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Growing up can be a difficult thing for children. There are things you have to prepare your child for and sometimes it can be hard to do it all on your own.
I have quite strong feelings about being open with my daughter after my childhood experiences with my own mother, who was unable to express to me and my sister what growing up entailed and direct questions were invariably met with answers such as "it's a long story" or "I'm busy right now".
As a result when my periods started I had no real idea what was happening to me and only knew they actually were periods because of some talk I had picked up on in the playground a few months before. Similarly when the time came for me to get a bra, this was dealt with in a way that made me feel embarrassed - although possibly not quite as embarrassed as my mother.
I didn't want this for my daughter - she is very immature compared to her peers due to her autism and I was worried about her being terrified of the way her body would change so I decided early on to always be open to her if she asked questions.
I enquired on some parenting forums I was on at the time if there were any decent books out there for 8 or 9 year old girls explaining what the future would hold for them in terms that were both easy to understand and also unlikely to scare a child.
An online friend of mine in the US recommended this book to me - it is from the American Girl Library - American Girl being a store which sells incredible dolls and pushes good role models on young girls. I have visited the American Girl stores with my daughter in Chicago and New York and liked the ethos of the company but more than this I trusted my friend's judgement.
Not long afterwards I was back in the US on holiday and I picked this book up for my daughter to read, and so, at the age of 8, she received her copy of "The Care and Keeping of You".
~~The Book and my Thoughts~~
The book is a fairly large paperback, full of colourful illustrations and explains, in very simple language, what girls can expect as they grow older.
There are seven sections, covering different parts of the body and the mind, which was something I particularly liked. It's not often you get a book aimed at 8 or 9 year olds which considers feelings and how emotional health contributes to your overall wellbeing.
Make no mistake however - this book is not about sex education - in fact sex is not mentioned in this book at all, even in the chapter about periods, and boyfriends do not feature either. In light of the fact this book is aimed at young girls and to prepare them for changes yet to come, I think this is the right approach.
The book however isn't all about periods - in fact periods only take up a fraction of the book as the main tenet is "the body guide for girls", so there's lots of information about taking care of yourself.
The book explains the importance of good personal hygiene, how to cope with spots, how you might feel if you need braces in the future and of course what to expect as your chest grows and you need a bra. It then offers tips on how to choose the best bra and the importance of a good fitting one.
My daughter was particularly taken by the chapter which covers food and nutrition, and I must admit I liked how it explained clearly the benefits of certain vitamins to your diet. The book also tackles bulimia and anorexia in very simple terms and praises the virtue of a healthy diet and regular exercise as part of your routine.
There is nothing threatening about this book at all - the drawings are quite simplistic, almost cartoonish in style, and they show the changes a girl can expect in her body in a way that shouldn't scare or worry her.
Even the section which explains how to insert a tampon is done sensitively and I particularly like how the book tells girls not to be disgusted by something that is completely natural and something every girl will have to cope with.
Pubic hair and hair on other parts of the body is discussed too, again done in such a way as to help a child appreciate it is perfectly natural and absolutely nothing to be afraid of.
Everything is done in quite logical steps - so when puberty is discussed periods follow on after pubic hair is mentioned and it all flows very simply and naturally, meaning there are no major shocks for girls in the book.
American Girl do seem to push the message that girls need to take care of their bodies and respect them - which is a good message for young girls to grasp at an early age, but they also consider the fact that when it comes to people there is no "one size fits all" way to be and they explain clearly to young girls that everyone is different and there is no "right" way to look, so long as you are taking care of yourself.
The section on feelings and emotions is particularly useful and it explains the importance of being a good friend, how to cope with conflicting emotions and how important it is to learn to control some feelings, such as anger, as you grow older. Peer pressure is discussed too, along with the importance of resisting this sometimes.
The only thing I could cite as a minor disadvantage in this book is the fact it is clearly written by an American, for Americans but this is only really evident in the food section where imperial measures are used when setting good guidelines for food. Obviously American English is used throughout the book too. Neither of these things bother me, but I think it's fair to point them out.
My daughter has had this book for nearly five years now and it's looking dogeared and very well read, which is visual proof I suppose of how successful it has been for her. She has returned to it many times and has taken a lot of the information and advice on board, and has been well prepared for the changes she has experienced in her body in the past year as a result of owning it.
I wouldn't suggest this book be used in place of good old fashioned parental advice, but it's a wonderful book to use in conjuction with this advice and help take some of the fear of change out of the equation when you are discussing these things with your daughter.
I have been asked many questions about things such as bras, periods and shaving underarm hair by my daughter both before she read this book and then many times afterwards.
That to me shows how much use this book has been for her as she has grown and as a result I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending this book to the parent of any pre-teen daughter to help them prepare for the changes puberty will bring.
Available on Amazon for £4.43.