Ten Picture Books to Boost Discussion of Boundaries by Katey Howes
We invest a great deal of time and energy teaching children to share, take turns, and be kind to others. These skills support a healthy, happy community in the classroom, on the playground, and in larger life. So many wonderful picture books serve as discussion starters for these essential lessons! But we often neglect to discuss the need to balance generosity and kindness with another group of essential skills: setting, communicating, recognizing, and respecting boundaries.
I would argue that these skills are just as important as sharing and taking turns; that identifying your own limits – and respecting those of others – is vital to growing healthy, happy individuals and communities. (I’d also argue that there are certain popular books that lionize giving of oneself to an unhealthy degree. But that, my friends, is a rant for another day.)
When I began writing my latest picture book, RISSY NO KISSIES, my goal was to create an encouraging, cozy story to shine light on the difficult emotions that come with setting and communicating your boundaries when the people (or lovebirds) around you don’t normalize that practice. I set out to empower kids to identify and state their own limits – and provide caregivers the tools to help them do so. And because I know that no single book could carry this load on its own, I spent a LOT of time reading mentor texts and comp titles.
I’ve compiled a (far from exhaustive!) list of recent picture books that provide a variety of points of view. All are excellent starting points for talking about boundaries of one kind or another, and for reassuring children that having limits is not a weakness! I’ve tried to select titles that are highly entertaining and re-readable, and to avoid those that – while educational – come across as didactic. Please share your own suggestions in the comments!
Will Ladybug Hug? by Hilary Leung
Great for the very youngest readers, this simple, adorable board book affirms that sharing physical affection is always a choice.
Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brosgol
We all need space, and sometimes it can be hard to find. But wanting to be left alone doesn’t mean we stop caring about our loved ones. This hilarious Caldecott Honor book serves as a wonderful prompt for discussions about asking for and finding personal space.
Don’t Touch My Hair! by Sharee Miller
Aria loves her hair, but she does not love people touching it without permission! This vibrant, energetic picture book makes it clear that you should ask before touching others, and that kids can use their voice to set boundaries – even with adults and authority figures.
Too Much! Not Enough! by Gina Perry
Peanut and Moe are the ultimate Odd Couple in this clever book that shows friends can have very different preferences and still have fun, as long as they respect each other’s limits. When their differences get overwhelming, the friends take a break from one another, then come together in a comforting conclusion.
Enough is Enough! by Barney Saltzberg
Speaking of “enough” – siblings know that sometimes you’ve just had enough of your brother or sister! When Will irritates Olive one more time than she can bear, she takes off to get some alone time – escaping through a hole in the page in a very meta– picture book moment. In the end, the two reunite to read together in a cozy resolution to sibling rivalry.
Through With the Zoo by Jacob Grant
Goat finds the grabby hands in the petting zoo overwhelming and runs away – but nosy elephants and clingy koalas aren’t much better! He finds a solitary spot, but soon gets a little lonely. A perfect book to help kids talk about ways preferences and needs for space and touch change, and how that is always ok.
Hug? by Charlene Chua
A hug can make a furry friend feel better, but if you hug one cute critter, do you have to hug the next? And the next? This delightful, funny, and compassionate book reassures readers that they don’t have to keep giving and giving and giving.
Too Sticky! Sensory Issues with Autism, by Jen Malia, Illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff
Throughout this authentic, entertaining story, Holly and her family members, friends and teachers talk openly about sensory processing issues, likes, and dislikes. They calmly and creatively accommodate Holly’s comfort levels with different sensory stimuli (sticky textures, loud noises) without fuss. Great for discussing that everyone has different comfort levels with noise, texture, lights, etc. – and recognizing it is normal and healthy to communicate and respect those boundaries.
Don’t Hug Doug (He Doesn’t Like It) by Carrie Finison, illustrated by Daniel Wiseman
I got a sneak peek at this 2021 title that deftly and sweetly delivers the message that not everyone shows affection the same way, and that’s perfectly ok. Doug pairs well with a choice of morning greetings (hug, high-five or fist bump?) Its gentle rhyme and wacky cast of characters (from pugs to pigs to Frankenstein!) serves up giggles galore.
The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld
When Taylor’s tower topples, she feels terrible. Animals offer help in various ways, but none of it suits until the rabbit arrives…and simply listens. This book offers many lessons, among them the idea that pushing your preferred form of help upon someone isn’t the best way to respect their feelings and needs. An excellent addition to any discussion of boundaries.
Katey Howes is a picture book author, literacy advocate, Makerspace enthusiast, and former physical therapist. Her most recent book, Be A Maker, illustrated by Elizabet Vuković, was awarded the 2020 ILA Social Justice Literacy Award. Katey’s next book, RISSY NO KISSIES, was inspired in part by her own daughters’ experiences with shows of affection, and by her desire to create a culture in which bodily autonomy and consent are valued and normalized at every age. You can find Katey at kateyhowes.com or on Twitter @kateywrites.