Welcome back. Today I’ve compiled a few books on two important topics, much required to be discussed in the modern era- consent and gender norms. Many kids find it difficult to open up to their guardians when something non-consensual occurs towards them, and thus they might harbor a traumatic experience.
It’s important to teach kids about consent from an early age and about creating their own personal boundaries. In the same way, there are many out there who are probably coming to terms with their sexuality or exploring it during their innocent adolescence and, as a result, may find it difficult to cope with any fixed gender norms that do not allow them to express themselves freely.
Breaking free of gender norms can especially help in smashing the patriarchy and getting rid of regressive practices such as toxic masculinity.
Here are our top picks on children’s literature with a focus on both consent and breaking free of societal constructs such as stereotypical gender norms.
Books that teach kids about consent
That Uh-oh Feeling
by Kathryn Cole
Claire feels uncomfortable by the untoward attention showered on her by her soccer coach, who passes himself off as a ‘nice guy’. Her friends, on the other hand, are very supportive and encourage her to come forward about his non-consensual behavior, and she finds it easier to open up to her family about the same and take him to task for his predatory behavior.
Rissy, No Kissies
by Katie Howes
Rissy feels like the odd one out in a family where everyone is a stoic follower of public displays of affection. Rissy doesn’t enjoy physical touching nor kisses and isn’t overly fond of it. When she tells her mum about the same, she is reassured that this is entirely normal and that she is allowed to create her own personal boundaries if she so desires to.
My Body Belongs To Me: A Book About Body Safety
by Jill Starishevsky
The protagonist in this has been taught about good touch and bad touch by his elders, so when a relative touches him inappropriately, he immediately reports it to his parents, who believe him and do what’s right. A book that not only teaches children about the importance of consent and coming forward with their story but also teaches parents to not victim shame or take their child’s experience of trauma/sexual abuse lightly.
Tell Me About Sex, Grandma
by Anastasia Higginbotham
Anastasia Higginbotham is known for her books on tackling taboo topics such as death, diversity, white privilege, etc. head on. In Tell Me About Sex, Grandma, she directly writes about sex and consent through the viewpoint of a grandma teaching her curious granddaughter about personal choice and the importance of consent. It doesn’t really delve into the ‘how-tos of sex’ and, as a result, is quite kid-friendly and an important read for adolescents.
Will Ladybug Hug?
by Hillary Leung
This book teaches kids the importance of personal space, boundaries, and consent via the story of Ladybug, who is leaving on a trip and is handing out goodbye hugs. Everybody has their own style of hugging, except Sheep, who despises hugs entirely- which brings up the question- Will Ladybug hug him or respect his boundaries?
Don’t Hug Doug
by Carrie Finson and Daniel Wiseman
Doug, much like me, may look huggable but doesn’t like hugs particularly. He also knows his boundaries and politely passes on an offer to hug. This book teaches kids that it’s ok to not want a hug and to set personal boundaries around strangers or even family and friends.
Books about choosing to not conform to stereotypical gender norms
Oliver Button is a Sissy
by Tomie DePaula
Oliver Button likes dress-ups and playing with dolls- all actions that are considered to be girly by the boys at his school. When they learn about this, they mock him by scribbling ‘Oliver Button is a sissy’ all over the walls of the school. Undeterred, Oliver begins to work hard at his dance class as he considers participating in a talent show. This turns out to be a turning point in his life as upon seeing his dedication. He becomes a star pupil and a role model for many to look up to. He loses the dance contest but wins the respect of the boys at school who now think that ‘Oliver Button is a star’.
by Rachel Isadora
This book instills in kids the benefits of thinking out of the box, and that ballet isn’t only for girls. Max and his sister attend baseball and ballet classes, respectively. One Saturday, after showing up to his sister’s class early, Max is invited by one of the teachers to partake in the class, and Max soon discovers that ballet is a great way to warm up before his baseball class, and it literally ups his game, to the point that he begins attending the ballet class more regularly.
Knit Your Bit: A World War II story
by Deborah Hopkinson
Based on true events that took place in Central Park in 1918, this book revolves around Mikey, whose father is in the army and who also wants to do something on the home front. His teacher suggests that he and his friends can participate in a ‘Knit In’. Mikey thinks knitting is too girly, but when the girls turn it into a challenge, he and the boys simply can’t refuse. This book changes how we look at certain tasks stereotypically and how stepping out of our comfort zones can not only be rewarding but also groundbreaking and even history in the making!
Jacob’s New Dress
by Ian and Sarah Hoffman
Jacob was wearing dresses before Harry Styles made them cool! After he wears a makeshift dress at school and is bullied by his classmates for it, Jacob’s teacher tries to teach her students that it is his choice to wear what he feels is comfortable and reminds them that even girls were put down for wearing pants at one point in history. Moreover, Jacob’s mum is ever supportive of her son. She not only stitches him a real dress but instills in him the knowledge that there are ‘all sorts of ways to be a boy’ and that he doesn’t need to restrict himself to any societal gender norms.
by Charlotte Zolotow
William wants a doll that he can take care of, but his friends tease him when he brings it up, and his father only buys him stereotypical toys for boys in order to deter him, but his grandmother understands and promises him to buy him all the dolls he likes so that he can practice being a good parent who encourages their kids to break free of gender norms.
The Princess Knight
by Cornelia Funke
The protagonist in this book, Princess Violetta, reminded me of my favorite princess Merida from the Pixar movie Brave. Violetta wants to be a knight, and with her father’s approval, she joins them in their jousting lessons. However, she is pretty pissed off when her parents arrange for a jousting competition, inviting competitors from all over to compete and ‘win’ the princess’s hand in marriage. But Violetta isn’t a prize to be won, and she decides to take her fate into her own hands, participating in the contest herself under the guise of a male knight, ‘Sir No-Name’.
You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer
by Shana Corey
Based on real-life pioneer for women’s rights, Amelia Bloomer, this book is set in the mid 19th century when women were forced to follow a cumbersome and ridiculous dress code. Amelia Bloomer set forth to forge her own new style, leaving behind a legacy despite having many naysayers along the way.
Grace for President
by Kelly Dipacchio
Grace learns that her school has never had a female president before and sets about to be the first one ever. She does what grownup politicians fail to do, i.e. works hard, is determined to bring change, and shows her worth through her actions. Kids will also learn how the electoral system works the right way through this book.
A Fire Engine for Ruthie
by Lesléa Newman
uthie visits her grandmother, who invites her over for tea parties and dress-ups and buys her many dollies to play with. But soon, granny dearest finds out that all her granddaughter wants to do is go over to play with train sets and fire engines with the boy next door who is the same age as her. None of the girly playthings that granny’s bought for the young child will satisfy her.
If these picks were helpful, so share them with other parents/guardians who might benefit from them. Let’s build a world where kids can be who they choose to be, dress how they choose to dress, and live in a world where they are safe to express themselves, sans any fear!