Politicians behaving badly, #MeToo and a shift you can feel in the ether means that we are all talking about consent. Having these conversations in a developmentally appropriate way with children, however, can be tricky and it can be hard to know where to start. Books are a great gateway into these discussions and the following list might help you on your way. Whether you are looking for a picture book to share with a child, a book to teach a specific topic in a school setting, something a child can read by themselves and discuss with you later or a book to leave casually in the path of a teenager in the hope they pick it up and read it, we have some suggestions for you.
Just a heads-up, though: please make sure that before you give a book to a child, you read it yourself and decide whether or not it is right for them. We have chosen these books for their quality, but not every book suits every child and circumstance.
Younger Kids – Consent, boundaries and self-advocacy about your body
There is a rich array of picture books with themes of consent, boundaries and self-advocacy about your body. Many of them focus on choosing whether or not to hug and on respecting people’s preferred ways of interacting. When you need to talk to young children directly about the particularly serious topics of sexual abuse, the two titles by Jayneen Sanders that we have listed give you a clear, developmentally appropriate base from which to start.
Australian. A beautifully illustrated, inclusive book, How to Say Hello is a book about consent for young children that focuses on saying hello without hugging.
A beautifully illustrated, ‘quiet’ book, The Rabbit Listened, explores the theme of not pushing your preferred form of help on someone.
Don’t Touch My Hair reminds us that consent is not just about overtly sexualised touching and attention. It also models asking to touch and choosing whether to say yes or no.
Will Ladybug Hug? is a board book aimed at babies and toddlers that starts conversation about body boundaries and consent. It’s useful in teaching children to speak up about whether they wish to be touched or not and encourages them to ask permission before touching anyone else.
A funny, engagingly illustrated read-aloud about a child who (as a general rule) doesn’t like hugs even though some other people do. The story shows that it’s okay to sometimes say yes and sometimes say no. It models asking for permission and granting it or not. It highlights that the most important thing is that you should ask for permission and then take notice of the answer.
Coming August 2021
A lovebird who doesn’t like kisses? Similar message to Don’t Hug Doug, this also centres the child’s experience, feelings and wishes, except the child is a bird.
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus is a classic, hilarious book that will have the audience screaming at it with glee. Pigeon is persistent in trying to gain the reader’s permission to do something that he really wants to do but shouldn’t. It shows children that even if someone is incredibly persistent and manipulative, it’s still okay to say no.
Covers topics of consent, respect, body boundaries, safe and unsafe touch, early warning signs, safety network, private parts, and the difference between secrets and surprises. It has beautiful, inclusive illustrations and is appropriate for children ages 4-10.
An engaging narrative about a prince in a castle that is very useful to help frame conversations about sexual abuse with children.
Older Kids – Consent, sexual assault, respectful relationships
This is a tricky age to find books about consent or even books that model consent well, but one great option is:
Australian. Hidden behind its fairy tale influences, this story has some clear messages about consent. The plot builds to a non-consensual marriage between a princess and a frog-prince. Neither of them want to marry the other but feel they must because of a sense of duty. To compound the problem, the princess must kiss the frog-prince to turn him back into a human. She doesn’t want to kiss him, and he doesn’t want to be kissed. They both communicate this in their own ways, but it is not until they sit down and talk about it that they realise each other’s feelings. The protagonist then works with the kingdom to have the laws changed therefore preventing anyone else ever having to marry against their will.
Middle Primary/Lower Secondary Non-Fiction
There are a number of non-fiction books that deal with consent and growing up, but there are two current stand-outs that have both great content and are appealing to kids.
Australian. Welcome to Consent is inclusive, appealingly presented book that covers consent issues for 11 – 14 year old children who are on the cusp of or newly dealing with consent in their relationships.
This covers a wide range of consent issues in a simple, but comprehensive manner. It’s graphic novel style helps make it entertaining and compelling.
Upper Primary/Lower Secondary
Fiction can be a great vehicle for exploring issues of relationships and consent and can provide a prompt and framework for conversations.
Pet is set in a dystopian world in which Jam and Redemption must seek out the evil in Redemption’s house with the help of the monster, Pet. It has a diverse cast including a transgender protagonist and deals with the theme of sexual assault in families. It is suitable for advanced Year 6 readers up to senior secondary for a short read. LGBTQI+
Mila is uncomfortable about the lingering, unwanted hugs that she’s receiving from boys at school. Her friends dismiss it as ‘flirting’ or ‘being friendly’, but Mila doesn’t like it and has to work out how to stand up for herself. Suitable for advanced Year 6 readers and above.
Young Adult – Sexual Assault, Consent, Respectful Relationships
Australian. LGBTQI+ The neurodiverse main character deals with an uncomfortable sexual advance without consent that is perfect for raising a conversation about the topic.
Australian. Whilst Wildlife deals with the big issues of grief and friendship, there is also an interesting thread that deals with consent, particularly in regards to the impact of peer pressure on consent. Early in the book there is a scene that models the positive impact of communication on early romantic relationships.
LGBTQI+ Over a summer Max and Jordan work together in a food truck. Max has to deal with his confusion and discomfort over an experience of sexual assault in which lack of consent was a central issue before he can properly turn his attention to his growing attraction to Jordan.
Graphic Novel. LGBTQI+.
Charlie starts off the story in a relationship where consent is an issue for him, and Nick helps him deal with it. After weeks of flirting and longing, Charlie and Nick’s relationship begins with a scene that models consent beautifully.
Girls standing up to sexual harassment and discussions of sexual assault.
Young Adult – consent modelled well in the narrative
Many books that deal with consent issues focus on dealing with the consequences of a lack of consent. They are cautionary tales as opposed to showing the positive results of consent. The following books show consent being modelled well as a matter of course in the narrative and show the characters having good experiences as a result.
Australian. Set in a dystopian present in the Australian outback, two teenagers act on their growing attraction discussing the physical and emotional steps as they go. The conflict in their romance revolves around keeping life-or-death secrets rather than about inadequate communication within their relationship.
Even though much of the consent in this YA fantasy takes place as a form of telepathy, it’s genuine and active. The romance arc is respectful and positive which is often not the case in this genre.
Young Adult – Non Fiction
Suitable for ages 14+
Further Reading for Grown-ups
Boys & Sex: Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity – Peggy Orenstein
~ Gisela Ervin-Ward teaches children with learning difficulties how to read and provides literacy consulting to schools @podliteracy. She is obsessed with children’s books and writing and muses about them at @giselaervinward. www.giselaervinward.com