My daughter and her BFF discovered this book at the library together. There were two copies, and they decided they would both read and talk about it. When my daughter was showing me her stack of books before we checked out, I saw it on the bottom—this big light blue book that read, Girl to Girl: Honest Talk About Growing Up and Your Changing Body by Sarah O’Leary Burningham. The top review read, "... a marvelous book for girls 8–12."
"You're getting this, huh?" I asked nonchalantly.
She and her BFF sort of giggled and said, "We're both getting it."
I flipped through it briefly, glancing at the table of contents. Titles such as "Let's Start at the Top! Everything from Skin to Glasses, Hair, and Your Happy Smile" and "Bust-ed! Buds, Breasts, and Bras" and "Be Good to Your Body: All About Healthy Habits." Nothing about boys. Nothing about sex. Good and good. I really don't want a book telling my daughter about what to do with boys. That's my job.
My daughter is eleven and a half years old, and we’ve had a lot of talks about being a girl, growing up, and body changes. She knew more about the menstrual cycle at age 6 than I knew at a much older age. The moment I knew I would have a daughter, I vowed to be a mom who was always open and honest about everything in the "girls-only" department.
It only took a couple days for my preteen to devour the pages of that book. I asked her about it intermittently, inquiring if she had any new questions she wanted to ask me, but she simply said that I should read it too.
As it turns out, Girl to Girl has a lot of good things to say. My daughter and I have had many discussions, but the book helped fill in some of the gaps and even taught me a thing or two! As I'd gathered from the table of contents, Burningham stuck to "growing girl" basics with a tender banner of "girls are awesome" woven throughout. (Without any of that abrasive "girl power" nonsense.) The language used is optimistic, upbeat, and relatable, like Burningham is a big sister who's been there and has written a personal letter to the reader. Burningham was, in fact, a former ABC Network advice columnist for families, so she knows her stuff.
The physical side was gently but truthfully covered—from makeup, acne, and hair care to braces and glasses to choosing a bra to eating healthy, exercising, and stretching. Tips and tricks for this stage of life are sprinkled throughout and illustrated, teaching such things as how to get the hang of hooking your bra, how to shave your armpits, and how to make a "Period Preparedness Kit" (so you don't freak out if it starts at school!).
For every stage of growth, Burningham gives examples, steps, common-sense explanations, and generally presents a message of "take a deep breath; it's totally normal; this is going to be great!" That is precisely what preteen girls need to hear—that growing up and maturing is beautiful, natural, and nothing to fear.
Much to my delight, Burningham consistently stresses individuality in development, uniqueness in every single girl, and how it’s better not to compare your body to anyone else's. The author uses real stories from real girls to express how it's okay that your hair may be a little oily or super curly or your skin may have freckles or moles. She dispels a lot of the myths that float around the school cafeteria and over phone lines—like "Yes, you really can swim during your period" and "No, shaving will not make your hair grow back darker and thicker." A few medical experts even weigh in with messages of "it’s totally normal to be like or feel like this," which is a refreshing message in the midst of the unrealistic media messages our girls receive every day.
Some Reservations: While I wholeheartedly adore this book for my own daughter, I realize that some parents may have hesitations about a few things covered in Girl to Girl. It's not a book to throw at your daughters as a replacement for discussion. But it is a great conversation starter, open door, or bridge for an ongoing dialogue.
Upon finishing my first read-through, my assumption is that Burningham is not a Christian. She does not talk about God or how He designed us, which are also very important aspects for Christian parents to discuss with their daughters about their maturing bodies. However, neither does the author tout any other belief system in this book. One or two times, she mentions "Mother Nature," but they are easily glossed over and could very well make for good chat with your daughter about this false concept.
Yoga is brought up several times, but nothing spiritual is attached to these suggestions. The references are all about stretching, relaxing, and having a quiet, personal time to yourself.
On the topic of periods, Girl to Girl goes into great detail about pads versus tampons and how to use them. Burningham gives plenty of information so girls can make an informed decision about whether or not they want to use tampons.
Regarding the illustrations that caused my girls to giggle initially, my daughter pointed out a few of the drawings that she thought were "weird." The art style is cute, girly, and cartoony, but when it comes to the physical descriptions, they are anatomically correct. Without being absurdly graphic or sexualized in any way, they show the distinction of different breast sizes and a step-by-step detail on how to insert a tampon. If you don’t want your daughter seeing these kinds of images at her current age, I'd definitely advise taking a look before deciding when she’s ready for it.
Final Judgment: As a mom, I'm really glad my daughter stumbled upon Girl to Girl. It’s a great way to continue the conversation we’ve been having since she was just a curious little tyke. She loves that she can come to me with "embarrassing" stuff. Sometimes she tells me things that do embarrass me, but I do my best to remain calm and follow her lead, which lets her know she has a safe place to go when "weird" questions or situations arise. Preteen girls have a way of finding things out anyway, and I'd rather she get her health/sex education from me and not the kids on the playground.
Catiana Nak Kheiyn is the webmaster and editor of 412teens.org and regularly teaches other young writers through tutoring and workshops. When she is not writing or hanging out with teens, she loves spending time with her family—a mountain man, two adorable children, and three socially awkward cats. She approaches parenting as an everyday adventure, albeit an often bewildering one, as the little ones in her life are in a constant state of flux.