7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #681: Featuring Anke Kuhl

h1 March 8th, 2020 by jules


I read just this morning about a well-reviewed book about sex, aimed at children and written by a sex educator, causing all kinds of controversy at a Massachusetts school. To be clear, I haven’t read that particular book, but generally speaking these kinds of stories bum me out. Children deserve, for many reasons, straight-up talk about their changing bodies, sex, and gender identity, and at least here in the South, I find that many adults would just like to pretend students don’t have curiosity about these things all. (What passes for sex education here is pretty dismal.)

That’s one reason I was happy to read Tell Me: What Children Really Want to Know about Bodies, Sex and Emotions (Gecko), a German import (originally published in 2014 and translated by Shelley Tanaka) now on shelves here in the U.S. It is written by Katharina von der Gathen and illustrated by Anke Kuhl. And it is a breath of fresh air.

The author is a sex educator, and this book is the result of a project she did with students around nine and ten years of age. She asked them to write down their questions about “their bodies, puberty, love and sexuality and anonymously put them into a box with the promise that I would answer every question.” There are 99 of them in this book — with illustrations that are funny and tender all at once — and always anatomically correct, of course. (Kuhl makes it clear at the book’s very opening that she will not shy away from anatomical correctness; the second question — “Are there different penises?” — includes a drawing of exactly ten different penises.)

Vertically oriented, the book features (as you can see in some of the illustrations here today), on the recto, a drawing with the child’s question beneath it. At the page turn, you can read the author’s answer on the verso (with the question re-typed, given that some of the originals have spelling errors). The questions cover a lot of ground from more general questions — “What’s so important about bodies anyway?” and “What makes sex fun?” and “Is it embarrassing to have sex?” — to specific ones about anatomy, sexuality, gender identity, reproduction, and much more. Von der Gathen takes their answers very seriously, never engaging in a patronizing tone. She is refreshingly honest. Unflinching even, with an economy of information; she answers many of these questions in two to three paragraphs. Woven throughout is a respect for the LGBTQ+ spectrum (mentions of asexuality, what it means to be transgender, bisexuality, etc.): “People are different,” she writes, “and people love differently. LGBT and variations like LGBTQ+ are abbreviations for people who live and love differently from the male-female combination (heterosexual).” Sexual consent comes up more than once (including one child’s question about what rape is), the author repeatedly weaving in the vital notion of consent when it comes to intimacy and sex. There are also questions about masturbation; conception and pregnancy; pornography; adults’ unwillingness to openly discuss sex; awkwardness over changing bodies; prostitution; multiple questions about the act of sex (“How do you have sex if the penis is too big and the vagina too small?”) and even questions about when to have sex (“Do you have sex before or after you [sic] wedding?” one child asks, which the author handles beautifully). As the Kirkus review notes, all the author’s responses “employ appropriate vocabulary that’s respectful of the capabilities of their audience and are calmly inclusive of variations in human and cultural experience.”

Wisely, the authors notes in an introduction that “some of these questions could have many different answers,” adding that if any readers feel concerned about anything related to their body or feelings, “it’s important to get help ….” Each question (though not pictured here) has a number assigned to it, and the book closes with a list of the questions included — all this for anyone who would prefer browsing, instead of reading it cover to cover.

Here are some illustrations. They are pictured without the author’s responses, but if you’re curious, well … I encourage you to find a copy of this one-of-a-kind book. (Also, here’s a Q&A with the author, where she says: “Sexuality is everywhere in our society: advertising at the bus stop, gay parents in a TV series, a sexist insult in the schoolyard, or when an older sister is making out with a boyfriend. These different situations naturally generate a plethora of questions in children that they then carry around with them. But the message they get everywhere is: ‘This is not for you!'” What she said. We need more books like hers.)







* * * * * * *

TELL ME: WHAT CHILDREN REALLY WANT TO KNOW ABOUT BODIES, SEX AND EMOTIONS. Originally published as Klār Mich Auf © 2014 Klett Kinderbuch GmbH, Leipzig, Germany. English-language edition © Gecko Press Ltd 2019. Translation © Shelley Tanaka 2019. Illustrations reproduced by permission of Gecko Press.

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

I’m going to forgo seven separate kicks and just say that I’m grateful (in a million-kicks kind of way) that my friends and family here in middle Tennessee are all okay after the big o’ tornadoes that ripped through here this past week, though my heart aches for those who lost loved ones and homes and businesses.

Also, my oldest will turn 16 this week. SIXTEEN. And she is one of my life’s greatest gifts.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

7 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #681: Featuring Anke Kuhl”

  1. Thank you for sharing this book. If I were still in the library, I’d probably have it in the shelves. Not all children have home where it’s safe to talk about sex. I love the post it note questions.
    Jules, I am glad to know that you, your family and those around you were safe. And 16! Hard to imagine, right?
    My kicks:
    1. LBJ Library.
    2. Austin Public Library downtown.
    3. Riding Greyhound to San Antonio.
    4. AWP2020
    5. The Alamo.
    6. Being on a panel with Janet Wong, Sylvia Vardell, Susan Blackaby, and Xelena Gonzalez.
    7.5 Hearing Xelena read a poem a student of my wrote in Spanish.
    Have a great week.

  2. Thank you for sharing this book – love the entire book and the layout of the questions and then answers. Totally bums me out too that sex education in schools isn’t more uniform and open.

    Jules – Very glad you and yours are safe and unharmed, so very sad for all those who suffered losses.
    How is your oldest SIXTEEN already???? My goodness, happy birthday to her and hope you all enjoy the birthday celebrations.

    Jone – That panel sounds great. Glad you are enjoying your time in Texas, I’ve been enjoying seeing it via your IG.

    My kicks this week:
    1) Beginning of the week Daisy had to have a bump removed and it went well and she’s doing great.
    2) A friend took me to see Iris DeMent in concert Friday. I was only familiar with her through her duets with John Prince. It was fun.
    3) The audience was an interesting one, and we had a lot of fun talking to our seat neighbors, a very funny couple who’d gone to a Dead concert together in San Francisco in the 70’s – they’d been married over 50 years and clearly enjoyed each others company. They were delightful and very inspiring.
    4) The SNL cold open this week. The actors who do Don and Eric always have me in stitches. And Elizabeth Warren was awesome.
    5) Bailey the dog nabbing that burrito.
    6) New song from the Dixie Chicks.
    7) Cooking chili today for tonight’s watch party for The Outsider.
    7.5) More sunshine, plus some daffodils in the garden are all signs of Spring. I’m ready for Spring.

    Have a great week Imps!

  3. Howdy, Imps! Jules, I’m so glad that your loved ones are okay. Happy early birthday to your daughter!

    Jone: Yay for writers and libraries and conferences of creatives!

    My kicks for the week:
    1) Music
    2) Chances
    3) Laughter
    4) Info
    5) Pictures
    6) Talk
    7) Rest

  4. Jone, ooh, what good poetry company you had this week! I love hearing about your travels.

    Rachel, I also loved that cold open. And isn’t tonight The Outsider finale?!! Ooh. I’d almost forgotten after a day of cleaning house. So glad you saw Iris DeMent. That voice, huh?

    Hi, Little Willow! Glad you’re getting rest. You’re one of the hardest-working people I know.

    Hope you all have a good week — and stay well!

  5. Rachel: Say hello to the sunshine and daffodils for me!

    Jules: Thanks! That’s very kind of you.

  6. As a children’s writer/illustrator in the UK I find it abhorrent that anyone anywhere would ‘make’ this book cause a stir. One friend’s picture book had all of the udders photoshopped out, and another had all of the dog’s anuses photoshopped out -both in the States. She was told that middle America wouldn’t like it. My question is WHY? What makes so many Americans mealy mouthed and censorious? I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts. I am constantly told over here “no poo or bogies or any bodily functions in books otherwise the States won’t publish them” – we in the UK are now beginning to worry about age/getting old, we were never like this before Hollywood pushed its views on us. Little bit of a rant here but Children deserve not to be talked down to, surely.

  7. I wish I had an answer. Illustrator Stian Hole briefly discussed that in this 2014 post (with a request from me for people to weigh in, which a couple of people did): http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings/?p=3524. Maybe it goes way back to this country’s roots (the Puritans)? I agree wholeheartedly that children do not deserve to be condescended to. Not about anything. Children are going to see and hear about and read about sex (especially with pornography so easily accessible today), and they need honest information from caretakers. Living in confusion is no fun. And that confusion can be scary for children.

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