In 1998, American Girl accomplished something truly remarkable: the doll company published a puberty book that girls actually liked.
For many girls born in the last 30 years, has been a bible of awkward adolescence. Aimed at girls aged 8 to 12, it used a conversational tone and relatable illustrations to talk girls through everything from basic hygiene to the more pubic side of puberty. Girls kept copies of the book close at hand, on bookshelves or in secret hiding places, to return to for continued consultation. Nineteen years and several updated editions later, the has sold nearly 6 million copies.
Now, parents who've considered the books a lifeline for their daughters are getting a counterpart for their sons: .
"Parents have called me, they’ve emailed me, they’ve stopped me after speaking events and said, ‘Please, there’s nothing like this for our boys,'" says the book's author Dr. Cara Natterson, a pediatrician who also wrote the of the original book for . As a mother of a 14-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son herself, she recognized that the need for good information was just as strong for both sexes. "The girl changes are quite obvious, especially at the beginning of puberty. As a result, we have gotten really good at talking to our girls about what’s happening ... We have really not done that for our boys."
Guy Stuff covers much of the same territory as its feminine predecessor: how to handle acne, when to start wearing deodorant, the best way to keep your braces clean. Like Care and Keeping it's more about navigating your own body than interacting with another's — sexual intercourse is not covered. But the sex organs are, and explanations about their development come with handy tips. In a chapter Natterson's daughter has dubbed "the erection section," boys learn what to do if they wake up with an erection ("To hide it from whoever else is in your room, roll over SLOWLY or keep your back to others") or get one in class ("Use your book bag or sweatshirt or whatever to cover your groin until the problem goes away").
"I knew exactly when [my son] got to that page because I could feel him dying a little bit inside," Natterson says. But the fact that kids can encounter these tricky topics for in book form — not in awkward sex talks with their parents or, Google forbid, on the Internet — makes the learning process easier. "These are tricky conversations, and yet how great that we can actually give boys the tools to answer questions and concerns, and frankly leapfrog over the embarrassing part about bringing it up with their parents, and instead be able to say, ‘Hey mom, on page 96, there’s this thing, and I just want to say…'"
Equally important as the physical changes are the emotional ones. "People do not believe that boys go through the same emotional shifts that girls do," Natterson says, but the tween years can be just as turbulent, frustrating and bewildering for boys. "If a boy had a zip hoodie that went all the way up to the top of his head, he might zip himself in and just hide for a while," she says. "Allowing boys to anticipate what it’s going to feel like allows them to take control over those feelings when it happens so that they can then make better decisions."
Parents can get many things wrong when having puberty talks with kids, and a good guide can be an invaluable resource, whether or not kids want to discuss these tricky topics with their parents. "Most girls, including my own daughter, keep [The Care and Keeping of You] on a bookshelf or hidden somewhere in their room," Natterson says. "They swear they’re not reading it, but every page is dog-eared."
If its predecessor is any guide, there will soon be many dog-eared copies of Guy Stuff hidden in bedrooms around America.