Today it is my pleasure to host award-winning picture book author KATEY HOWES who will talk about her new book RISSY NO KISSIES. The book explores the topics of bodily autonomy and consent, very important concepts to instill in young children. Here is my review of this important book:
“When a love bird doesn’t like to get or give kisses, she wonders if something is wrong with her. How can she show those she loves that she cares?
With gentle assurances in words and illustrations, this story teaches young children and those they love, the importance of bodily autonomy and consent. It should be a part of every child’s library and is the perfect introduction for discussions about these important concepts.”
And now, here’s Katey!
Thanks so much for having me on your blog today, Darlene. I’m delighted to share a little bit about the process of writing my consent-themed picture book, Rissy No Kissies. (Illustrated by Jess Engle)
How and why did you decide to write on this topic?
One of my three kids is exceptionally cuddly. The other two are much less comfortable with physical expressions of affection. I’ll admit that, early on, this was sometimes difficult for me to accept and respect. Even knowing how important it is for children to have control of their own bodies, there were times I really just wanted to give them a squeeze!
But as they grew, I grew, too – in my understanding of sensory processing differences, in my joy at seeing the unique ways they shared love, and in my conviction that there were not enough resources – for kids OR parents – that explained how common our family’s experience was. I grew more convinced that families needed books highlighting how natural it is to have differing preferences regarding touch and affection, resources that teach the importance of bodily autonomy and consent.
I had been playing with the idea for several months when I visited Minneapolis while promoting another picture book, Be A Maker. Lerner Publishing is headquartered there, and their team was so kind to me, helping me contact local schools and bookstores and setting me up with a tour of their offices. During that trip, I had the chance to meet up with my Be A Maker editor, Shaina Olmanson, and to bounce some of my manuscript ideas off of her. Shaina also felt strongly that kids and caregivers could really use stories that shined a light on boundaries, autonomy and consent. Her interest motivated me to work even harder on this concept!
How did you arrive at a rhyming scheme to tell the story?
It’s funny. Often, I try really hard not to rhyme, but can’t seem to get away from it. When I first started writing this story, I kept finding rhyming couplets in my work, even when I was aiming for prose. At first, I contained the rhyme to a refrain between prose sections. The original refrain was:
Kisses are something
That Love Birds like best
But Rissy No Kissy
Is not like the rest
With reflection, I realized this refrain centered Rissy’s differences, not her strengths. I dropped it and worked to rewrite with a focus on Rissy’s powerful opinions and proud voice. My character notes show a few words I used to envision Rissy:
That descriptor “emphatic” made its way into a new refrain:
“No kissies,” Rissy chirruped, with a most emphatic squeak.”
and soon set up a rhythm and rhyme scheme that I was able to use to structure the entire text. If you check my notebooks from the time, you’ll find extensive lists of words that rhyme with “chirp,” “tweet,” and “squeak.”
Did you know from the start it would be lovebirds?
I almost always write human characters, so this book was a departure for me. It was, however, a calculated departure.
I knew going in that, for kids who have been made to feel left out or rejected when their preferences don’t fit in with other’s expectations, the interactions in this book could be really painful. Seeing a character too much like themselves being called rude, mean or sick because they don’t like hugs and kisses might make the book too emotionally taxing – and I wanted it to be a book that instead balanced the honesty of those hard moments with warmth and light and comfort.
The rhyming text helps strike that balance, as do the soothing palette and adorable characters illustrator Jess Engle created. By making Rissy an animal, we let readers put a little distance between her experience and their own. By making her a lovebird specifically, we play on the idea that your whole species might be defined by a certain way of sharing love – but that you don’t have to be.
Please add anything else you want readers to know
There have been a number of picture books about autonomy and consent released recently, and I am so thrilled to see this. No one book speaks to every reader, or gets all aspects of this nuanced concept across. I’d love for teachers and parents to check out other suggestions including:
In addition to reading books on the topic, it’s important for caregivers to grow their knowledge base and practice the skills needed to set, communicate, and respect boundaries. I highly recommend following @comprehensiveconsent on Instagram for daily parenting advice from a fabulous and frankly funny consent educator.
You can also check out this printable lesson plan created by my cousin-in-law (that’s a thing, right?) and curriculum expert Leah Robinson. It includes a lovebird craft and role play cards (sample below) perfect for 4-8 year olds learning about consent.
You’ll find even more activities on my website – including this kid-friendly recipe for Sunflower Love Cookies: perfect to pair with Rissy No Kissies.
Katey Howes is an award-winning picture book author and literacy advocate. Her picture books Be A Maker and Magnolia Mudd and the Super Jumptastic Launcher Deluxe are popular in maker spaces and STEM education, and her debut book, Grandmother Thorn, was named an Anna Dewdney Read Together Honor Book. A former physical therapist, Katey lives in Eastern Pennsylvania with her husband, three daughters, and a pup named Samwise Gamgee. She loves reading, weaving, cooking, camping and travel. In addition to writing for children and raising kids who love books, Katey contributes to parenting, literacy, and STEAM education websites.
“You can order a signed copy of Rissy No Kissies from my local indie, Newtown Bookshop. Just follow this link: https://www.newtownbookshop.com/katey-howes-author-page
I’m also happy to snail mail a signed bookplate to you with proof of purchase. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with mailing address and personalization request. Or tag @kateywrites on Twitter with a photo of your copy or receipt for your pre-order. I will follow and DM for your mailing address. “