January 07, 2012

The Body Book

If you were my age then there is a chance you may have seen one of the best young children's educational books of the time. Lots of my friends reminisce fondly about The Body Book.

When helping my dad clear out a pile of junk 30 years deep in our our garage, I found this lying somewhere near the bottom and my heart leapt. I had to take it home to share it with the world and remind those of you who may remember it from your own childhood.

The Body Book is for young children: probably 6 - 10 years. It's a comprehensive, friendly but no-nonsense guide to the ins-and-out of the human body.

Every process in the body is explained in terms or the organs and body parts involved. It uses simple language, but does not condescend to its young audience - it's not afraid to go into detail about the slightly more complex actions inside the organs, like explaining what happens when you hear your stomach rumbling or how germs make you ill and what the body does to fight back.

It also breaks down the structure of the body into bones, muscles and skin in an attempt to explain how we move and stand and function, starting with the lovely opening, "Skeletons aren't scary. There is one inside you."

"Why do you have bones? (...) If you didn't have bones, you'd be as floppy as a jelly. Why do you have so many? So you can move about. If you had one big bone ... you'd be as stiff as a scarecrow."

It's just wonderfully readable and yet incredibly informative. It made the body easy to understand and gave me, as a young child, a confidence in its weirdness and a happiness in my understanding.

But it didn't just cover the biological make-up of your body. It covered emotional responses, too.

The "Thinking and Feeling" chapter explains how the brain is responsible for controlling your body - how simple actions such as taking off a shoe involves communication between the brain and the body parts that need to do the action. It explores how we emotionally respond to things and how that is all a natural phenomenon by running the young reader through an imaginary scenario where their mother disappears, but it turns out they only popped next door. It's clever.

It's not afraid to delve into evolutionary theory if it ever needs to explain the strange things the body does:

A lot of people remember The Body Book from the naked people. The book isn't afraid to show naked people changing through puberty to adulthood and detail all the changes they can expect to go through. It may have been through this book that I first understood the female body, I'm not sure.

And it doesn't stop with naked bodies - it dives right into sex as well, explaining cell-division, sperms and eggs and exactly how those sperms and eggs get together in the first place.

It's a little strange how it called a penis a "penis" but a vagina a "baby-making hole". I'm sure a lot of women will see it as a little more than that. Maybe that explains why I've never found a word for vagina I've felt happy with. OK, so the book isn't perfect. I hope little girls didn't grow up thinking of themselves as baby factories.

Lastly, it explains death. Yes, "Nobody lasts forever", it explains before leading us through the process of slowing down and dying.

 It explains funerals and grieving and even explains how bodies become a part of the earth once more. It ends on a positive note, explaining how we learn from our parents and grandparents and pass on that knowledge to our children and grandchildren so, through knowledge, people live on. Which is nice.

I love The Body Book. It's great. Apart from the 'baby-making hole' it never tries to pigeon-hole people into "husbands" and "wives" and doesn't bring spirituality or God into it. The book is from 1978 so maybe it wasn't ready to tackle the spectra of sexuality and gender identity so maybe that's what's due now.

The east Asian girl in the ginger family is never explained.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I remember this! yes, 'baby making hole' isn't a term I would use either...


Please try not to be a complete loser when commenting.