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Sex is a Funny Word

by Cory Silverberg; Fiona Smyth (illus.)

In the same way Peter Mayle’s What’s Happening to Me? repackaged sex education in the 1970s, Sex Is a Funny Word tackles its subject with humour, playfulness, and inclusivity for a modern generation.

Sex is a Funny Word Cory SilverbergAuthor Cory Silverberg is a sex educator with a masters of education. In this companion to the Lambda Award–nominated What Makes a Baby, he demonstrates his flair for drafting non-intimidating parent-child conversation starters and well-informed facts. The writing style is simple and succinct, yet varied, engaging, and immensely effective.

Silverberg offers a range of perspectives through four friends – Zai, Cooper, Mimi, and Omar – who are introduced with annotated profiles. Their differences are celebrated from the get-go, and readers will pick up on basic contrasts in the personalities and preferences of the four pals as they read and discuss the book.

Kids’ varying comfort levels are considered throughout the narrative, and Fiona Smyth’s black-outlined illustrations beautifully complement this approach. Seemingly simple hand-drawn lines in the facial expressions convey a wide range of emotions from bold to confused, dreamy, thoughtful, and content. The energetic drawings feature blue-, green-, purple-, and orange-skinned tweens, putting diversity front and centre with a playful twist.

Silverberg stresses that while most sex-ed books focus on answers, Sex Is a Funny Word invites children to draw their own conclusions and think for themselves. The author brings gender, feelings, values, and beliefs into the conversation with ease, and encourages children to read at their own pace.

The introductory pages feature a cartoon strip with a teacher opening a sex-ed discussion. He poses a riddle, presented in a speech balloon: “What’s a word with only three letters, but many meanings?” The answer, which isn’t immediately obvious to the children, is “sex.” Then the teacher has students find the funny elements of this word. Some students begin to giggle, others look mortified, and some offer words such as “boobs” and “kissing.”

Next, a carnival scene compares learning about sex to visiting a fair: “you can never do it all in one day” and “it can be fun and strange and sometimes a little scary.” Mimi says, “Come on, let’s go exploring!” and the adventure begins.

When the text advises, “if you want to learn about sex, there are a few other words that can help,” it’s almost too much suspense to have to wait to turn the page. The significant words, which form the foundation for discussions to come, are meaningful and refreshing: respect, trust, joy, and justice. In the section called “Boys, Girls, All of Us,” it’s clear that “boy” and “girl” aren’t the only choices. Zai says, “trust yourself to know what words feel right and fit for you.” The “Touching” section – which asks, “when is touching okay and not okay?” – is expertly written and accessible. This excellent resource speaks in a way that is understandable and comfortable for all.