The covers are the elementary school equivalent of a brown paper wrapper: a basic red and grey pattern with tiny, stylized boy and girl, such as one finds on public washrooms, and the words The Life Cycle Library for Young People in the plainest of fonts.
The girl-silhouette appears to be floating above the straight line indicating the ground.
The year is, appropriately, 1969. Something called the Parent and Child Institute of Chicago saw the need to make available a set of comprehensive but wholesome sex education books for parents who wanted their children to have all the facts, presented with as little salaciousness as possible. Oh, the text cracks a smile now and then, as when dating girls are asked not to assume that call is the promised one from their beau. "The caller just might be your elderly uncle," warns Volume 3, "who may not appreciate being called Georgie-boy" (273). Overall, however, they maintain the tone of a smalltown classroom, straightforward, educational, and restrained.
Yes, these volumes cover everything from phone calls to frigidity, menstruation to meiosis. Given the times and traditional attitudes, they are quite forward-thinking. Of course, viewed from the perspective of the twenty-first century, they are as interesting as a reflection of 1969 middle-class values, wanting to embrace the shifting realities of life, without entirely abandoning a self-image rooted in Leave it to Beaver and Ozzie and Harriett.
The first two volumes cover the following important topics:
1. The Life Cycle
2. The Miracle of Growth
3. A Boy Becomes a Man
4. A Girl Becomes a Woman
5. Feeling Well
6. What is Normal
7. You are an Individual
8. The Beginning of a Life Cycle
9. How a Baby Develops
10. The Mother of the Baby
11. How a Baby is Born
12. What Happens to a Newborn
13. Who Will the Baby be Like
14. How You Grew
15. A Baby Makes a Family
In addition to important information of how to answer the phone or deal with a rogue erection, the book has been illustrated in a variety of artistic styles. I do not know if these styles all belong to one artist; the books credit only a Don Walkoe as art director. For convenience sake, I will assume that the different styles represent entirely different artists. Most of the illustrations have been done by The Poor Man's Norman Rockwell. The style bears little resemblance to the great American illustrator; it's clearly the work of a competent but hardly brilliant individual who has spent years inking textbooks and children's dictionaries. But the approach to the art is pure Rockwell; each illustration tells a folksy story. The second most-noteworthy artists I call Mr. Psychedelic. In keeping with the times, certain images boast fluid lines and wild colours, as though the artist dropped acid back in Chapter 3 and it's started to take effect.
Volume one begins with the basics: what is life, and how does it reproduce? For two chapters we get treated to a fairly dry discussion of cell growth and related matters, little of which could offend the most conservative of readers. They're building, of course; the good stuff is yet to come.
Chapters 3-4 tell us what happens when "A Boy Becomes a Man" and "A Girl Becomes a Woman." Despite later discussions of changing gender roles, the illustrations which accompany the clinical descriptions are pure Hollywood Small-town. Our boy sits shirtless atop a tractor; his farmer dad rests his arm proudly and trustingly on the wheel. Our girl rushes down the stairs in a billowy prom dress, late again. Mom looks up at her with a smile of maternal pride, whilst dad-- one in a series of bespeckled, tie-wearing fathers-- looks over at her date with tempered suspicion. Our look at the male reproductive system features a naked young buck drying himself from the shower. We're more protective of our daughters, however, and our look at her inner workings is accompanied by a young lady, fully clothed in a Marcia Brady ensemble.
The tendency to accompany biological diagrams with smiley people runs throughout the book. The stages of the menstrual cycle, for example, feature teenage girls walking, biking, doing homework, and playing tennis below giant floating uteruses.
From there the book gives us information on physical and moral development. Bespeckled dad gives junior pointers on shaving. Mr. Psychedelic takes over in the last chapter, treating us to 1960s dorm poster-style illustrations on peer pressure and racism.
Volume 2 takes us deeper into sweaty palms-territory, with its look at the hard facts of pregnancy. The Poor Man's Rockwell balances this volatile topic with illustrations recalling popular, charming fantasies. The couple who appear at the start of Chapter 8, on close inspection, wear bathing suits. However, their nakedness amdist tropical growth and lush, private parts-height greenery recalls Adam and Eve. Later, our heavily-pregnant woman purchases cabbages, looking herself a walking embodiment of the cabbage patch in her green maternity top.
Although traditional white American family images dominate these chapters and sterilized medical technicians surround their depictions of the birth process, the series does play its progressive hand. We get some token non-white families, a positive step even if the baby-gazing Inuit couple stand against a subdivision of igloos. We also see dad changing a diaper, while his poker buddies wait patiently in the adjacent and curiously darkened room.
"A Baby Makes a Family," insists the final chapter of this volume. Babies grow up, however, and their maturation does not always go smoothly, as the next volume examines.
Proceed to The Life Cycle Library for Young People, Volumes 3-4