Today is Menstrual Hygiene Day, a day dedicated to busting taboos and myths around periods. Fifty percent of the population gets a period, and yet people are still uncomfortable talking about it. There are lots of great non-fiction books for kids that cover puberty, but what about fiction?
Most girls get their periods between 10-15 years old, so why don’t we see the topic covered more in middle grade fiction? It’s not like it isn’t front of mind for adolescents! As a kid, I remember actively flipping through novels looking for any mention at all of periods, with very little success. Thank goodness for Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret. But while still relevant and an important read, that book is 50 years old. Isn’t it time for more periods in our middle grade fiction? In a time of heightened confusion around consent and sexual education, isn’t it urgently necessary?
I want to share an experience I had during a school visit that has never, ever left me. As an author, I get the pleasure of visiting schools and talking to students. It is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. I visited a school that had selected my first novel WORDS THAT START WITH B as the seventh grade read. I was thrilled until the organizer let it slip that they skipped the chapters where the narrator gets her period. She told me they moved right onto the road trip, “and nobody noticed a thing. You could have left that part out entirely.”
I was stunned, but let it slide. After all, I was thankful they had selected my book. The kids- girls AND boys- loved it, and stayed behind to tell me so and ask questions about what my characters would do next. But years later I am still bothered by the omission of those chapters. They are significant to my character. They are significant to me. All girls have known the anxiety and fear of What If I Get It At School. Writing this chapter was an acknowledgment of that anxiety. When a young reader sees a reflection of themselves or their experiences in a book they know they aren’t alone. I wanted girls to read that chapter and think, “Yes! I feel the same way!” and for boys to read that chapter and think, “I never thought about that before” and perhaps feel more informed. Books manage difficult topics in the safest way possible.
I couldn’t get over the image in my mind of the kid in the class who read ahead (there’s always at least one), knew the chapter was coming, sitting there waiting for teacher to read it, thrilled to finally address periods as something normal and worthy of discussion- and then the shock when the teacher skips ahead. The disbelief about what just happened. And eventually, the shame. By omitting periods from fiction what we say to girls is, “This is secret, this is shameful, this isn’t a human experience, it’s only a girl’s experience, and girls’ experiences don’t matter.”
So let’s make a list and share it widely! What middle grade books that actively mention periods or menstrual hygiene do you love? Please send me your recommendations and I’ll add them here. Let’s bust some taboos together and please visit the Menstrual Hygiene Day website for resources and ways to support.
GO WITH THE FLOW *These characters are in high school, but still works for a middle grade audience
Tamora Pierce’s books came up a lot, unsurprisingly. What a gift!
ONE BUTT CHEEK AT A TIME *YA, but would work for older tweens