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Happy 20th Birthday To "The Care And Keeping Of You", The Best Puberty Book In The Biz

The book celebrates its 20th anniversary this month.

Whenever I meet someone who also read American Girl's The Care and Keeping of You growing up, it feels like we discovered we went to the same school without realizing it.

The book came out at a great time for me — in 1998, when I was 8 years old and first learning about periods, boobs, zits, and all the related accoutrements of puberty, of which I was about to sample the full buffet. I have vivid memories of poring over a copy of it with my elementary school BFF, Katy, at her kitchen table.In those days, Internet time was chaperoned by parents, but reading time, including The Care and Keeping of You reading time, was not. As a result, we spent hours, if not days, learning in detail why we'd need to start showering more (yeeuch) and that we'd soon start growing hair in unexpected places (not news to those of us who were hirsute from birth), long before our school's "Family Life" unit.
American Girl

The book came out at a great time for me — in 1998, when I was 8 years old and first learning about periods, boobs, zits, and all the related accoutrements of puberty, of which I was about to sample the full buffet. I have vivid memories of poring over a copy of it with my elementary school BFF, Katy, at her kitchen table.

In those days, Internet time was chaperoned by parents, but reading time, including The Care and Keeping of You reading time, was not. As a result, we spent hours, if not days, learning in detail why we'd need to start showering more (yeeuch) and that we'd soon start growing hair in unexpected places (not news to those of us who were hirsute from birth), long before our school's "Family Life" unit.

What drew us to the book — which may or may not have been subtly planted on her bookshelf by her mom — wasn't just the information it included, but the way it was written: intelligently, accessibly, and non-condescendingly.

That tone was completely intentional, according to its author, Valorie Lee Schaefer. She told the Atlantic in an interview that she wanted the book's voice to feel like belonged to that of a “trusted, cool aunt.” “It wasn’t your mom or dad’s older sister,” Schaefer said. “It was probably their younger sister, someone with a few years under her belt, but also someone who wasn’t so out of touch with her adolescence that she couldn’t remember what a confusing time that was.”
American Girl

That tone was completely intentional, according to its author, Valorie Lee Schaefer. She told the Atlantic in an interview that she wanted the book's voice to feel like belonged to that of a “trusted, cool aunt.”

“It wasn’t your mom or dad’s older sister,” Schaefer said. “It was probably their younger sister, someone with a few years under her belt, but also someone who wasn’t so out of touch with her adolescence that she couldn’t remember what a confusing time that was.”

But we were also captivated by its honesty. It showed bodies in all their glory, most notably in its illustration of how to insert a tampon, which is coincidentally the part I learned the most from.

According to the Atlantic, that inclusion of an anatomical diagram of a vagina attracted a lot of feedback from parents that the content was too graphic for their young daughters. “That section, that spread of the book is the one that gave everyone the most sleepless nights,” Schaefer said. “When I think back on it now, I wonder, why were we so stressed about it? But it was a place many books for girls that age hadn’t gone before.”
American Girl

According to the Atlantic, that inclusion of an anatomical diagram of a vagina attracted a lot of feedback from parents that the content was too graphic for their young daughters. “That section, that spread of the book is the one that gave everyone the most sleepless nights,” Schaefer said. “When I think back on it now, I wonder, why were we so stressed about it? But it was a place many books for girls that age hadn’t gone before.”

We expected it to have all the answers, because in many ways, it did.

It was a no-nonsense manual to our stupid bodies (no offense, bodies) and how everything was about to seep, spew, and sprout from them — and that's if all went according to plan!
Twitter: @holly_kirkles

It was a no-nonsense manual to our stupid bodies (no offense, bodies) and how everything was about to seep, spew, and sprout from them — and that's if all went according to plan!

As I've gotten older, I and many other readers have wished for a similar how-to guide to dating, college, and everything beyond.

Sure, we have siblings, friends, and yanno, the internet to use as resources, but they all lack that warm, authoritative voice of The Care and Keeping of You. I often want to return to it for advice, the way you'd go back to an old teacher or professor long after you graduated.
Twitter: @CourtneyGates18

Sure, we have siblings, friends, and yanno, the internet to use as resources, but they all lack that warm, authoritative voice of The Care and Keeping of You. I often want to return to it for advice, the way you'd go back to an old teacher or professor long after you graduated.

Even though we now have to figure stuff out???? on our own???, remembering its lessons kind of feels like revisiting memories of a favorite club or collective friendship from childhood.

According to American Girl, The Care and Keeping of You has sold more than 5 million copies in the past 20 years.

First published as a response to the high volume of puberty-related questions submitted to American Girl magazine's Help! column, the book has since been split into two editions, one for preteens and one for teens, and inspired similar books about feelings and preteen boys' health and bodies.
American Girl

First published as a response to the high volume of puberty-related questions submitted to American Girl magazine's Help! column, the book has since been split into two editions, one for preteens and one for teens, and inspired similar books about feelings and preteen boys' health and bodies.

And its not going anywhere, either. Heather Alberda, a sexuality educator with the Ottawa County Department of Public Health in Michigan, told the Atlantic that she still recommends the updated versions of the book to parents.

(And if the admittedly gender normative The Care and Keeping of You feels out of step with you or your children, Sex is a Funny Word offers a more inclusive perspective.)
American Girl

(And if the admittedly gender normative The Care and Keeping of You feels out of step with you or your children, Sex is a Funny Word offers a more inclusive perspective.)

That means many generations to come will get to read the book, either alone, or with a best friend, and start the journey of at least attempting to understand their bodies.

Do you have a favorite memory or part of The Care and Keeping of You that had a big impact on you? Share in the comments!

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