What happened? A guide to help children understand the intact and circumcised penis

Author: Kathleen Legler

What happened?: A guide to help parents understand the intact and circumcised penis. By Kathleen Legler. Raleigh, North Carolina: Lulu, 2010. 22 pages. www.lulu.com. Review by J. Steven Svoboda.

Kathleen Legler has written a short picture book suitable for young children, addressing the functions of the foreskin and what circumcision is. Personally, as a parent of young children, when explaining my intactivist work to them, I have struggled with how to protect them from the cruel truth of the practice while giving them a meaningful answer.

Legler’s solution is positive and straightforward. She leads with the flip side of circumcision, namely, the whole penis. The first half of the book discusses the intact penis, the nature of the foreskin, and explains why forced retraction should not be performed (retraction happens at different ages for different boys). Only then does the author go on to discuss those boys who do not “get to go home from the hospital with their foreskin hoods.” The author goes on to discuss why circumcision should not be performed and then answers the natural question as to why those misguided adults do perform this unnecessary procedure.

Legler’s fullpage cartoons appear on each right-hand page, illustrating the corresponding text appearing on the left-hand pages. Legler does not seem to be as outstanding an illustrator as she is a writer, but nevertheless her pictures generally succeed in getting their points across in an understandable manner, and that is the most important function they need to serve.

I had a couple minor bones to pick with details about the book. A couple of the drawings seem a bit poorly calculated. Particularly, the retraction process drawing on page 6 seems to belong to a different book aimed for adults, as it is text-heavy and also is not going to be intelligible to the book’s evident target audience. Also, the book’s implication that all births happen in hospitals is a bit out of step with contemporary reality.

The book is attractively produced in basic colors with a typeface that will appeal to young readers, whether they are reading the book themselves or having it read to them by adults.

Despite its minor imperfections, Legler’s book serves an important function and should be an indispensable part of the library of any intactivist with young children or with inquisitive young relatives.