Book Review: My Little Red Book

I read this book a few months ago on my Kindle, but now I have the hardcover (free, won in a contest on a blog). I love it, and will give it to my (future, hopefully) daughter when it’s time to start talking about puberty.

Nalebuff, Rachel Kauder. My Little Red Book. New York, NY: Twelve, 2009.

My Little Red Book

Whatever a girl experiences or expects, she’ll find stories that speak to her thoughts and feelings. My Little Red Book aims to provide support, entertainment, and a starting point for discussion for mothers and daughters everywhere. Royalties from sales of the book are being donated to charities promoting women’s health and education. Let the dialog begin! -Rachel Kauder Nalebuff, Editor (from

This book is a gem that I wish I’d had when I was at that tender age that all girls experience: waiting for (and then getting) my first period. The editor compiled stories of women of all ages, from the 1930s through 2008, recalling their first period. Most of the women come from the United States, but there are also stories from Australia, Canada, China, Ghana, India, Kenya, and Turkey. Some are famous women, like Gloria Steinam, Judy Blume, and Meg Cabot. Some are teens of today. Women around the world and of all ages are very different, but one unifying element is menstruation. It’s amazing how this book shows this universal aspect of womanhood.
Do you remember your first period? Many women will never forget. Pride, shame, joy, sadness, confusion… if all women menstruate, why don’t we talk about it? I like how that new Kotex ad is making fun of the fact that ads for tampons and pads are so abstract (you know the ad I’m taking about: “Commercials for pads are so helpful, showing that blue liquid… so that’s what’s supposed to happen!”), but we need to be even more proactive. I hate how when I’m talking about my period with friends, there is almost always someone who says something like, “I’m sorry if this is TMI” or “I know this is gross, but…” Why do we need to preface it like that? Why can’t we just accept the fact that we all know what you’re saying, and we’ve probably experienced the same thing ourselves?
The point of this book is to open the doors to communication. It’s great for girls who are expecting or experiencing their first periods, because it gives them some idea of what to REALLY expect (“I awoke to a sticky feeling in my pajama bottoms” recalls one woman, page 25; another woman remembers the color: “it was the rust color that confused me. It wasn’t red. In books it’s always red,” page 146-7). It’s also a great jumping off point to start a dialog. When I read this book, I immediately got curious about other women in my life. I talked to my mother about the book and we shared our memories of our first periods.
I think it would be amazing for mothers to read My Little Red Book with their daughters so they can field questions and discuss it. Instead of mothers trying to tell their daughters about what it’s like for them now, a time in life that the daughters won’t reach for many years, the mother’s relating her first period brings everything down to her daughter’s experience level. This would definitely lead to a more helpful conversation.
There is a website for My Little Red Book, and among other things there is a page that invites women to submit their own stories. In this spirit, here’s my own story.
I don’t remember a lot about my first period. What sticks out in my mind is what happened a few months before. I was 12 years old and having a routine checkup with my Pediatrician, and he asked if I’d gotten my period. I said no, and he said that because of my size (now full-grown I’m just 5’1) it might not happen until I was 16. I don’t even remember who of my friends had gotten it, we might not have even talked about it. I was embarassed at the thought of having to wait four more years, and tired of waiting for it when it had been at least a year or two since I’d first been told about puberty.
Later that night my mom asked my dad, who had taken me to the doctor, what had happened. My dad didn’t even say the words. He said, “he asked her if she had started to end her sentences yet.” I had to think about that before I realized what he meant: many sentences end in a period. That may have been because he didn’t want my brother and sister to know what he was saying, but to me it felt like menstruation was shameful. He didn’t even say the words.
I didn’t have to wait until I was 16. I got my period the day before I started sixth grade. I was 12 years and 5 months old. Now instead of just having a new school to deal with, I had my period too. I told my mom and said she could tell my dad, but not to make a big deal out of it.