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Menstruation is demystified and destigmatized through this list of middle-grade and young adult fiction and nonfiction.
When my peers and I were awaiting our first period, reading Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret was a rite of passage, partly because it helped us ease into puberty and partly because it was the only voice addressing this need. Now there’s cause to celebrate! Not only did Margaret recently turn 50, but readers can now turn to a variety of viewpoints about menstruation. From period basics and painful periods to period stigma and period traditions across cultures, this bibliography offers fiction and informational books that are spot-on for the next generation of Margaret fans.
Period-Focused Informational Books
EndoMEtriosis: A Guide for Girls. By Tamer Seckin. 2020. 208p. Turner (9781684423651). Gr. 6–9. 618.100835.
Gynecologist Seckin offers his expertise to help teenage girls understand how endometriosis occurs in female bodies. In numerous chapters, he explains what endometriosis is, its common symptoms, why doctors often misdiagnose it, and ways to treat (and not to treat!) the disease. Related personal narratives begin with tragic mistreatments and end with positive approaches to managing endometriosis.
I’ve Got My Period. So What? By Clara Henry. Trans. by Gun Penhoat. 2017. 208p. Skyhorse/Sky Pony (9781510714229). Gr. 6–9. 612.6.
YouTube vlogger Henry brings an entertaining and relatable voice of authority to the topic of menstruation. In addition to the usual issues, such as how to alleviate cramps and what types of hygiene products are available, the author uses a bold brand of unapologetic humor to tackle such relevant social issues as period shaming, the history of women’s hygiene, and the sexism that can accompany menstruation.
Period: Twelve Voices Tell the Bloody Truth. By Kate Farrell. 2018. 224p. Feiwel and Friends (9781250141941). Adult. 612.6.This title for adults has tremendous crossover appeal for teens. In a diverse collection of essays, 12 distinct voices destigmatize menstruation by discussing their experiences with or without periods. Topics include what having a period is like for homeless women, wheelchair users, or women with heavy or painful periods. Other essays address menstruating as a transgender man or never having a period with an intersex body.
Period Power: A Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement. By Nadya Okamoto. 2018. 368p. Simon & Schuster (9781534430211). Gr. 8–12. 612.6.
Founder of PERIOD (period.org), a youth-fueled nonprofit that aims to eradicate period poverty, Okamoto focuses on menstrual equity in an effort to combat limited access to menstrual products. She describes the mechanics of menstruation, provides an overview of menstrual products over the years, and covers the social perception of periods in general, as well as how many cultures view menstruation.
Welcome to Your Period! By Yumi Stynes and Melissa Kang. Illus. by Jenny Latham. 2021. 176p. Candlewick/Walker (9781536214765). Adult. 612.
For girls still waiting to get their period, this comprehensive, reassuring guide to menstruation begins with basics, from sanitary products to what having a period will feel like. Readers with more experience will be interested in such topics as regularity, endometriosis, and whether women can get pregnant while menstruating. “Period Challenges,” like swimming or living with a dad, offer more tips.
Period-Related Informational Books
Body Talk: 37 Voices Explore Our Radical Anatomy. By Kelly Jensen. 2020. 256p. Algonquin (9781616209674). Gr. 8–12. 616.8.
Conversational and deeply personal essays with interspersed Q&As, lists, artwork, and comics from diverse authors and illustrators, including recognizable names such as Tyra Banks, Aly Raisman, and Shane Burcaw, address a variety of issues on the topic of body image. Several menstruation-related entries are included, covering such topics as endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and period stigma.
The Girl Guide: 50 Ways to Learn to Love Your Changing Body. By Marawa Ibrahim. Illus. by Sinem Erkas. 2018. 224p. Harper (9780062839435). Gr. 4–7. 612.6.
For tweens who aren’t yet seeking answers to big questions, this guide covers puberty topics in concise segments, illustrated with playful cut-paper collages and humorous photos. In an inviting, nonjudgmental tone, Ibrahim offers advice based on her own experiences, covering periods, vagina anatomy, and everything from hygiene products to bra sizing, body-image concerns, and the importance of mindfulness and exercise.
HelloFlo: The Guide, Period. By Naama Bloom. Illus. by Fleur Sciortino. 2017. 176p. Dutton (9780399187315). Gr. 6–10. 612.6.
Bloom, the founder of HelloFlo.com (a health site for girls and women), addresses menstruation as well as breast development, body hair, emotional development, and PMS in this upbeat guide. Accompanied by full-color cartoon illustrations that depict multicultural individuals with varying body types, the approachable text also comprises a history of women’s health and sidebars with content from physicians.
Human Body Theater. By Maris Wicks. Illus. by the author. 2015. 240p. First Second (9781626722774). Gr. 5–8. 741.5.
Cartoonish cells, organs, and other elements explain their forms and functions in this graphic-novel guide to the human body. A jaunty skeleton emcees the performance, which is divided into 11 acts, one for each major system. Chapters on the endocrine and reproductive systems cover puberty, including the menstrual cycle, with playful artwork that makes potentially daunting subjects approachable.
It’s Perfectly Normal: A Book about Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health. By Robie H. Harris. Illus. by Michael Emberley. 1994. 112p. Candlewick (9780763668723). Gr. 4–7. 613.9.
Considered a classic on the topic of puberty, this comprehensive guide for preteens covers human sexuality, anatomical differences, and changes during puberty, including menstruation. Other sections discuss masturbation, pregnancy, birth control, and sexually transmitted diseases. A friendly tone and candid cartoon drawings of humans of varying sizes, shapes, colors, ages, and ability add to the accessibility.
Sex Plus: Learning, Loving, and Enjoying Your Body. By Laci Green. 2018. 528p. Harper (9780062560971). Gr. 10–12. 306.7.
YouTube sex educator Green introduces teen readers to the ins and outs of their bodies in this comprehensive guide geared toward the cisgender female experience. Starting with an overview of male and female anatomy, the author continues with chapters that range from periods, vagina care, and masturbation to safer sex, consent and communication, and dating violence.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. By Judy Blume. 1970. 192p. Atheneum (9781481413978). Gr. 3–7.
In this classic, influential, and still realistic novel, Margaret, an almost 12-year-old girl in sixth grade, discusses her private hopes and anxieties in candid conversations with God. Along with three of her female classmates, her biggest concerns are with menstruation, breast development, and a burgeoning interest in boys, which are all treated with honesty and humor in a tender first-person narration.
Go with the Flow. By Karen Schneemann and Lily Williams. Illus. by Lily Williams. 2020. 336p. First Second (9781250143174). Gr. 7–10. 741.5.
A surprise period and an empty tampon dispenser in the school bathroom set off a battle over female health for four high-school sophomores in this graphic novel with a decidedly pointed pink-and-red palette. The friends’ frustration with the school administration’s reluctance to acknowledge the challenges of menstruation and gender-based inequities in the school’s budget leads them to take a political stand.
The Moon Within. By Aida Salazar. 2019. 240p. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine (9781338283372). Gr. 3–6.
As Celi begins puberty, her mother intends to hold a moon ceremony, an event to honor Celi’s first menstruation and empower her as she moves into this new phase in her life. Celi, however, starts off against the ceremony. Beautiful free-verse poems, narrated from Celi’s perspective, also incorporate cultural aspects of Latinx (especially Xicana) and Caribbean peoples as they tell her story.
Red Hood. By Elana K. Arnold. 2020. 368p. HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray (9780062742353). Gr. 9–12.
Printz Honor winner Arnold tackles toxic masculinity through the mythology of Little Red Riding Hood, set in modern times. Bisou’s first period brings heightened senses and a power to pursue male classmates who have morphed into wolves that force themselves on women. Her grandmother reveals their destiny as monthly hunters and the circumstances of Bisou’s mother’s death.
Revenge of the Red Club. By Kim Harrington. 2019. 256p. Aladdin (9781534435728). Gr. 5–8.
Riley flexes her muscles as a middle-school journalist when three major events occur: her school paper is censored; girl students feel unfairly targeted by the sudden enforcement of out-of-date dress code standards; and the Red Club, a “secret” period support group, is shut down. The young activist leads a protest movement to win back the club and female equality.
14 Hollow Road. By Jenn Bishop. 2017. 288p. Knopf (9781101938751). Gr. 5–7.
It feels like disaster when Maddie’s crush, Avery, asks another girl to dance at the sixth-grade formal. But real disaster strikes when a tornado destroys both Maddie’s and Avery’s houses. When the tweens end up living together as their families recover, there’s an opportunity for Avery to see Maddie as more than a friend, but a mortified Maddie can barely talk, especially after she starts her period.
Be Not Far from Me. By Mindy McGinnis. 2019. 240p. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen (9780062561626). Gr. 8–11.
Ashley has always been prepared when experiencing the outdoors near her home in the Smoky Mountains. But when she discovers her boyfriend with another girl during a drunken campout, she bolts, barefoot and with only the clothes on her back. Ashley must deal with hunger, cold, loneliness, lack of shelter, injury, and menstruation as she makes a painful and dangerous journey back home.
Fly Back, Agnes. By Elizabeth Atkinson. 2020. 296p. Carolrhoda (9781541578203). Gr. 4–7.
To avoid spending the summer in Kansas with her mother, Mo, Mo’s boyfriend, and his weird kid, 12-year-old Agnes, spins a lie that gets her out of the ordeal. Staying with her dad instead, she reinvents herself as Chloe, a girl with the life and family of her dreams. It’s a liberating situation until the lies turn on her. Topping off this summer of big changes is Agnes getting her first period.
Other Words for Home. By Jasmine Warga. 2019. 352p. HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray (9780062747808). Gr. 4–7.
Jude has enjoyed her life growing up in a coastal town in Syria. But when there’s trouble on the horizon and her older brother gets involved in a resistance movement, Jude and her mother leave for her uncle’s home in Cincinnati. Told in free verse, the story describes her life with a new language, complicated family relationships, Islamophobia, and the start of her period and wearing a hijab.
A Possibility of Whales. By Karen Rivers. 2018. 288p. Algonquin (9781616207236). Gr. 4–7.
Having a celebrity movie-star dad means moving once a year for Natalia. Rivers focuses this novel on Nat’s emotional upheaval as she has a falling out with her best friend, doesn’t know who her mother is, befriends Harry (a transgender boy), and doesn’t look forward to the onset of puberty. The author gives an honest depiction of Nat getting her first period and the complicated feelings that come with it.
To Night Owl from Dogfish. By Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer. 2019. 320p. Dial (9780525553236). Gr. 5–8.
Avery is an anxious New Yorker and Bett is an adventurous Californian, but there’s something connecting them: their dads are in love. Their witty email repartee reveals their initial horror over the prospect of becoming sisters, but, surprisingly, they bond at sleepaway camp. When their dads break up, however, the girls plot to keep them together, discussing their own lives, like getting their periods, along the way.
Twelve. By Lauren Myracle. 2007. 224p. Penguin/Puffin (9780142410912). Gr. 4–7.
Winnie, the hero of Eleven (2004), recounts her year after turning twelve in a casual, funny tone. As she starts junior high, her daily drama centers on family and friends, as well as puberty rites, such as buying her first bra and budding romantic feelings. As Winnie also gets her period, she learns about pads and tampons, experiences the embarrassment of losing a tampon in the pool, and references Judy Blume.
Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting It Done. By Andrea Gonzales and Sophie Houser. 2017. 272p. Harper (9780062472502). Gr. 6–10. 794.
Teenagers Gonzales and Houser met at a Girls Who Code computer camp in 2014, and, for a final project, they created the game Tampon Run, which aims to break down menstruation taboos. To their surprise, the game took off, and soon they were minicelebs in both pop culture and the tech world. Houser, who’s white, and Gonzales, who’s Filipina, recount their experiences in alternating chapters.
The Wide World of Coding: The People and Careers behind the Programs. By Jennifer Connor-Smith. 2020. 144p. Lerner/Twenty-First Century (9781541552821). Gr. 8–11. 005.1023.
Emphasizing that anyone—regardless of their age, gender, or education—can code, this book explains how coders think and design programs, rather than focusing specifically on programming languages. Among the book’s featured programs is Tampon Run, developed by two female high-school students, which works to erase the stigma of menstruation.
Angela Leeper is the Director of the Curriculum Materials Center at the University of Richmond, VA.
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