happiest You.
Not to leave out the other half the tween population, Dr. Cara Natterson — the expert behind the updated Care and Keeping of You series — put together a puberty guide just for boys. As Natterson told Time, “The girl changes are quite obvious, especially at the beginning of puberty. As a result, we have gotten really good at talking to our girls about what’s happening ... We have really not done that for our boys." So, this is body hair and B.O., acne, braces, plus an “erection section,” and stuff on emotions. In keeping with the companion American Girl series for girls, there’s no discussion of sex. And this book doesn’t bear the American Girl branding, so as not to taint it for a male audience.
The "What's Happening to My Body?" Book for Boys (Revised Edition) and The "What's Happening to My Body?" Book for Girls (Revised Edition)
Much like the American Girl puberty books, there’s a whole series by Lynda Madaras to dig into — starting with titles for younger kids, Ready, Set, Grow!: A "What's Happening to My Body?" Book for Younger Girls and On Your Mark, Get Set, Grow!: A "What's Happening to My Body?" Book for Younger Boys.
The books, 12 in all, all hail from her bestselling classic, The "What’s Happening to My Body?" Book for Girls, which was first published in 1983 and has since been selected as a Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association. The tone — described as “sensitive straight talk” — makes these books accessible, even when talking about delicate topics like masturbation or AIDS.
Additional titles include the more activity-oriented (think quizzes, journal pages) My Body, My Self for Girls and My Body, My Self for Boys and, refreshingly, titles in Spanish, Que pasa en mi cuerpo? El libro para muchachas and Que pasa en mi cuerpo? El libro para muchachos.
Author Karen Gravelle enlisted her then-15-year-old niece Jennifer to put together this menstruation-focused puberty book for girls, which has now been in print for more than two decades. The updated 2017 version includes a more holistic approach to puberty, and more modern topics, including braces, bras, shaving, and social media. Publishers Weekly called the guide “accessible” while Booklist says it’s “warm and positive” — all attributes you’d want for a gentle guide to this major milestone in life. Like the previous series in this list, it’s illustrated.
As she did with The Period Book, Gravelle consulted with real live preteen boys to make this friendly guide to puberty resonate with that audience — and updated it this year to include things like social media and consent. Says Booklist, there’s “great cartoon artwork that adds fine comedy without compromising the importance of the subject.”
For a more direct, yet still age-appropriate and friendly, approach that includes the sexual side of puberty, there’s the classic It’s Perfectly Normal. When I first started asking around for resources to have “the talk,” this was the resounding winner. It’s more than 20 years old now, and the illustrations (of fully-naked people, mind you) still have that quirky ‘70s vibe, but it’s gone through a recent update and, at its core, it remains a refreshingly straightforward book about sex, sexuality, puberty, emotions, and relationships — including topics like sexually transmitted infects, what it means to be transgender, and the potential consequences of having sex. And it works for both boys and girls.
Like the American Girl series, there are other titles by Harris that help explain all things birds and bees, particularly for younger kids, including It’s So Amazing! and It’s Not the Stork! and Who Has What?
Most of the puberty books listed thus far have been in print for decades — long enough to have been updated more than once for our rapidly changing, modern audience. HelloFlo: The Guide, Period. is one of the few brand-new tomes out there. The tone is fresh, frank, funny; the content is, as any book in this genre should be, first and foremost fact-based. Anecdotes from real girls capture the reality of puberty — including the emotional stuff that underpins it all. This book sounds like the people I know — and the people I want my daughter to know. And there’s a clear effort to bring a little diversity to the conversation, too.
For a slightly older, 12+ audience, and translated from German, Does This Happen to Everyone? takes 70 top questions that adolescents have — and it answers them. The tone is light, but factual, and the visuals — think seeds and grass standing in for peach fuzz, and fruit and flowers standing in for budding breast and pubic hair — feel modern and playful. (For a preview, check this video.)
Helms is also the writer behind My Body: Explained and Illustrated, a gorgeously illustrated book that’s anatomically correct and suitable for younger children.
Much in the way people leave dictionaries on the counter in case someone in the house is stumped by a word, you can leave this hefty tome lying around in case there are questions about any part of the puberty process. Help Your Kids with Adolescence is comprehensive — everything from money management to coming out. Says GeekDad, “Every page of the book… creates a welcoming and familiar atmosphere for learning about a potentially intimidating subject.”
What other books have been great resources for you and your family?