[Image description: Illustration from What Makes A Baby, by Cory Silverberg & Fiona Smyth. A developing fetus at 7, 12, and 38 weeks gestation.]
Not sure how to explain where babies come from? If you’re looking for inclusive, age-appropriate books to talk about reproduction that include all family constellations, these are the ones you’re searching for.
Where Babies Come From
Open, honest discussions start early
Oh, hello there, Squeamish Parent!
If you are choosing to wait until your kids hit puberty to discuss sex with your kids, that’s cool.
For our family, it’s easier to discuss the internal mechanics right now. It was easier to answer my sons’ questions about lumpy, oddly-behaving body parts and calm fears about ‘getting accidentally pregnant.’
When our eldest was around 20 months old, we stated preparing him for the birth of his little brother. We watched youtube home-births, looked at images of fetuses as his brother grew, talked what it was like when he was in my tummy (and the years of medical intervention it took to get him there).
We discussed how some kids live in tummies of surrogates, first parents, trans dads, and the how all families are real families.
At one-and-a-half, he was old enough to understand human reproduction, without any of the awkwardness that comes from discussing sex with an older child.
I was surprised how easy it is to talk about sex, when we start from a framework of healthy human biology. But it was still hard to find books on this topic for kids this young. (Which is ridiculous – why wait until our kids have started having unsafe sex or being molested to finally teach them about it!?)
Most books were too complex, skirted around sex unnecessarily, and created the illusion that our cishet, two-parent family was the only way families were built. I want my kids to understand that there are many different types of family constellations.
The ways we build our families are diverse, unique, and can be a bittersweet mix of trial and hope that passes beyond biology.
Be open, honest, and direct from the very beginning
We teach the Earthquakes to challenge us if we try to use our parental authority as a shortcut – to never accept ‘Because I said so‘ as a final answer. We answer with unvarnished truth when they ask us hard questions about death, injustice, and sex, even when they’re little – so they can trust me in ten years, when our relationship gets shakier.
Pick the right book for your level of squeamishness below. No judgement – everyone takes on what we can handle, and sometimes our own history with sex can make this a really scary conversation. If you’re not ready for these books yet, check out our basic books on anatomy and body awareness, then come back here.
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You Might Also Like: Love Is Love Is Love – Diverse Family Constellations In Kids Books
The Little Earthquakes’ Top Pick (with reservations.) Ages 1+
While pregnant with R2, Q and I used to pore over the images of Being Born in concert with R2’s development. Being able to ‘see’ his brother’s development beyond grainy ultrasound images (which meant nothing to him) allowed Q to start bonding with R2 and gave him extra time to identify us parents as a shared resource.
This is our favorite because it features the most realistic images (photographs) and straightforward language to give kids a sense of what a developing embryo and fetus looks like. Both my kids LOVE it and ask for it regularly.
But it’s not representative of all family constellations, presuming the reader is the biological, naturally conceived child of a cishet couple. You can skip over the text and just follow the amazing images, but be prepared to clarify this isn’t the way all babies are made.
Specifically, it was just this one line: “Your father’s penis became hard so that it could slip into your mother’s vagina, a soft opening between her legs.” That was hard to read the first time aloud, but my kids didn’t even blink. (Although it wasn’t true for our test-tube baby.) It sure is a great way to quickly rip off the band aid and explain how some families get the sperm to the egg.
For a much lengthier book with way more images for older kids, check out A Child Is Born, by the same photographer. I always get the two mixed up because of the similar names, but Being Born is the one you want for very young kids.
Most inclusive for adoptive, LGBTQ, intersex, surgical birth families and squeamish parents
Where Willy Went
For SUPER squeamish, poetic parents
It’s Not The Stork
Not recommended (until they update it to remove trans misgendering)
I’m adding this to the list even though I don’t recommend it – because I know you’re going to check it out anyway because this series is the classic go-to for sex education and it looks so inclusive.
If you must – I’d skim through it with kids over 3. It’s a painful read aloud – wordy and overly detailed (not educational detail, just jokes and fluff and filler). It’s didactic, all over the place, and looong, but the Earthquakes did enjoy it.
I wouldn’t just hand it to a kid or teen and let them read it on their own. Harris tries to be inclusive for lesbian, gay, adoptive, and multiracial family constellations, but it sure doesn’t seem like she ran this by trans & nonbinary folks. She tends to misgender trans folks and talks about them like an aberration – and completely leaves out people who don’t fall within a gender binary.
This wouldn’t be such a big deal if this series wasn’t heralded as the gold standard. We need higher standards.