“It’s called pissed,” my daughter said, carefully enunciating the words.
“Pissed?” I replied. “You read a book at school called Pissed?”
“Uh-huh. It was great. There were these animals who talked to a little boy.”
“It’s called Pissed?”
“The animals are telling secrets!”
“Oh! It’s called Pssst!”
“Yup. That’s what I said. It’s awesome.”
I loved seeing my four-year-old twins excited about reading, so I got the book for them, and we read it together.
Adam Rex’s Pssst! is about a little girl, not a little boy, contrary to my daughter’s opinion. My four-year-olds, despite my best efforts, insist that girls have long hair and boys have short hair. In the book, a little girl with short hair goes to the zoo, where the animals ask her to fetch various items, which they use for a joint purpose (no spoiler here!). It’s a cute, humorous story that appeals to children who love the idea of talking to animals. It may even appeal to parents who feel a little uncomfortable with zoos for keeping animals in captivity, often in cramped conditions, despite the laudable goals of educating the public and promoting conservation and genetic diversity.
The only potential drawback is the back cover, which, shockingly, has a picture of….
A MOTHER SLOTH CARRYING A BABY.
Well, that’s what I saw.
Someone else saw two sloths “getting it on” and decided to write a one-star review on Amazon.com:
I find the illustration on the back cover to be lewd in nature. . and not suitable for small children. I am unsure as an educator how this picture made it past the publisher.
This is the type of highly sensitive person who reminds me of why I would oppose any rating system on children’s and young adult books. What rating would she give Adam Rex’s otherwise adorable book for children? NC-17?
I can see how someone could think the sloths are copulating. The two sloths in the illustration do not have the size discrepancy I would expect between a mother and a child. Against my better judgment, I added “sloth sex” to my browser’s search history and found websites suggesting that sloths mate while hanging upside down.
My children did not ask about the image, and even if they had, I would have told them what I saw: a mother carrying her baby. My girls are four and a half, and, in my opinion, too young for the sex talk apart from a basic understanding of human anatomy (we do not use any diminutive terms for vagina in our household) and knowledge of what the difference is between “good touch” and “bad touch.” The American Academy of Pediatrics has tips on how parents should respond to their children’s questions about sexuality, saying, “When [your child] is ready to ask you, as a parent you should be ready to answer.”
I don’t think Pssst! is going to force unprepared parents into having the “birds and the bees” talk earlier than expected, but to the extent that parents misunderstand the image of the two sloths, it probably wasn’t the best choice for the back jacket of a children’s book.
By the way, I’ve never seen the two-toed sloth at the Philadelphia Zoo hang from anything: