My seven-year-old son and I were hunting for books in the children’s section of the local library when I noticed a text with the title Asking About Sex & Growing Up, subtitled A Question and Answer Book for Kids (2009 Revised Edition). When I saw the author’s name, Joanna Cole, I did a double take. Ms. Cole, I realized with some help from the inside jacket cover, is the author of the hugely popular Magic School Bus books. My son had taken some of the seemingly ubiquitous texts home from his school library, so I was familiar with the brand.
Curious about what Ms. Cole had to say to children, I had my son pursue his literary interests independently and read through the text. When Google searches subsequently yielded only glowing reviews in the children’s book blogosphere, I decided that a more critical assessment was needed. Many of Ms. Cole’s observations and comments are questionable. The worst part of the book, however, is the way she pushes pro-abortion propaganda at her young readers.
Answering the question “Does everyone agree that abortion is okay?” Ms. Cole summarizes pro-abortion and anti-abortion viewpoints, beginning with the latter. Here’s how she describes the views of Americans who oppose the 1.2 million U.S. abortions performed each year, the vast majority having nothing to do with protecting the life or physical safety of the mother, which figure also includes a significant number performed on fetuses who’ve reached the second trimester of life and well beyond: “Many people in this country believe abortion is wrong. Some people are against it for religious reasons. Others feel it goes against nature to end a pregnancy.”
Hold the horses. Why not just tell inquiring young minds why people believe abortion is wrong? Citing “religious reasons” doesn’t do the job. Ms. Cole could have easily explained that opponents of abortion believe that it is immoral, cruel, and inhuman to destroy developing human life. No philosophical or theological “deep thoughts” are required in order to explain anti-abortion views to young readers. Ultrasound pictures of the developing life at various stages, on the other hand, as well as a discussion of what an abortion does to an unborn life, would be illuminating. Finally, Ms. Cole’s claim that some people oppose abortion because they “feel it goes against nature” is a non-explanation that allows her to avoid confronting anti-abortion arguments and revealing such arguments to her young readers.
The book’s dead-on-arrival presentation of anti-abortion arguments ends with the statement, “there are organizations that are trying to make abortions against the law again, the way it used to be.” As well they should—though some clarity is needed. The organizations Ms. Cole ominously alludes to don’t oppose abortions necessary to protect the mother’s life. Such procedures had always been legal, including in states that had maintained traditional prohibitions against elective abortions in the years leading up to 1973, when an activist United States Supreme Court divined a constitutional “right” to an abortion, usurping the political process and opening the abortion floodgates.
Anti-abortion arguments don’t get heard in Joanna Cole’s court, but if pro-abortion arguments are hidden behind equally non-descriptive labels, ones that don’t give voice to pro-abortion arguments, no harm, no foul. Such a non-description might look like this: “Many people in this country believe that abortion is not wrong. These people support abortion because of secular reasons, including various political viewpoints and moral values. There are organizations who oppose any effort to limit a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion.”
This is not the tack Ms. Cole chooses, of course. “Other groups,” she writes, “believe that woman have a right to make choices about their lives and their bodies. They do not think that anyone should be able to tell a woman that she must have a baby because she has become pregnant. They feel that this decision is a private one and should be up to the woman and her doctor.”
And the winner is: Joanna Cole and the liberals! She prevails, of course, only by dragging the other side onto the culture war battlefield, immobilized and with vocal chords removed, unable to articulate any anti-abortion arguments while she launches a brief but full-throated attack. But these are trifling details compared to the need to indoctrinate young readers in the liberal/progressive mythology that the pro-life movement is waging a war against women.
Even Ms. Cole’s description of an abortion—she describes it as “a medical procedure to end a pregnancy before a baby is born”—looks touched up to reduce the chance that impressionable readers might start thinking about the reality of the procedure. It is even less descriptive than “induced termination of a pregnancy with destruction of the embryo or fetus” (American Heritage Dict. of the English Language, Fifth Ed.); “the removal of an embryo or fetus from the uterus in order to end a pregnancy” (Random House Unabridged Dict., Second Ed.); “any deliberate procedure that removes, or induces the expulsion of, a living or dead embryo or fetus” (Webster’s New World College Dict., Fourth Ed.); etc.
Ms. Cole’s explanation of an abortion does have a quaint feel. Perhaps it should be viewed as an abortion analogy to the stork delivering a baby to the doorstep. But whereas the latter merely omits the act of intimacy and changes a few details regarding delivery, the former omits any reference to the developing life that is destroyed—by way of cutting and tearing into pieces, poisoning, overdosing with drugs, suctioning out, etc.
Ms. Cole also tells her young fans that abortion is a perfectly acceptable solution to an unwanted pregnancy. Question: “Is abortion an alternative to birth control?” Answer: “Abortion is a procedure that has risks, so people should not think of it as just another method of birth control. It is an alternative when an unwanted pregnancy has occurred and no other way of avoiding having a baby is possible.” Translation: Abortion is an alternative to birth control, to be used as needed to kill inconvenient life.
Beyond the book’s slanted abortion discussion, some of Ms. Cole’s other observations are worth a brief look, if for no other reason than to illuminate the sheer drivel that she throws out at young readers. There is a banal and humorless quality to Ms. Cole’s writing, into which vulgar notes are sometimes added.
For example, she ponders the question, “Why is it hard for younger kids to understand why people make love?” After explaining that children sometimes have difficulty understanding adult feelings, Ms. Cole opines: “Also, because a woman’s sex organs are close to her waste openings, and because both urine and sperm come out of a man’s penis, young kids may think that sex is connected in some way to going to the bathroom.” Ms. Cole is very concerned about this. “Children may worry,” she writes, “that a man could urinate inside a woman during intercourse.” Children, thank goodness, need not suffer undue anxiety about such potential malfunctions in sexual plumbing. “They feel better knowing that this is impossible; when a man ejaculates, only sperm can come out, not urine.” Whew!
Maybe this is what Kirkus Reviews has in mind when it calls the book “reassuring and informative.”
Ms. Cole offers suspect observations of a different sort in answering the question: “Are larger breasts better than smaller breasts?” She could have interjected Ms. Frizzle, the teacher who pilots the magic school bus in her book series, to navigate young readers past the supposedly less enlightened attitudes of the past regarding female beauty and bra size. The children in the books, who are mannequin props more than anything else, call Ms. Frizzle “The Friz.” “The Friz” could then say (what Ms. Cole writes): “Some people, especially in the past, believed that women with larger breasts were more attractive. When your parents and grandparents were growing up, many girls and women believed that boys and men would not like them if their breasts were small. Today we know that this idea is silly.”
While Ms. Cole is surely padding whatever large-breast preference existed in olden days, she ignores entirely the fact that many contemporary women do think that larger breasts make them more “attractive.” Breast enlargement is virtually tied with liposuction as the most popular cosmetic surgical procedure performed in the U.S., according to figures published on The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery website, and the number of women opting for the procedure grows yearly. This isn’t to ridicule the growing number of contemporary women who feel that larger breasts enhance their attractiveness, whatever feelings one might have as to the trend. Indeed, it is Ms. Cole who does this: The implication of her comments is that these women are “silly.” What her comments do show is a willingness to ignore the obvious in order to advance the politically correct narrative that the sexual mores of today are far superior to previous eras, those unenlightened times before, say, Planned Parenthood set up neighborhood “clinics” to whack inconvenient human life, contract killings made legal throughout the land by Roe v. Wade.
Adults may also want to listen in on the conversation Ms. Cole has with children about premarital sex and related issues. In the chapter entitled “What is Sexual Intercourse,” she asks, “Do people have to be married to make love?” Ms. Cole won’t defer to the values of the child’s home, answering the question with a resounding, “No.” “Some people believe that men and woman who are not married should not have sexual intercourse, buy many others disagree with this” (emphasis mine), she explains, using the qualifiers some versus many as proxies for her own value judgments. She then adds that “many men and women who are not married often make love.”
Who knew that the creator of the Magic School Bus books moonlights as Dr. Kinsey for Kids?
Asking about Sex & Growing Up is an awful book. It feeds young readers liberal lines on abortion, including telling kids that abortion is an acceptable solution to an “unwanted pregnancy,” and silences pro-life arguments. It also offers young people a trendy and conformist take on sexual mores, dismissing those who are out-of-step with current fashion. And it does all of this without ever disclosing that the views expressed very much reflect the author’s—a remarkable display of intellectual dishonesty, even by progressive standards. Add in some vulgar and bizarre observations, and you’ve got a question-and-answer book that is a disservice to young people.
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Ken Sondik has been a practicing attorney for over twenty years, and is a member of the Indiana, Massachusetts, and Ohio Bars (currently registered as inactive in Ohio). He lives in Fishers, Indiana, with his wife and son. A version of this piece originally appeared in the Daily Caller.