Lots of children's books use lovable characters, comforting illustrations, and satisfying narrative arcs to explore topics that might otherwise be too complicated or intimidating for readers to understand.
But it's not just kids who grapple with new and scary topics. With STI rates on the rise in Canada, Toronto native Jackie Prince wants to teach young adults about sexual health in the most palatable way possible: through a cute, cuddly illustrated koala named Chloe, who gets diagnosed with chlamydia.
And just in time too, as Canada's most populous province prepares to return to a 1998 Ontario sex-ed curriculum.
The story of "Chloe Has Chlamydia" will likely feel a little recognizable to many young adults.
Chloe leaves home, enjoys her independence, has a great time during "mating season" — but is completely thrown when she discovers she has a sexually transmitted infection.
At first she's worried about her health, particularly when she finds out chlamydia can lead to infertility if left untreated. She tells all of her sexual partners to get tested. After learning that many people/koalas with chlamydia don't have symptoms, Chloe passes out condoms to all of the animals in her forest.
It's sweet, informative, and only occasionally filthy.
"I chose a picture book to be a more fun way of approaching a pretty uncomfortable subject," Brooklyn-based Prince told HuffPost Canada in a phone interview. "There's a massive awareness problem and a lot of discomfort around talking about STDs and STIs."
The most recent research from Health Canada shows a steady increase in chlamydia rates from 2005 to 2014, with the exception of one small dip from 2012 to 2013.
Prince is hoping the book will make its way to young women, who contract chlamydia at a higher rate than any other demographic.
The first step in proactive sexual health involves being honest with yourself, she said: many people don't get tested because they simply don't want to admit they might be susceptible to STIs. And once they do, it can be hard to bring the conversation up with a partner or with their doctor, for fear of judgment.
"I really wanted to make a point in the scenes where Chloe's sharing [her diagnosis ]with her partners, that it doesn't feel judgmental," Prince said. "That it's appreciated that she's sharing taking it on herself to spread the word about safe sex, so that her friends don't go through as well."
That Chloe is bisexual isn't a major plot point, or even stated explicitly, but her partners include both male and female koalas. "I wanted the book to be inclusive, because so much of sexual education is not inclusive," Prince explained.
In all the research she did about chlamydia, Prince said what surprised her most was also what was most obvious. "The thing that got me was how preventable this is, but how prevalent it is," she said. "The percentages of increases over the last few years are staggering, and they don't have to be."
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She also came across recent breakthroughs that could help stem chlamydia rates in koalas.
Ten per cent of the book's proceeds will be donated to Planned Parenthood.
The bottom line for Prince: "Sex should be fun. These conversations don't need to feel as awkward as they do."
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