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Child Health Day

Author John Cech
Air Date 10/4/1999

Child Health Day Transcript

Today is Child Health Day — a good time to take a look at a few of the books that are being published for children about their biological states of being. Perhaps I should warn you that what’s meant today by “health,” is not the same thing that most of us remember from those middle school lectures that made our gym teachers so nervous. The current trend is an anything-goes, tell-it-like it is, tell-it- like the Europeans and others have been telling it for generations. With our Puritan roots, we Americans have been notoriously timid about such talk, until rather recently.

It took a consortium of West German churches in the mid-1970s, to start this conversation when they published a book called Show Me, which attempted to deal, in the frankest possible terms and photographs, with the subject of human sexuality in a work intended for children. The uproar surrounding the book’s publication in the States touched off a number of court battles and eventually led to legislation that bans the book in this country.

About ten years later, the Germans gave us another moral pretzel-bender of a book. It was called About the Little Mole Who Wanted to Know Who did It On His Head; it told the tale of a hapless Mole in an aubergine jumpsuit who sticks his head out of his burrow one morning only to have one of the creatures in the barnyard dump a scatological calling card on his head. The Little Mole spends the rest of the book questioning the other animals about and then carefully observing their evacuatory habits — all this in graphic detail with onomatopoetic word play.

American authors and publishers finally took the cue, and soon produced not only a translation of the Little Mole book (which I never thought I’d see), but also other books from home and abroad that followed a similar theme — books like Everybody Poops, Once Upon a Potty, The Gas that We Pass, and The Toilet Book, which comes equipped with an audio chip that makes every living room sound like Archie Bunker’s.

I suppose it was inevitable that the next step would be into the discipline that one publisher calls “Grossology” — in a book that has a puddle of plastic baby barf on its front cover instead of a dust jacket. The back cover of the book tells the would-be scholar of this subject: “Sometimes its stinky. Sometimes its crusty. And sometimes its slimy. But hey, it’s your body.”

These are the things that children have been joking about with each other for eons, just out of ear-shot of the adults, and certainly not in books. That would have spoiled the fun. I’m for almost every kind of dialogue, but as the public crassification of our culture slouches toward the new millennium, oh, my do I long for the good old days, when some things could be left unsaid in polite society, and kids could still keep their tribal discourse a well-known secret among themselves.

Posted in Holidays, Literature