Do you have parts of your body you like to hide?
Do you have parts you like to show?
Is it okay to call someone sexy?
When is touching okay and not okay?
Are these questions for children? There are some adults who wrestle with these. But that’s partly what’s glorious about Cory Silverberg’s Sex is a Funny Word, the follow-up to the cheery sex-ed book What Makes a Baby? — the way the book deals with how questions about gender and sexuality evolve throughout our lives is direct and friendly. These are ideas that need to be explored long before and long after one mere Grade 8 sex-ed course, no matter how many neurotic parents may disagree.
Sex is a Funny Word is billed as “a book about bodies, feelings and YOU” and it’s a marvel of calm and clear teaching of awkward subjects. Children are shown the path of developing sexuality without judgment or hurry, joined by charming multi-hued kids named Zai, Cooper, Mimi and Omar. Silverberg’s tone is unfailingly positive, warm and rational as the book covers different kinds of bodies, relationships, touches and feelings.
“Sexy means different things to different people. One person may think something or someone is sexy, and another person may not.”
As with the previous baby book, the most revolutionary thing about Silverberg’s book is its gentle gender-neutrality, discussing differences between girl and boy bodies while also including trans and intersex bodies in the mix because all of them are natural.
“Most boys are born with a penis and scrotum, and most girls are born with a vulva, vagina, and clitoris,” Silverberg writes, “But having a penis isn’t what makes you a boy. Having a vulva isn’t what makes you a girl. The truth is much more interesting than that!” It’s amazing to see this in a children’s book when one considers the number of adults having trouble with this.
But the success of this book isn’t due to Silverberg alone. As with What Makes a Baby? artist Fiona Smyth brings her vibrant and expressive drawings to great effect. The bright colours clashing throughout the book are immediately appealing while reinforcing the theme of diversity. Here, people are literally found in every colour and the overall effect is playful and inspiring.
I’ll be curious to see how many school libraries adopt Silverberg and Smyth’s latest, given the ongoing controversy of teaching about gay, lesbian and trans families. The book feels transgressive yet utterly essential, and it’s exciting to imagine a new generation of kids raised with such joyous, non-judgmental rationality.