The Care & Keeping of You, by Valorie Lee Schaefer, is also referred to as the American Girl Body Book and other similar things. I’ve been asked what I think about it, and here is my (rather long) answer:

First, this book is written for slightly younger kiddos than I generally work with. So my first reaction was that the large, colorful font, the excess of cartoon pictures, and the slightly aggressive racial diversity would all be put-offs for teenagers. Then I (metaphorically) slapped my forehead and remembered that this is more for 4th or 5th graders (the American Girl website says it’s for ages 8+). As I’m not as familiar with literature for this age range, please feel free to correct me if I’m off-base with my assumptions about what would appeal to them or how they would react to something.

In general, the book is pretty good stuff. It’s mostly basic body care for someone who is just beginning to care for their bodies. I learned most of this stuff from my mom. I think it’s probably best for girls to learn basic body care from their moms. I had a hard time letting my mom talk with me about basic body care – but she kept at it, and I think in the long run it was probably the best way for me to learn it. But if the mother/daughter relationship just isn’t conducive to those kinds of conversations, this book is a pretty good substitute. But be sure and remember that this book has nothing, in any way, whatsoever, in it about sex. Girls who read it will not learn anything about sex – not even how babies are made.

So for those who are interested in a longer description and discussion of the book, maybe to see if it’s a good book for your daughter, here you go:

The book is broken up into different parts of the body in this order:

  1. “Body Basics”
  2. Care for the head area – hair, ears, eyes, mouth, face, and skin
  3. Care and information about hands, underarms, and breasts
  4. Information about belly shapes and sizes, food, and nutrition
  5. Information about the pubic area and periods
  6. Care and information about legs, feet, sports, and sleep
  7. The last section is about the internal/emotional aspects of adolescence.

The section focused on the head is a good basic overview of cleanliness and care. A bit is about liking your face for what it is.

The chest and arm section includes a bit on underarm cleanliness, but focuses on what it is like to grow breasts and how to buy a bra.

The fourth section is a little bit haphazard – it includes some information about how bodies develop at different rates and tidbits like a thickening waist does not necessarily mean overweight for a developing girl. It also attempts to package the current USDA “personal pyramid” (see picture on the right) into something clearly understandable. It fails, but then I’ve yet to see any explanation that is really clear anyway. This section also discusses eating disorders – the most text-heavy portion of the entire book. It’s decent enough, I guess, but I certainly don’t think it’s anything like a preventative or a real help if a girl has already begun to walk down that path. It may help girls identify friends with eating disorders and encourage them to seek adult help for their friends.

The fifth section is basically the crotch section. It begins with a short intro to pubic hair and vaginal cleanliness and discharge, but quickly moves into a tell-all about periods and supplies to catch menstrual blood. Regrettably, they only discuss disposable pads and tampons. Not even a mention of cotton or hemp pads or keepers. They make up for this, however, with the really good description and pictures of how to insert a tampon on pages 76 and 77 (see picture below to see the bulk of that 2-page spread). I would have given just about anything to have seen those two pages when I started my period. Really, it’s worth the entire book for just those two pages. There is also a short discussion on how to live through PMS and menstrual cramping.

The section on legs is another hodge-podge. It includes information on shaving legs, general foot cleanliness, why exercise is important, how to exercise safely, an ode to the importance of sleep, and how to address some sleep troubles (bed wetting, insomnia, and nightmares).

The three or four pages on emotional stability is essentially a throw-away. But never fear! American Girl has a whole book on just that topic. Hopefully I’ll get around to reviewing it sometime soon.

All of the sections end with questions theoretically asked by young girls and answered by the author. This seems to be a pretty good format for addressing some of the more interpersonal issues that are related to girls’ developing bodies.

In general, I think the book is good for girls ages 8 – 11, depending on their specific developmental place.