Review by Anne Rudbeck
“It can be hard to talk about sexuality, but we have to try!”
Frida Nøddebo Nyrup’s book about Elba, who learns about penises and vulvas- and much more – is a refreshing contribution to the still very limited stack of children’s books about children’s sexuality; especially because tabooing children’s sexual curiosity and doctor games is non-existent in the book – and we need that!
When you teach gender, sexuality and diversity in a teacher education, you know that the development of sexuality (still!) has hard conditions at children’s level. This knowledge stems from a search of existing literature and research in the field, as well as from the students, who report from their internships in the Danish institutions, that children’s sexual development and curiosity are still taboo in many places. The consequence of this may be that children grow up with a view of sexuality as something to be diverted and hidden away, which can give them a distant relationship to their own body and sexuality – and this is not acceptable to anyone.
Frida Nøddebo Nyrup obviously has the same experience and therefore she has written a book for kindergarten- and school children, where you follow the girl Elba in an exciting story that explores the developing sexuality of children. The children also learn to understand each other’s bodies, anatomy and boundaries and they get help to understand the societal norms we have around sex, sexual curiosity and the difference between adult and child sexuality. Here, it is worth mentioning that precisely this distinction between adult and child sexuality IS there – and it is marked – but often the two are equated. This may be the reason why many adults still bend their toes and are confused when children play doctor games in the pillow room or rock back and forth on a sofa back in preschool class.
The book begins with a preface, where the author encourages you as a professional / adult to talk with children about sexuality on several different levels via a dialogue circle, which illustrates ways in which you can talk with children about sexuality – this is elaborated in the postscript of the book. The preface is followed by a story about the child Elba, who becomes curious about her vulva, and how you can get nice feelings inside of it by cuddling with a feather or pouring sand on it, which Elba does in the company of her friend from the daycare institution. Along the way, Elba’s parents contribute with an anatomy book, and the educator Anton supplements by helping the children how to delimitate and how to listen to each other.
All chapters in the book are followed by questions for inspiration, and for the slightly older children the language is easy to read, so they can read the book themselves and possibly answer in writing. Here I am tempted to mention the current debate about primary school sex education, where teachers express that they feel ill equipped for the task of sex education – here “Elba’s Little ABC For Sex Education” can be an important contribution to the talk about boundaries, (differences on) the body and what feels nice. In other words, the book has a great didactic potential, and is for both kindergarten- and school-teachers a useful tool in a conversation, which can be quite difficult.
The illustrations in the book are quite fine, and the anatomy part is very authentic. A nice detail is the teddy bear turtle, Sheldon, which as a cozy and recognizable element, accompanies Elba’s adventures. Some might call it inappropriate that it is Elba’s father who at some point holds a mirror, so Elba can see her vulva. However, I parry with a question / perspective of equality in mind: why don´t we feel that the father can talk with Elba about the anatomy of the body, as well as the mother can?
In the postscript, the reader / adult is invited to a historical outline of the view on children’s sexuality – here one suddenly better understands why sexuality can still be difficult to talk about, and also the reasons why our educators sometimes experience cross pressure between their professional knowledge and society’s views on children’s sexuality. In the postscript, a better understanding is also gained of the development of sexuality, and how and why prohibitions, humiliations and taboos of sexuality in childhood can inhibit (not to say destroy) adult sexuality.
A funny little detail in the postscript are the little stories about the view on children’s sexuality elsewhere in the world. Those stories contribute to my assumption that our view on children’s sexuality has its origins in some discursive and normative understandings of sexuality, which this book tries to break away from, using an invitation to dialogue about the natural and completely normal aspect of children’s sexual curiosity. Thank you Frida – it will be a fixed part of the curriculum in the future.
Anne Fricke Rudbeck
Master of Educational Anthropology
Tel. 00 +45 72665083