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21 February 2007 THE GUY BOOK: AN OWNER'S MANUAL by Mavis Jukes, Crown Publishers, 2002.


I did, in fact, know from a young age that "scrotum" was the name of that particular part of my body. But I had absolutely no understanding of the startling, unnerving things that began happening to my body while I was in middle school. Despite spending hours and hours of quality time with my father, regularly working alongside him on his construction sites from a very young age, I was never given "The Talk."


Nor did I have a big brother or sister to guide me through an understanding of the physical changes, the intense feelings, or the perplexing social stuff at school. It was all totally baffling. The result was that throughout middle school I was a great student and a nervous wreck; a quiet kid filled with discomfort and uncertainty. It was bad enough to be picked on and called names without already thinking that the weird things I'd been experiencing were certain proof that there must be something wrong with me.


Unfortunately for me and my contemporaries, Mavis Jukes was still a high school student when I was struggling hormonally, emotionally, and socially in seventh and eighth grades. Fortunately for today's middle school students, Mavis grew up and eventually became an author. Thanks to her having written IT'S A GIRL THING: HOW TO STAY HEALTHY, SAFE, AND IN CHARGE, followed a few years later by THE GUY BOOK: AN OWNER'S MANUAL, today's Twenty-First Century middle school students can avoid being caught in the sort of position in which I found myself.


Today there are serious, potentially life-threatening consequences to traversing middle school while hamstrung by the ignorance with which I traversed it four decades ago. Mavis Jukes not only explains the workings of the body and the changes that adolescents are undergoing physically, but also talks about dangerous behaviors and myths that can kill and provides information about the availability of counseling for those having a bad time of things.


But in addition to the obvious need to understand such weighty topics as sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, and the absolute need to understand that "'No' Never Means 'Yes,'" it is also essential that middle school students going through these developmental changes avoid having their self-esteem undermined by a lack of information, a problem that is so easily remedied by this book.


As noted on the KidsKeepHealthy website:


"Adolescents with high self-esteem are more likely to believe in themselves and have a sense of importance and self-respect. Self-esteem affects how your children will approach new tasks or challenges and how they interact with others. Teenage children with low self-esteem may avoid challenging activities or may give up quickly, quit, or cheat when things aren't going their way. A child with low self esteem may also be a bully, bossy, controlling, have a low level of self control, and have difficulty making friends."


THE GUY BOOK: AN OWNER'S MANUAL is not only an important source of information, it is an entertaining read. Beginning with the cover image and continuing throughout the book, the author employs an automotive metaphoric treatment with vintage car photos and title headings such as "Under the Hood," "Ignition System," "Rules of the Road: Driver Etiquette," and "Customizing: Developing Your Own Style." In the book's sixteen chapters there is a wealth of information on such practical topics as shaving, pimples, the rights and wrongs of ogling girls, the inside scoop on what their female peers are feeling, on crushes, on who pays when out on a date, on meeting a girl's parents, and on how to slow dance for the first time. Some of the information is downright hilarious -- at least in retrospect -- such as the author's explanation of which strategies employed in hopes of getting noticed by girls might result in your being seen by them in a positive light, and which strategies are bound to have quite the opposite effect. Some of the information is just so amazingly important, such as her discussion of feelings:


"Both boys and girls (and men and women) feel all ways: strong and weak, powerful and vulnerable, confident and insecure, courageous and afraid.

"These are human feelings. They're not attached to a particular gender."


In light of the recent debate concerning some librarians who are excluding the Newbery Medal-winning THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY from their school library collections because of the mere inclusion of an anatomical term -- dog's scrotum -- it can be expected that there is a similar group of librarians opposed to the inclusion of THE GUY BOOK in middle school collections. This, of course, puts those librarians' middle school patrons at risk. Considering that every year, in every corner of America, there are middle school students who become sexually active prior to high school, thus facing the possibility of their causing a pregnancy or contracting AIDS during their initial sexual explorations, librarian-imposed ignorance is surely a matter of malpractice that borders on the criminal.


It is hard to imagine a girl today experiencing her first period and having nobody willing to provide her information on why this new thing is happening to her body or, perhaps, suggesting that she wait until high school before obtaining accurate information from her school's library media center. For a boy to experience his first nocturnal emission without having either prior or subsequent information as to what is going on can be no less traumatic then was Brat's ignorance upon experiencing her first menstrual cycle in THE MIDWIFE'S APPRENTICE.


The original intent of having public education in America was to turn kids into good citizens. This is a book with information that unquestionably contributes to that goal. If Mavis Jukes' books for girls and guys are not in your middle school collections, they need to be. And to try and bury such important resources in the shelves, rather than booktalking them and displaying them is a serious mistake.


Richie Partington

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com

Moderator, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/middle_school_lit/




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