Book Review: Girl Stuff for girls 8-12, by Kaz Cooke

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_girl_stuff_for_girls_aged_8-12Kaz Cooke is a very accessible and humourous Australian author and cartoonist who specialises in writing books on health and well being for women (and girls). I can still remember her hilarious descriptions of pregnancy in Up the Duff, which were fantastically described in both words and pictures. Her Kidwrangling guide to raising children was a natural purchase for me once I had children, and I now find myself in the position of having a child in the right age bracket for her latest book, Girl Stuff 8-12.

The first chapter leaps right on in with changes in your body during puberty. All descriptions are factual, simply explained and occasionally humourous. Kaz is very careful to ensure that the book outlines the wide variety in body types and experiences of puberty. My daughter found this chapter very interesting (actually, I did too). I particularly liked her suggestions on responding to comments from people about body changes. There are some excellently pragmatic comments around periods, and I sincerely wish that I had read this book when I was younger!

Later chapters deal a lot with social issues – such as friendships and bullying as well as ‘not-so-happy families.’ There is a great chapter on confidence, and positive self talk. I found her list for parents and girls regarding online safety useful and I will be adopting some of the tips for use. The back of the book has a very useful ‘more info’ section with really good websites and phone numbers (including New Zealand numbers). There is a theme throughout the book of getting good advice and information – such as avoiding advertising messages or asking adults how to manage privacy settings.

My daughter and I read the first chapter on body changes together. I knew that the book was hitting the mark when my daughter took off with the book and finished reading it very quickly by herself! She particularly liked the ‘real life’ comments made by girls throughout the book. When I spoke to her about it afterwards it was clear that she had understood the content, so I think that the book is well written in that respect.

The book does not really get into relationships or sex – there is a follow up book that covers those topics in greater depth. However, if you are after a factual book about puberty for younger girls then this is a great guide. I will definitely be getting the following book in the series.

Reviewed by Emma Rutherford

Girl Stuff for girls 8-12
by Kaz Cooke
Published by Viking Australia
ISBN 9780143573999


Book Review: Rough on Women: Abortion in 19th-Century New Zealand, by Margaret Sparrow

cv_rough_on_womenI had several people ask ‘Why would anyone volunteer to read this book?’, during the course of reading it. It took me longer than usual to read; after reading about two deaths from apparent poisoning, the last thing I wanted to move on to was the heading ‘Kate’s death – wielding a whalebone?’ Following the success of Abortion Then & Now: New Zealand abortion stories from 1940 to 1980, Margaret Sparrow has created a thorough and, at times, harrowing account of New Zealand abortions in the 1800s.

No leaf has been left unturned in this book, covering abortion laws and practice in the 19th century, through to real and bogus doctors, and even self-abortion. Using any and every resource available to her, Sparrow has created a book full of real women and their real stories. With a fleeting reference to Minnie Dean, Sparrow explores the limited choices available to women, and the extremes to which they went after having an unwanted child. These included child farming, adoption, and infanticide. The latter provides a wealth of examples of women charged with murdering their own child – these women were often sent to gaol or a lunatic asylum.

The concept of helping others comes through several times in the book. Whether they were doctors turned abortionists, a neighbour being friendly, or an employer helping their domestic servant, these people faced imprisonment, as did the woman, if caught. Chemists played an integral part in the process too, often as the first port of call to provide “patient-friendly abortion services.”

While this book covers 19th century New Zealand (as expected), Sparrow devotes a chapter to ‘Lessons from history’. She takes the time to look closely at the history of the legislation surrounding abortion, and is critical of the our current laws – “New Zealand’s current laws are no better than those of the 19th century in preventing or controlling abortions, and this is not surprising.” Reading this sentence didn’t surprise me either; during university I remember one article of a student couple’s attempt to get an abortion on the grounds of simply not being ready or wanting the child. Why should a woman be forced to lie when simply she doesn’t want a child? And for exceptional cases? The argument of ‘what is an exceptional case’ will erupt, of course. But as Sparrow reminds the reader: “That rape should not be a ground for abortion is a shameful infringement of human rights.”

So why did I elect to review this book? Because, quite simply, it’s an important issue, and I believe we don’t talk about it enough. If you’d like a hard-hitting, thought-provoking, and all together gripping read, I cannot recommend Rough on Women more. Sparrow’s critical stance and outspokenness in this field makes me smile and hope that we will have a serious change for the better in the foreseeable future.

Reviewed by Kimaya McIntosh

Rough on Women: Abortion in 19th-Century New Zealand
by Margaret Sparrow
Victoria University Press
ISBN 9780864739360