For the longest time, I’ve been in love with Nancy Vo’s fictional stories, my two favorites being The Ranger and The Outlaw, the first two in the Crow trilogy. The third is slated for publication in 2024.
I had planned on waiting until July to feature this nonfiction book, but I love it so much, I wanted to put a bug in everyone’s ear. It’s on a topic that I think most American publishers may tend to shy away from, the mammalian breast. Vo’s humorous, yet matter-of-fact treatment is sheer brilliance.
You have just opened a book about boobies.
Now, imagine reading this to a group of kids seated in front of you on the floor. Hold it up in front of your chest. Get the picture? Hilarity ensues.
All is not what it seemed.
Again, turn the page.
Here is a Blue-footed Booby.
Ask the kids sitting in front of you a question: Why are those crabs looking askance at that Booby?
Turn the page to see if their answers are correct.
But wait…the Blue-footed Booby does
not have any boobies at all.
Birds are avian, not mammalian.
Mammals have mammary glands.
In other words, mammals have boobies.
In the next spread, Vo shows a group of animals, and asks which have boobies. In the spread that follows, all of those animals from the previous page now stare at the reader, the question being You? Yes, you are a mammal with boobies, too. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, every mammal has mammary glands.
I am thrilled to see Vo normalizing a body part that is considered such a taboo topic. And in doing so, she normalizes the word “boobies,” removing its stigma and power over women by applying it to every mammal. If you’re a mammal, you have boobies. There’s no denying this aspect of biology.
She even addresses breast cancer in a way that feels inclusive, explains why mammals have boobies, and yes, cheekily notes that some humans make milk from plants, showing soy, almond, and oat milks.
Vo offers up interesting information about the varying number of nipples different mammals have, and how they might have more babies than they have nipples. She even takes the reader through cultural associations of boobies with mountains, and shows how artists have depicted them for ages. They’re nothing new, and should be treated as normal.
With a brilliant balance of humor and facts (leveraging the synergy between art and text that author-illustrators enjoy), Vo has created a book that should be read widely, at home or in school. (Have I already used the word “brilliant”? Well, it’s appropriate, so I have no qualms about using it again.)
The ending (created long before the recent firing of an assistant principal in Texas) includes a wink to another bodypart. Butt I’ll let you discover that once the book is published. I want you all to get your pre-orders in now. Don’t wait until August.
Learn about the characteristics of mammals in this Youtube video by Clarendon Learning.
After watching this video about classifying animals, older kids can find pictures of animals (vertebrates, i.e. with backbones) in magazines or books and categorize them as mammals, fish, birds, reptiles, or amphibians. If you have a picture of an insect, to what category does it belong?
Pair this book with A Mammal is an Animal by Lizzy Rockwell.
Author/Illustrator: Nancy Vo
Publisher: Groundwood Books, (August) 2022
Ages: Pre-K through elementary school
Themes: Mammals, mammary glands, STEM
For more perfect picture book recommendations, please visit Susanna Hill’s website.