Each month, we ask one distinguished author or illustrator to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!
Twenty Years Later:
Still Challenging—Still Engaging—Still Relevant
For the past twenty years, people have been asking me how I came to write It’s Perfectly Normal: A Book about Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health (Candlewick, 1994). It all began when an editor asked if I would be interested in writing a book for preteens and teens about AIDS. At the time, I didn’t know enough about AIDS to write a responsible book about the disease. But I surprised myself when I answered that what I would write was a comprehensive book that would answer almost every question this audience had about sexual health.
It would include the most up-to-date, scientifically accurate, and psychologically and age-appropriate information kids needed to know and/or wanted to know about sex to make healthy decisions, including information on HIV/AIDS. I also said that “writing honest” would matter, and that this meant not leaving out anything—in text or art.
What I didn’t know on the subject, I learned. Over the next few months I surveyed dozens of experts in the fields of child development, pediatrics, puberty and adolescence, reproduction, biology, gender, sexual orientation, and genetics. I also spoke to parents, librarians, teachers, healthcare professionals, and clergy. I asked them all the same question: “When it comes to sexual health, what information do kids and teens need to know to stay healthy and safe?” I also questioned my family and friends, which resulted in several anecdotes that I wove into the text. And it’s the same question I asked when I began books for younger children, including It’s So Amazing! A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families (Candlewick, 1999).
Once I had the information I needed, I began to write It’s Perfectly Normal. But presenting the facts in my voice, while it mattered, wasn’t enough. The voices of children needed to be heard. One day, the idea of two cartoon characters, BIRD and BEE, popped into my head. I saw the BIRD as the child who wants to know the answer to almost every question about sexuality and puberty—and the BEE as the kid who thinks that all of “this stuff about sex” is gross, but becomes fascinated by the science. My hope was that readers would identify with the duo and be drawn into the text. Once my draft and Michael Emberley’s art were finished, experts vetted both for accuracy. (The moment I saw Emberly’s pitch-perfect drawings I knew we were a team.)
Each time It’s Perfectly Normal and It’s So Amazing! have been reprinted, I’ve spent a chunk of time going back to find out what needed to be updated and asked the same question I did years ago. Fast forward to September 9th, 2014, the publication date of the 20th anniversary edition of It’s Perfectly Normal and the 15th anniversary edition of It’s So Amazing! I spent nearly a year writing, rewriting, and talking with experts, while Michael Emberley was busy creating new and updated art where it was needed. It’s been challenging and fascinating.
Recently I’ve been asked what’s it’s like to work on a book that I began decades ago. The answer: for me, all books are works in progress. And since kids and teens are still reading It’s Perfectly Normal and It’s So Amazing!, I continue to believe—as does Michael Emberley and our wonderful editor, designer, and art director—that this audience deserves nothing less than the latest and best information on the subject.
I’ve also been asked about the changes made to the new editions. There’s more on how to find responsible information about sexuality online and the safe and responsible use of cell phones, tablets, and computers. There’s also new information on the dangers inaccurate or dated Internet sources can pose, including how they might lead to risky or unhealthy behaviors and/or outcomes. A broader definition of the term “gender” and the inclusion of transgender youth have been added.
These are only some of the many changes; if, in the future, additional information comes along that kids and teens need to know, we’re committed to making sure it’s available. And we’ll do that even if those new editions prompt the BIRD to say, “Whoopee! More information!” and the BEE to say, “Oh-hhh, no-ooo… Too-ooo much information….”
Listen to Robie Harris introduce and pronounce her name.
See all available resources for Robie Harris.
This text may not be reproduced without the expressed written consent of Robie Harris.
IT’S PERFECTLY NORMAL. Text Copyright © 1994, 2004, 2009 and 2014 by Bee Productions, Inc. Illustrations copyright © 1994, 2004, 2009 and 2014 by Bird Productions, Inc. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
IT’S SO AMAZING. Text Copyright © 1999, 2004 and 2014 by Bee Productions, Inc. Illustrations copyright © 1999, 2004 and 2014 by Bird Productions, Inc. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.