Rachel Brian, author of Consent (For Kids!)

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An illustration of author Rachel Brian (a white woman with brown hair and a red shirt) looking up at the book CONSENT (FOR KIDS!) which features a child wearing regal attire and a word bubble that reads "I'm the ruler of my own body." A Rhody Radio logo banner is at the bottom of the image, featuring the text "Rhody Radio" and an illustration of the state of Rhode Island wearing headphones.

Tayla Cardillo: [00:00:00] You're listening to Rhody Radio, Rhode Island Library Radio Online.

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Tayla: I'm Tayla, Branch Librarian at the Oak Lawn Branch of the Cranston Public Library and host of our weekly podcast Down Time with Cranston Public Library. My pronouns are she-her. This week, we're sharing an excerpt from an episode in conversation with Rachel Brian, author of Consent For Kids, Boundaries, Respect, and Being In Charge Of You. Rachel joined us to talk about her book and why it's so important to teach younger kids about consent.

You'll also hear our regular segment, The Last Chapter, where we discuss a library or bookish question. This week, we answered the question, "Would you rather bring any one character from a book into our world, or live in a book's world but never meet your favorite character?" Enjoy.

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Martha Boksenbaum: I'm Martha Boksenbaum. I'm the Youth Services Librarian at the Auburn Branch of the Cranston Public Library, and my pronouns are she-her.

Rachel Brian: I'm Rachel Brian, animator and children's author of Consent For Kids and The Worry Less Book, and my pronouns are she-her or they-them.

Tayla: Welcome to the show, Rachel. We're very excited to have you, to talk about your book, Consent For Kids, Boundaries, Respect, and Being In Charge of You. First off, do you want to talk a little bit about-- it's about-

Rachel: Sure.

Tayla: - for people who don't know?

Rachel: Yes. It's a book for kids in eight to early teen area, like 11 or so, basically about what it says about consent and about boundary setting from the perspective of the kid themselves setting boundaries, but also from the perspective of really listening to other people when other people are setting boundaries. It's both to that coin.

Tayla: Part of why this is such an important [00:02:00] conversation is because, as a culture, America is very not good at observing people's boundaries. I thought it was really great how your book not only touched on empowering children to set their own boundaries and be in charge of their own selves and being empowered to give and revoke consent, but also active listening and really being aware of other people and their boundaries, and having an awareness that you don't want to cross other people's boundaries just like you don't want your boundaries to be crossed.

Rachel: I think when you look at how many kids experience boundary crossings of various kinds, it's important not to-- I think in the olden times of 10 years ago or whatever, consent stuff was more about stranger danger and don't talk to people and private parts. It was all about setting what the boundary was for the kid and being like, "It's okay to trust people you know, but it's not okay to trust people you don't know," instead of letting a kid figure out what they're okay with.

First of all, people who know kids, they cross their boundaries all the time. It's super common. Then the other thing is that what actually is a boundary being asked, really it depends on the person. I have one friend in New York. She is the huggiest person on earth. If she met you today, she would just hug you up and just-- Probably not because of COVID. Before time, she would hug everyone. She was like, "Oh, this is my plumber. Oh my God, I want to hug you." She's just like a super huggy person.

Then I have another friend who does not hug. There's no hugging involved. It's just not her thing, and that's totally fine. I think being able to articulate that so that people can be comfortable, and also part of it is for kids learning to respect that people can be different and have those different boundaries, and it's not like you don't need to make fun of someone or keep them out because they have a different set of boundaries than you.

One thing that was interesting is that the book has been released in Japan and it's doing really well there. I think it's [00:04:00] like their number one illustrated children's book at the moment, which is exciting. I did an interview with the publisher, and she was like, "Well, in America, you guys must just be really great at setting boundaries, because we're actually really terrible about it. It's rude to say no, and so nobody ever really wants to do it." I was like, "No, we're actually also terrible." Even though we're so-- we cross everyone's boundaries all the time.

We also, I think culturally, aren't particularly good at straightforward communication about things that are so culturally and socially difficult to like, "Actually, that's not for me. I don't want to do that." I think part of the book too is even though you want to practise that whole boundary setting process, if you can't do it-- There are some people who really struggle with that-- it is still not your fault. [chuckles]

If somebody crosses your boundaries because you really do need to consent enthusiastically in order for that to be okay, and so the fact that you didn't, I think that's such an issue with #MeToo era stuff is if there isn't-- Why didn't this person punch him in the face, or go crazy, or whatever? It's fight or flight, but it's also freeze, and a lot of people do freeze in situations where they're made uncomfortable. Recognizing that in other people but also in ourselves, it means that we don't have to take blame for when we weren't able to set that boundary, that things are true.

Tayla: Definitely.

Martha: Well, I have to say my favorite part about this book is that it's written for kids, and that it's written for kids in a format that they're going to be excited about and enjoy. I think having a graphic Novel E type of format really makes it easy to express some of these things that are hard to talk about in words, and especially adult words that kids might not be familiar with yet.

The [00:06:00] thing that I see a lot as a youth services librarian is books for adults about how to teach their kids consent. While those books are valuable, and I think obviously they need to be written, I really appreciate a book that is aimed directly at children, telling them how to deal with the situations in their everyday life that they're actually going to be experiencing, and not having it see this abstract ideological discussion whether or not people should have the ability to cross other people's boundaries, right? That's not the discussion.

I really appreciate this book, and I'm really excited about your other book too because I think kids will feel empowered through their ability to read about something and do something about it on their own. A kid can learn about this without an adult, and I think that's wonderful.

Rachel: Before the book was written, I have a video called Consent For Kids also that made its way around globally. As an animator, one of the things that my studio is known for is just being a bit silly about things that are difficult topics without being non-respectful. I think one of the things that was fun about writing the book was coming up with scenarios or ideas that illustrate points that were also really silly.

I really don't like those preachy type things that are like, "Billy was a little boy," and, "This is what you should do." It's like a whole moral play on whatever. That's just not my jam. I feel like kids should go, and it should be super straightforward, and just silly and fun. You're like, "Oh yes, sometimes people might cross your boundary," and that is their fault. Okay. Moving on. I think the underlying ideas are ones that don't get across. I don't know if you know that the genesis of the video was this incident that had occurred.

My studio is most well known for the video, Tea Consent, which many people have seen. [00:08:00] Shortly after that video came out and it had it's general moment, my daughter came home from first grade and she looked really glum. I asked her what had happened. She didn't really want to talk about it. She was so down. Eventually she said, "Mom, some kid kissed me today." I was like, "Basically, was that welcomed? Was that something that you wanted to happen?" She was like, "No, because I'm not even friends with this person. I was so upset, and it was really just so mean and terrible."

I said, "Well, did you tell the teacher?" She said, "No, I was really embarrassed. I just put my head down. I wish the day would be over, and I never want to go back to school again." I said, "Well, did you tell the kid, 'I don't like that.'"? She was like, "No, I was just surprised." She didn't really know what to do about the whole thing. She was embarrassed also.

That night, I said, "Okay. Well, let me email the teacher," and I emailed her. I said, "Hey. I know you don't know this but this went on. I just want to let you know this situation occurred. My daughter's feeling pretty upset about it. Maybe this might be the time to have more conversation about consent in the classroom and whatever." I got an email back from the first grade teacher that was like, "Thank you for bringing this to my attention. This is unacceptable. There is no touching in first grade, no touching at all. That child's mother will get an email immediately, and they'll be in big trouble."

I thought, "Oh my God, that's terrible," because [chuckles] first of all, they're seven years old. This is a perfect teachable opportunity to really talk about people's boundaries and why this might be upsetting to someone and all of the things. Instead, it just ended up being a clamp down across the board and it's like, "Well, what do you mean, 'No touching in first grade.'? Can best friends hold hands? Can you hug a person that you like?" It was just this ridiculous, what I would consider a puritanical reaction followed by blaming the mother always. Why is it always the mother's fault? [00:10:00] She didn't do it. [laughs]

Maybe your job as an educator is to rally think about really direct and clear conversations with kids about how to interact with each other in ways that are respectful and ways that allow people the opportunity to consent and to revoke consent and all those things, because those things come up a thousand times a day.

If you have more than one kid, I have three kids but, if you have more than one kid, consent conversations are happening all the time. Obviously not around sexual things, but around, "That's my toy, and I'm grabbing it from you." When is it okay to put your hands on somebody and when you say no, not, and allowing people to have personal space and choices about how they interact?

I feel like those conversations start as kids, and they continue your whole life. That never, never ends. Most schools begin doing consent education in high school, or even college. That is just way too late. It's way too late. A lot of bad stuff already happened, and there's a lot of bad ideas that have been inculcated prior to that. That was the genesis of it.

Martha: That's a really good point, is that we talk a lot about consent around the college age, and you're right. It is so late to be doing that because we develop all of our socialization and our ideas about the world when we are kids. If you teach kids now about things that are going to happen in their everyday life, when they get older, if you introduce the idea of consent in college, they're already going to understand. Even if they don't necessarily know what you're talking about or don't have the words, they will already have a fundamental understanding of you don't cross somebody's boundaries. Besides, I think that's fantastic.

Rachel: I think just even the idea that your body is your own is relatively new to kids' concept in terms of culturally because it's all like, "Go kiss Aunt Gladys. Do the thing." I can make you do what I want. It's not to say that parents-- Again, mom here, so it's not like I don't get my kids to do things but [00:12:00] recognizing which kinds of things are important as a parent for safety or for education or other things, and which kinds of things maybe are invasive and kids could decide for themselves something different than what you think. I think that's a key element.

Tayla: I think part of the reason that I feel like consent education starts to happen at college is because, at least where we are now in this conversation, a lot of people conflate consent with just having to do with sex. It's like, okay, they're college age, they're away from home for the first time, and so then it's like, "Well, now, we have to teach them about consent so that no one sexually assaults anyone." It's like okay, but they've already learned all these other ideas about their bodies and their boundaries and stuff from when they were little.

The story about your daughter shows that interactions that seem innocuous because it wasn't a horrific assault on her person, she still had a similar emotional reaction. She was upset and she felt violated even if it was just like something innocuous that kids-- and kids do that. I think all of that is really dismissive of the idea that we have to be educating kids about their bodily autonomy and their boundaries and consent way before it has anything to do with their adult decisions.

Rachel: I think the other thing which is an unfortunate thing is, statistically, many kids are sexually assaulted before college. When people get into college, already a significant proportion of people has experienced some type of sexual assault. I think a lot of the grabby-- At my junior high, I remember that there was a butt grabbing problem that happened for a while and those things. Because I'm old, nobody really cared. It was like, "No, it's fine. People do whatever."

Again, those kinds of things set up dynamics starting in middle [00:14:00] school really and sometimes earlier, where people's bodies are being touched without consent. Even when you're looking at sexual harassment in the workplace now, the main thing that they're finding when they look at research that lowers the rates is the response of the managers to it when it does happen, and that if you have a really strong cultural reaction to reporting when it happens, people are like, "That is absolutely no," and sanctions, and all the things. The rates drop way down and people are like, "Yes, it's not really big deal."

The rates go way up because you can do it. I think that's kids knowing that they have the right to their bodies. It's so important so that they don't just dismiss it as being like, "Oh, well, I guess anybody can touch me because that's how it is." They can be like, "No, wait. It's just me, my body. I get to pick." That's my goal with that.

Tayla: I think you achieved it. I think it's a really great book and really important. Martha, both of you were saying it's very different from other books. I think about that subject that came out, and I think kids would want to read it.

Rachel: I feel like the tickle fight ones also are one of those things that a lot of people have experienced where even something like that, it seems so fun. The person's laughing and like, "I've been on the non-consensual end of a major tickling." Younger sister here. I think even things like that are just things that a kid would relate to as when you feel like your power is taken away. It feels bad.

Tayla: I maybe think back when I was a kid with the cheek pinching thing, because I did have a relative who was a cheek pincher. I would hide. I was like, "I'm going to stay in another room," and maybe they won't even know that I'm here, and then that won't happen. They meant well. It was how they felt being affectionate, but it was something that I didn't really like, but I also didn't have the language to-- I don't want this to happen, to be fair. I think there [00:16:00] were already a lot of scenarios in there that kids will be like, "Yes, this happens in my life," and really easy for them to make connections.

Martha: I think there might be this idea that kids don't like reading about hard stuff, but the opposite is true. Anybody who recommends books to kids starts to learn that kids really do want to read about the hard stuff. They want to know about these things. A book that's for adults about consent for kids is not something you're going to hand to a kid. I can imagine people being like, "Well, I don't need to hand this book to my kid. They're not having trouble." It's not the book that you need to have a situation before you hand it to them. Kids do want to read about hard stuff.

Something that's about hard stuff but also has a silly side is a really good book to just hand to a kid and say, "You like graphic novels? Here's another graphic novel." You don't even need to say more than that. Then they're getting the content, and it's in a relaxed and fun environment instead of things have been done wrong and now we have to learn environment.

Tayla: Rachel, you said that both of your books for children are non-fiction books. I was just curious a little bit, especially for writing books for kids, what your research process is.

Rachel: Honestly, the consent book had in some ways less research because I've done so much animation work in this area since Tea Consent. I've worked with many organizations around the United States and beyond doing video around consent, so Futures Without Violence, and Thorn, and all these different cool groups of people who look at different aspects of consent. I felt pretty well-versed in it by the time I got around to doing the book. Then I had expert readers in sexual violence prevention and domestic violence prevention who were really useful there too and gave me some good pointers and things to consider.

For The Worry Less Book, [00:18:00] that was another one where I definitely had expert readers who are therapists and worked specifically with kids. Also, my eldest child has a generalized anxiety disorder. This has also been my life for 17 years. I was like, "Here's another one where I have a little bit of a background info on how anxiety can both be a tool and also can be an impediment. The Worry Less Book does have a lot of strategies for kids.

My experience with my own children is that some kids are really into strategies like deep breathing and centering. There's a bunch of different ways to do that. Some people really are more wired to be anxious, and some of those strategies are not super helpful. There's the cognitive behavioral stuff that's like, "Here's stuff you can do," and, "Remember this."

Then there's also that acceptance and commitment therapy stuff which is like, "Hey, this is the person I am. I have a lot of anxiety. It's cool. I'm going to be all right, and I'm going to think about what my goals are and do them anyway. Both those are in the book for the-- My middle child is much more like the strategy guy. He likes to do that when he's feeling worried. Not everybody is. I think giving kids a toolbox to think about things, but then the overall goal of that book is just to be like, it's actually regular to be worried. Especially this year, it's funny. After the publisher released the e-book before the hard copy came out because it was the beginning of the pandemic, and everyone's super worried. It's a worrying time even more than regular. Just recognizing that as far as evolution is concerned, it has a purpose. Worrying is for a reason. It's supposed to help you be able to make your life better, and sometimes it's a little out to whack and it makes things hard. Just being kind to yourself about that, recognizing that [00:20:00]

this is a thing many people struggle with and it's okay. Have your support people and do the best you can. There's a lot of self-acceptance around that.

Tayla: It seems like the subjects that you pick for books really real life and your experience with your kids.

Rachel: One of the fun things about being an animator is I get to work on all kinds of stuff. I'm just always fascinated by everything. We also got chickens this year. I could easily write a chicken book and I'd be like, "It's amazing. Chickens." [laughs] Oh my God again. I would look at Allie Brosh actually draw a chicken book, because her chickens would be the best.

Martha: Oh my God. Her chickens would be terrifying. [laughs]

Rachel: In truth, the chickens are already terrifying. They are little dinosaurs. When my cat goes out, the chickens chase him all around the yard and chase him up a tree. He tries to stop them and then they all come at him like a mob of velociraptors. It's really something. Actually, my eldest child, who has some of that anxiety, he's super into chickens. I think animals can often be really helpful for anxiety.

Tayla: Yes, just seeing or being on this earth that really is just concerned with its basic survival.

Rachel: True. I think they're so in the moment. One of the things that's fun about watching chickens-- I'll just talk about chickens for a minute because that's what we want to hear about-- is that when you watch and you type, Chicken Thought, and they scratch and peck, they scratch with their legs and then they poke down to see if there's any good worms or frogs or whatever stuff they want to eat, they just could not be happier.

It doesn't matter what else happened that day, or they got pecked by the big cheese or whatever, anything could have happened. It's literally the greatest thing that ever happened to them. It's so fun to watch them sitting around watching chickens being happy. Everyone should do it. It's a great thing.

Tayla: We end our show with a segment that I call The Last Chapter, where we talk about a bookish or a library-related [00:22:00] question to just give our opinions on it. This week, I thought I would ask you two, would you rather bring any one character from a book into our world, or live in a book's world but never meet your favorite character?

Martha: I feel like that one's really easy for me because I have so many favorite characters. I'd rather go into a book world because maybe I wouldn't meet that one favorite character, but what if I met all my other favorite characters? I would be really excited to explore a book world.

Rachel: Which book would you go for?

Martha: That's a hard question. That's a very hard question. I definitely think it would be not a fantasy world, which is what I think a lot of people would think of originally like, "Oh, I want to go meet a dragon." Although, now that I'm thinking about it, I would probably want to check out the Dealing with Dragons world, which is a series about a woman who decides that instead of getting married, she's just going to go live with a dragon instead of having to get married. It's about all her adventures living with the dragons. Knights come and try to defeat the dragon. She's like, "No, I'm good. Thanks. I don't need to be rescued." I feel like that whole world was really a lot of fun.

Rachel: Now I want to read that. I'm getting so many good book readings. It sounds good.

Martha: It is Patricia Wrede. It's a very '90s type of fantasy series. It's very girl powery, and only the '90s can really do.

Rachel: Yes, yes, I'll definitely look into that. This sounds like egocentric. I think I want to be the character in the other world. I don't want to meet you. It would probably be one of those things where it's awkward. We have nothing to say to each other. I'm like, "Hey. How about chapter five?" It would be a disappointment. I want to go live the life. I think that would be cool. I think I would want to do My Side of the Mountain. That was one of my favorite books growing up as a kid. [00:24:00] He goes off. He lives in the woods. I love that idea. It's my childhood fantasy. I could see that, living in a hollowed-out hemlock tree with a falcon for a pet. Come on. What's not to like?

Tayla: I thought so too on that.

Martha: I really like that point about not wanting to meet the character. It's probably like meeting a celebrity in a restaurant or like, "I'm not really that character. I'm a human." [laughs]

Tayla: I think I'm going to have to go the opposite because a lot of the books that I enjoy are dystopian. I really like dystopian fiction. I don't think I would want to go into these settings because it's not a good time.

Martha: Yes.

Rachel: All right. What's your favorite one though, because I'm building my list here?

Tayla: Okay. I've talked about this, and I spoke before for another Last Chapter. Literally, the series that was my gateway drug into reading was the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld. It's very interesting. It's fairly distant future where we feel we've fixed all of the world's problems by giving everyone a surgery when they're 16 to make them pretty. Of course, that surgery and the society is more than meets the eye.

Martha: Well, I have a recommendation for both of you. Tayla, because you love that series, and I love that series too, I have to make sure that everybody knows about The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton, which is a newer series about beauty. It's a little bit different because it is people getting magically or surgically beautiful. In this world, there are specific women who have the ability to do this for other people. They're held up as beautiful and everything that is beauty.

Of course, that goes wrong, especially when the queen dies and the princess that takes over is very [00:26:00] vain and self-centered and wants to be the most beautiful person in the entire world, and will literally kill anyone around her in order to make sure that that stays that way. It's a very updated version of I feel like what Scott Westerfeld was starting to comment on when he wrote Uglies. Your list is getting longer.

Rachel: I'm going to read it.

Tayla: I'm glad for the recommendation, Martha, because I have seen that series before but just saw it on the shelf and was like, "Is this any good?" I don't know, so I'll have to check it out. Before we sign off, Rachel, where can people find you on the internet? Is there any upcoming projects that you would like people to know about and point them towards? We'll include all of this in the show notes as well.

Rachel: Okay. I am on the internet somewhere. I have rachelannbrian.com, but there's usually nothing there. Really, most of my stuff is under Blue Seat Studios. Obviously, books are at the library and other places. I do have another book in the works, a couple of little projects. Probably the newer one, the one that will come out most recently or most close to now-- Brain not working-- is about friendship.

I think with so many of the things that I have looked at, the skill of having a really wonderful friend and being a wonderful friend, is something that gets you through a lot in life. Life is tough, and so I think it's something that will both-- There's a lot of opportunity for humor again, but also just really cool ideas about supporting each other.

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Tayla: Thanks for listening. For the full episode, including our book and movie suggestions, search for Down Time with Cranston Public Library in your podcast player. To learn more about our show, you can go to cranstonlibrary.org/downtime. Rhody Radio is a project of the Office of Library and Information Services, and is made possible [00:28:00] by grant from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities. When you're listening to Rhody Radio, you know you're listening to something good.

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