A celebratory and body-positive book for young children discusses all the different parts of a human body, from hair and nose to nipples and genitals—and is marvelously inclusive of all genders and a wide range of skin tones, physical differences, and body types.
The Bare Naked Book, by Kathy Stinson and illustrated by Melissa Cho (Annick Press) is an updated edition of Stinson’s 1986 book of the same name. “Every body is different” it asserts, before proceeding to offer colorful spreads about different body parts, including hair, eyes, noses, arms, legs, and more. Each part is described briefly and readers are asked, “Where is your [hair, eyes, nose, etc.]?” The images show people of all ages laughing, playing, and posing in a variety of ways.
Body types range from thin to heavy. People with disabilities are included through specific language about “Eyes that see and eyes that are blind,” “Ears that hear and ears that are deaf,” and more, and there are also multiple images of people in wheelchairs, with cochlear implants, and with one arm or leg. Two pages take us inside the body, “Where happy and sad live under every part,” to show simplified views of the digestive, respiratory, nervous, and skeletal systems.
We see many different skin tones, as well as people with vitiligo (loss of pigmentation), birth marks, stretch marks, skin spots, scars, armpit and chest hair, tattoos, body piercings, braces, missing teeth, and glasses. There are characters with Muslim hijabs and burkas as well as Sikh head coverings (turbans and patka). I would have loved to see some with Jewish yarmulkes, too, but that’s my only complaint.
We read of “Chest and breasts with hair, with milk, with nipples like buttons,” but Stinson admirably avoids specifying genders here. An image of various adults showing their naked breasts and chests includes one person with facial hair who has scars below the nipples of a flat chest, presumably a transgender man who has had top surgery.
The pages on genitals show children taking off their clothes or on the toilet. While the genitals are clearly seen, they are shown in scenes that look like snapshots of everyday life, and feel appropriate for the age and topic. One child with a penis has a pink shirt; another with short hair has a vulva, but again, they are not gendered. Stinson stresses in the text, “Whatever you call whatever you have, your genitals belong to you.” She writes in the afterward about her deliberate approach here, saying that “Rather than specifying ‘penis’ and ‘vagina,’ as we did originally, and assigning them rigidly to males and females, this time we have used simply ‘genitals,’ leaving adult readers free to talk with children about variations in gender identity and genitalia, and the words they might prefer to use to refer to them.” This shared understanding of terms lets “each child choose how they self-identify” and can also help “in recognizing and intervening in cases of sexual abuse.”
Aside from the image of the transgender man and other possibly trans or nonbinary characters, queer representation includes one image of two women (or possibly a woman and a nonbinary person) holding hands, likely a couple, an image of two older men with their arms around each other, also likely a couple (see first interior image above), and one character with pink hair and bold eye makeup who could be a drag queen (image above).
The range of bodies and identities is really quite remarkable (although such a thing shouldn’t be so surprising). There seem to be at least two (sometimes more) people with any given religious head covering, disability, or other notable body feature (braces, vitiligo, body piercings, etc.) When so many other books that claim to be diverse have at most one person with any given diversity marker (e.g., the one token kid in the wheelchair or with a hijab), seeing these multiple depictions feels wonderful and affirming. No matter what your body is like or what you wear on it, you’re not alone.
This is a joyous and empowering book that should be welcomed by many seeking such volumes to teach their kids about bodies and their parts, but also about human diversity broadly speaking. It’s a must-have for any young child’s bookshelf. (Make sure you get the edition with the cover shown here, currently available only in hardback; earlier editions are not as inclusive.)