Puberty has hit my house. My oldest son has entered the tween years and seemingly overnight he went from my sweet little boy who wanted to bake with Mom to an eye-rolling pre-teen who keeps stealing my iPhone charger. Puberty isn't just a time of shadowy mustache lines on upper lips and talks of buying deodorant. It's an opportunity to teach our kids more about how to take care of themselves physically, emotionally, and mentally.
These conversations aren’t always easy to have for both kids and adults. But parents can use the power of books to help get those important and sometimes awkward conversations started.
"Books help break the ice and open up the discussion about the sensitive topics all kids face,” says Ansley Feldman, M.D., FAAP, a pediatrician practicing at Sanders Court Pediatrics in Buffalo Grove, Illinois. “It is important to point out to the young adult that body changes happen to everyone.”
For Black, Indigenous, and parents of color, it can be challenging to find books that cover certain topics specific to their kids. “In today’s climate, interactions with law enforcement and authorities are paramount issues to discuss with family,” says Tobi Adeyeye Amosun, M.D., a pediatrician and medical director of Academy Children’s Clinic in Nashville, Tennessee. “From a medical standpoint, there are skin and hair issues specific to Black teens that [many] books do not address.”
But she advises parents look for a book that discusses issues of race and racism, tackles nutrition, exercise, sleep, eating disorders, and mental health, as well as sections on sexuality, consent, dating, contraception, and LGBTQ concerns. Don’t forget about driving safety, social media, and substance use. And opt for a book that talks about all stages of puberty. “Puberty can start as early as 9 or 10 for boys—even earlier for girls—and continues until your early 20s,” says Dr. Amosun.
That’s why it’s important for all parents to start talking about body development early and with proper terminology. “My cue is to start the conversation when they start having body odor,” says Dr. Amosun. Chances are your kid has already been discussing these issues with their friends, but “it’s always helpful for them to have input from a trusted adult,” adds Dr. Amosun.
With that in mind, here are seven titles that parents can feel good about reading with their tween. Each of these books offers factual information that covers a wide breadth of topics about puberty that most boys will find they can relate to.
Guy Stuff: The Body Book for Boys (American Girl) by Cara Natterson
"The American Girl Body Book has always been my choice for girls and now there is a boys book titled Guy Stuff: Body Book for Boys," says Dr. Feldman. The author, Cara Natterson, is also a pediatrician, a mom, and "go-to puberty expert," as her website states. "These easy reading books provide basic information every tween needs to approach this next phase in life and feel confident while doing it," adds Dr. Feldman.
American Medical Association Boy\’s Guide to Becoming a Teen: Getting Used to Life in Your Changing Body
The American Medical Association put together a wonderfully robust book that covers all of the biggest (and most awkward) parts of puberty, including physical and emotional health. From acne to relationships, body changes to thinking about healthy ways to take care of your body, this book covers a wide range of important topics that every boy should learn.
What\’s Going on Down There?: A Boy\’s Guide to Growing Up by Karen Gravelle
You could call this a classic now that it's more than 20 years and has sold more than 150,000 copies. It has been described as part manual and part older brother with its funny and relatable illustrations and interviews with real pre-teen boys. It's filled with all the facts that every boy needs to navigate their way from boyhood to manhood with confidence. The latest version includes new sections that cover body image, sexual harassment, consent, and using social media safely.
Sex, Puberty, And All That Stuff: A Guide to Growing Up by Jacqui Bailey
This is a solid choice because it gives boys a chance to learn not only about their own body changes but also about what their female peers are going through too. Talk about an opportunity for teaching respect and empathy! Geared toward 11- through 16-year-olds, Sex Puberty, And All That Stuff covers some awkward topics for parents to talk about, including sex, STDs, and pregnancy. But don't worry, the authors do a great job of taking some of the fear out of the conversations by also including funny cartoons to help defuse any awkwardness.
Middle School Makeover by Michelle Icard
This book is targeted more toward parents and teachers to give them an empathetic understanding of the pressures that boys face while navigating new social situations, a changing body, and the awkwardness of puberty. Icard blends personal experience with the latest research on how kids' brains grow and change over time to give parents and teachers a tool kit on how to understand and work with the wonderful tweens and teens in their lives.
The Body Book For Boys by Rebecca Paley, Jonathan Mar, Grace Norwich
Boys as young as 10 will enjoy this fun, interactive book that teaches everything big and small (and stinky and weird) and what male bodies do when they go through puberty. Through five stages of development from the ages of 10 through 17, the body book gives boys factual information and peppers in humor, quizzes, and Q&A type engagement.
It\’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health by Robie Harris
This is the third and final book in a series of books about bodies for kids. In this volume, parents can expect some heavy topics, which has made this book controversial albeit incredibly popular. The authors tackle important topics ranging from abortion, sexual abuse, gender identity, masturbation, and HIV/AIDS, to name a few. Some parents may find a loss of words for how to explain some of these kinds of topics and so having an expert voice guide those conversations in an articulate and thoughtful way can help boys' separate fact from myth as they journey through their tween and teen years.