Growing Sustainable Together, Ramona’s World, and The Vagina Bible [book reviews]

In the past few months, I’ve mostly been rereading novels I had read before–most notably, I was already midway through Snow Crash [reviewed here] when Facebook announced its intention to create the Metaverse, so that was chillingly appropriate!  Let’s hope we don’t all catch a brain-stem virus.  Anyway, I also read two excellent nonfiction books and finally read (to my seven-year-old) the final book in the Ramona Quimby saga.

Growing Sustainable Together by Shannon Brescher Shea

This guide to involving children in environmental activism was written by one of my online allies, the author of the enviro-family website We’ll Eat You Up, We Love You So.  Shannon interviewed me and included several quotes and paraphrases from me, but I bought my own copy of the book, and this is an impartial review!  (Links in the rest of this review connect to some of my articles on this subject.)

Environmental problems can be terrifying, so it may seem obvious that we should protect children from knowing how damaged and fragile our Earth is.  However, it’s parenthood that first brings environmental problems to the attention of many people–as their children’s fresh new lives inspire them to think farther into the future and to be more concerned about the hazards around us–and sharing your thoughts with your children fosters a closer relationship and an early sense of responsibility.  This book explains how we can teach environmental awareness and responsibility from an early age in a way that equips kids to take positive action instead of feeling scared.

Shea begins with values: kindness, sharing, appreciation of Earth’s beauty and resources.  She moves on to discuss food choices, transportation, energy efficiency, anti-materialism, volunteering, and political activism as they relate to children, with lots of resources for getting informed and involved in ways that suit your family.  She explores research about what’s effective in shaping children’s worldview and behavior.  She features several programs that get kids involved in things like reducing waste at school, riding bicycles, removing invasive plants, and organic gardening.  She shares many of her experiences raising her own children, as well as the experiences of other “green parenting” writers.

This would be a great resource for parents who themselves experienced a sheltered childhood with no social activism.  I was raised with plenty of awareness and activism, myself, so it’s been easy to work this into my children’s lives mainly by following my parents’ example–but I see many of my parents’ and my strategies clearly explained in this book.  Reading about programs that teach green skills and values to lots of kids encourages me to feel less alone in trying to save our Earth.

One thing I was surprised to see is that Shea thinks I “grew up in a very anti-materialistic household.”  She goes on to explain how my family values heirlooms, gifts, and second-hand items, and quotes me saying, “I feel like there’s a lot of abundance in our lives without having to buy a lot of new and wasteful stuff.”  That’s all true! But anti-materialistic doesn’t seem like the right word for it.  The core of our philosophy is valuing stuff so much that we want to use every bit of it as thoroughly and honorably as we possibly can!  But that’s just a minor terminology quibble; my approach and the way it’s played out with my kids are very well explained in the book.

Ramona’s World by Beverly Cleary

Ramona Quimby is starting fourth grade, and she’s no longer the youngest in her family now that baby sister Roberta has arrived.  Another new girl comes into Ramona’s life on the first day of school: Daisy, the first girl ever to become a close friend of Ramona’s, just as her longtime friendship with neighbor boy Howie Kemp is drifting apart.  Ramona and Daisy have great fun visiting each other’s homes, playing dress-up, and accidentally falling through a ceiling.  Meanwhile, Ramona wrestles with being a poor speller and wondering if spelling really matters, Ramona’s big sister Beezus attends her first high-school party, Ramona baby-sits and cat-sits simultaneously (and amusing mayhem ensues), and there are some issues with school pictures, valentines, and that kid called Yard Ape.  It’s a solid elementary-school saga with plenty of funny moments.

I read all the Ramona books that were available in my childhood, and I’ve read each of them to each of my children.  (Here are our reviews of Ramona and Her Father, Ramona and Her Mother, and Ramona Forever; and I even led an all-ages discussion of sin and repentance based on the final chapters of Ramona the Pest.)  But this final book in the series was published when I was 26 years old–so although I leaped for it in a public library where I was sheltering from the rain in Minneapolis and read as much as I could in an hour, I never got around to acquiring a copy to read the rest!  Finally I checked it out of the library and read it to Lydia.  It doesn’t have quite as much depth of plot and characters as the other Ramona books, but it is a lot of fun.

The Vagina Bible by Jen Gunter

Dr. Gunter is a gynecologist eager to help everyone to greater understanding of not only the vagina but also the vulva–the external organs that many people include when we casually refer to the whole area as “vagina.”  She gives lots of scientific and practical details on exactly what’s what anatomically, the importance of pleasure and healthy sexuality, pregnancy and childbirth, routine maintenance (with clear explanations of what’s not recommended), menstrual hygiene, menopause, various health conditions and their treatment, and a handy symptom guide.  This is very, very useful stuff for every vagina owner to know!  You might not want to read all the details of all the things that could go wrong (I just skimmed most of that), but it’s great to know where to look up thorough information if you need it.

I appreciate that the menstrual section includes reusable menstrual cups and cloth pads as valid options to choose, while explaining more reasons than I knew why a natural sea sponge or a home-crocheted tampon is not such a safe choice.  However, there are a few things missing from Dr. Gunter’s explanation of the Toxic Shock Syndrome risk of tampons vs. cups, so pardon my geeking out on this for a moment:

  • She never mentions that you should WASH YOUR HANDS before you insert either a tampon or a cup; dirty hands could contaminate the tampon or cup when you handle it prior to insertion.
  • She insists that reusable cups must be boiled before insertion to kill all traces of TSS bacteria, yet she doesn’t acknowledge that packaged tampons are not sterile.  Having been a tampon user herself, she talks us through the logic of deciding that the risk of TSS is so low that the convenience of tampons may be worth the risk–but says the theoretical risk of simply emptying and reinserting a cup is too high despite the incredible convenience of not having to carry extra products!  (I have been using reusable cups since 1997.  I don’t boil them routinely at all, just wash with soap.  I have never had any vaginal infection that started during cup use.)
  • Although she makes the valid point that cups could cause TSS or other problems–as any outside object that stays in the vagina for hours could do–and just haven’t been studied as thoroughly as tampons, she also dodges any discussion of the fact that cups are not absorbent, while TSS bacteria multiply rapidly on absorbent surfaces with greater surface area and more trapped oxygen.  Because you fold the cup before insertion, you’re not inserting a lot of air along with it.  Cup marketing frequently mentions non-absorbency as a safety factor, so I think Dr. Gunter should have addressed this–she does talk about surface area and oxygen and absorptive capacity when comparing different types of tampons and sponges.
  • While there’s not much published research documenting the safety of cups, they are physically similar to diaphragms and cervical caps, which have been on the market for decades and are worn even longer at a time than cups.  Dr. Gunter not only doesn’t mention them in the discussion of cup safety, she doesn’t mention them at all–the chapter on contraception is written as if these methods no longer exist!

I appreciate her acknowledgment that reusable products have lower environmental impact than disposable products, but I think that “Some pads are compostable, and that can impact purchasing decisions,” and the recommendation of plastic tampon applicators are short-sighted.  I know Dr. Gunter is a gynecologist, not an environmental scientist, but it frustrates me when these things are presented as so unimportant.  Nothing “compostable” is better for the environment unless you actually compost it, and the plant-based plastics used in disposable pads will not break down in an ordinary home composting system, only in industrial composting.

On another note, I was startled that this book has a whole chapter on the vaginas of transgender people.  It was interesting to learn about the issues involved, but they apply to such small segments of the population that I was surprised to see so much detail so highly prioritized.  (The chapter is longer than the one about contraception, and it appears very early in the book.)  However, I think maybe this is a way of saying, “I’m not forgetting that some people are trans,” and getting that out of the way at the beginning of a book that otherwise refers to people with vaginas as “women” with “female bodies,” because in today’s culture (the book was published in 2019) it’s important to acknowledge trans people.  If you’re tempted to think it isn’t inclusive enough, note that the book does not in any way address any birth defects or infant complications of the vagina or vulva–some of which are more common than being transgender–so there are other people who might feel excluded, and even this exhaustive reference cannot cover everything.

Speaking of inclusivity, in discussing sexual activity, Dr. Gunter is always very clear about whether she’s talking about male partners, female partners, or particular practices.  It’s very fact-based and not judgmental about anything (except partners who are disrespectful of vaginas or the people surrounding them).

Overall, this is an extremely useful resource!  It’s disturbing how often the phrase “not known” is necessary when trying to explain the functions of all the vaginal accessories, so there’s clearly a lot of vagina research yet to be done, but this book presents a whole lot of information in a very readable format.

Read other writers’ book reviews at Quick Lit and Show Us Your Books!  Visit Hearth & Soul for other writers’ tips on many topics!

6 thoughts on “Growing Sustainable Together, Ramona’s World, and The Vagina Bible [book reviews]

  1. I stand firm that if men had vaginas there would be literally almost nothing unknown about them. That sounds like a great resource and the book cover is very clever.

    I love Ramona and always have!

    • Yes, penises are much better understood and also fascinating! This book doesn’t even get into the uterus, but that also is an organ that isn’t well understood because of centuries of “You’re not allowed to look at that; it wouldn’t be proper.” 🙄

      I like the cover, too! I learned that my reaction to it (“Ooh, what if I had a zipper! Would that be convenient and tidy?”) is different from straight men’s reaction (“Ouch?”).

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