CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 20 . . . .May 25, 2007
The Little Black Book for Girlz: A Book on Healthy Sexuality.
St. Stephen's Community House.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2006.
208 pp., pbk., $9.95.
Sex instruction for girls.
Teenage girls-Sexual behavior.
Teenage girls-Health and hygiene.
Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.
Review by Joanne Peters & Karen Dana.
No matter what age we are, many of us prefer to speak to our peers about experiences we are going through, especially around issues of sex and sexuality. Many young women have expressed to us that there is a lack of material they can relate to on sexuality and relationships. They want something not only aimed at them, but also created by them. Out of this frustration came The Little Black Book for Girlz. The book was created by young women who hung out at the St. Stephen's Community House Youth Arcade Drop-In, in downtown Toronto. As a group we had many discussions about all kinds of different issues. These discussions were very honest and non-judgmental, and the girls wanted sex ed. material that was equally positive and empowering to them. As a group we decided to write our own book that would encourage other young women to learn more about their bodies, their relationship, and their lives.
Over the years, I've had the opportunity to look at a variety of resources on sexuality targeted at a teen readership. The Little Black Book for Girlz is definitely different from most of its type. It has the feel and look of a zine; poems, personal accounts, artwork by the authors, add authenticity to a book written by youth, for youth. As I browsed the book, I was certain that its readers would find it both informative and, dare I say it, entertaining. And, make no mistake about it, the language, emotions, and experiences detailed are frank. The voices are honest and uncensored. Most books on sexuality targeted at teen readers begin with the biology of sex and then move on to the psychology of sex. Perhaps because this book is written by and for young women, it begins with the context in which sexuality issues emerge – within a relationship. Birth control, pregnancy, sexual experience, as well as some of the more dangerous outcomes (sexually transmitted diseases of all sorts, including AIDS, and sexual assault and violence) – all are addressed in the book.
I was fairly certain that this book won't linger on shelves gathering dust, but, when I can, I like to enlist the opinion of someone more expert on the topic than I am. As the social worker at Kelvin High School, Karen Dana works with a wide variety of students, confronting the many challenges of adolescent life. Additionally, she serves on the board of SERC (Sexuality Resource Centre) for Manitoba, and is Kelvin's Staff Advisor for Teen Talk, a peer-support group for high school students needing accurate and honest sexuality information. Karen's response to her
reading of the book is as follows:
The Little Black Book for Girlz is an excellent overview of many of the issues which confront young women today. It is a far cry from the only book I was given when approaching adolescence - Today You Are a Woman - which discussed how to use sanitary pads and belts, and perhaps, if you were really brave, tampons. Girls were ushered into the school library (the guys got to go out and play soccer), saw a film, and that was the extent of my "school-based" family life education. I learned how a girl got pregnant, courtesy of my friend whose older brother had the Rolling Stones' "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" in his record collection (the deed was demonstrated by her, using Barbie and Ken as the models).
But, that was the 1960's, and here we are, in another century. This book offers a frank discussion of the many kinds of questions which are asked of me on a daily basis and for which there are often not easy and accurate answers accessible. Because it is written for young women, by young women, both its language and format are very accessible. It includes sketches, personal stories, a variety of literary modalities, always with very frank questions and answers; at times, you really feel as if you are reading someone's personal journal or sketchbook. Unique to books of its type, The Little Black Book for Girlz focuses on healthy relationships as the basis for the rest of the book; all further topics are explored with this initial topic as the basis for the topic under discussion. Respecting oneself is a key theme within this book, and personal comfort and respect are continually raised in relation to many of the topics covered.
Equally important for a teen-age audience is that it can be read in its entirety or referenced when a particular question needs answering. Reviewing this book made me proud to be Canadian and to recognize how advanced our country is in terms of the kinds of information and services we are offering our young people in the area of sexual and reproductive health. With universal health care, I feel that the supports discussed in the book are not "pie in the sky" dreams and, in fact, are accessible to everyone. As a school social worker, I am constantly looking for books with lists, resources (text and electronic), personal stories – in short, anything that will make it easier for my clients to get the information that they need. This book has it.
Both Karen and I agreed that any school library or school counseling office should purchase more than one copy of the book – it's the kind of work that gets "borrowed" and never comes back. But, we both agreed that a library or a counseling office's loss is a student's gain. So, buy two copies to start and be prepared to lose at least one. At the price, it's a bargain. Finally, be prepared, also, for someone to challenge you on just why you have such an item in your library. Someone is going to wonder what nice 16-year-old girl needs a book on healthy sexuality, anyway?
Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB. Karen Dana who is with the Child Guidance Centre in Winnipeg School Division is the social worker for Kelvin High School.
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