A Novel Prescription: Books About Consent

I was delighted to emcee the launch of my writing buddy Charlotte Barkla’s latest picture book, FROM MY HEAD TO MY TOES, I SAY WHAT GOES at Holland Park Library today.

It went down a treat. The kids were mesmerised and the librarian said she would read it at lots of story times. She was particularly taken with the concept of children learning to assert their own boundaries, but also to listen, understand and respect other children’s boundaries.

Mandatory Education About Consent P/K-12

The book came out at just the right time. This month, education ministers around Australia have agreed to mandate education about consent in Australian schools from 2023.

This comes after petitioning by Chanel Contos of Teach Us Consent. This organisation has advisers ranging from criminal lawyers, forensic psychiatrists to sociologists and early education experts.

The movement rises out of a growing awareness about the lack of knowledge about domestic violence and the law in young men, as well as the importance of community attitudes to consent.

On her website, Contos says: “I have lived in three different countries and I have never spoken to anyone who has experienced rape culture the way me and my friends had growing up in Sydney amongst private schools.”

She believes consent education should be taught earlier, more holistically, and include concepts such as slut shaming, sexual coercion, and enthusiastic consent.

But how do we do that?

Here are some books to help, suitable for different ages.

Early Years & Lower Primary

In terms of early childhood and P/K-3 education, there are some wonderful resources available.

Charlotte Barkla, author of , has collated a list of 7 Books About Consent for Kids Under 10.

I would add WILL LADYBUG HUG? This is a board book and first introduction to consent, in a series that explores other “non-people-pleasing” behaviour that can be done politely. Hear more from the author-illustrator here.

Upper Primary & Lower Secondary Readers (Middle Grade)

This is often the age kids lap up non-fiction. Why not hand them an appealingly packaged book about consent by the respected social commentator, Yumi Stynes, and ex-Dolly Doctor, Dr Melissa Kang?

Older Readers (Teen)

One excellent book for young adult readers is NOT SO PURE AND SIMPLE by Lamar Giles. It follows Del, who signs up for his church’s purity pledge just to be near his crush. It takes a rom-com set-up and takes it in a new direction, with humour and heart.

Human relationships are complex, and the discussion around consent often turns into a “he said, she said” situation. I think providing the language and concepts to discuss these complexities is the way to go. In an ideal world, this would happen in our homes, but sometimes it doesn’t. That’s why it’s important to introduce consent education into our schools.

A book that delves into these complexities is THE THINGS WE CAN’T UNDO by Gabrielle Reid. The narrator is a likeable boy who is in his first relationship with a girl. Things go tragically wrong, but the sad thing is he doesn’t realise the significance of his behaviour. We don’t want our daughters or our sons in this situation. Content warning: sex, teen suicide.

You’re probably looking at that book and thinking, “Heck! Glad we’re just dealing with little kids.” But believe me, time flies. The good news is that if kids are taught the vocabulary and concepts early, they will have the confidence to form happy, healthy relationships later on. And we might not need books like these in the future!

What else can you do?

Stand up and support discussions of consent in the curriculum. Say it to your P&C, your kids’ teachers and school principal. Sadly, it’s often only the voices that want to ban books and stifle discussion about tricky topics that get air time. Make your voice count!

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