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Katey Howes: On Agency, Consent, and Lovebirds

Lerner, March, 2021

When I started writing Rissy No Kissies, it was with the intent of celebrating that there are

many ways to show love. As it developed further, and as I’ve shared it with readers, I’ve learned more from it - and from them. About autonomy. Affection. Boundaries. Belonging. And about the vital importance of respectful communication in upholding all of these.

In the book, a little lovebird encounters a number of situations in which friends and family insist

that “love birds all love kisses.” Each time the other birds want to show affection in their usual

way, Rissy makes her feelings heard, loud and clear, through the book’s refrain:

“'No Kissies!' Rissy chirruped with a most emphatic squeak."

copyright Lerner Publishing

The characters around her speculate that something must be wrong with her. Is Rissy sick? Did

she forget her manners? Is she confused or mean? Of course, this makes Rissy feel more and more left out. More and more misunderstood.

What we have here is a failure of communication. And the failure isn’t on Rissy’s part. Her

message is unmistakable. But communication is a partnership. It takes a Messenger and a Receiver, working together. The Messenger sends a message. The Receiver must receive it, and respect it. That extra bit there - the respect - is key. Without it, we all may as well be shouting into a void.

There are lots of ways to communicate. A Messenger might use speech, writing, drawing, sign

language, a communication board, even body language. No matter how clear the Messenger

makes the message, if the Receiver is not both attentive AND respectful, then the

communication is flawed. It may fail.

And failed communication can have significant impact.

When people (or lovebirds) consistently fail to hold up their end of the communication

partnership - to listen to and respect the message - the Messenger loses faith that their

thoughts and feelings matter. They question the validity of their preferences and needs. They

may feel sad, angry, lost, frightened. Their self confidence and their sense of security suffer.

When this happens over and over, they may stop trying to communicate, or only communicate

what others want to hear from them. Because what’s the point of saying (writing, signing,

chirping) anything else?

As parents, teachers, friends, and helpers, whenever we act as “Receivers,” we need to check

ourselves regularly to make certain that we are upholding our end of the communication

partnership. It’s important to recognize that the people in our lives may use different means to

communicate with us. Their method of sending a message might not be the one we prefer, or

instinctively recognize. The message they send might not be the one we are expecting. (Like

what happens each time Rissy says “no” to lovebirds who assume everyone enjoys kisses!) But

by respecting the message we respect the Messenger.

We can strengthen the communication by asking for clarification. We can ask, “Is this how you prefer to communicate, or would you like to try a different way?” We can say, “I think what you mean is X, am I right about that?” We can hold up our end of the partnership by actively adapting to and supporting different communication styles. When communicating with a neurodivergent individual, we may need to interpret body language or tone of voice differently than we are accustomed to, and to ask for clarification if we aren’t used to doing so. With a child who uses a communication board, we may need to break questions down into smaller pieces to get to a nuanced answer in an efficient manner. With a friend who has social anxiety, we may need to be certain the setting in which we communicate is conducive to their sense of safety.

And above all, when we do receive the message, we must acknowledge and respect that the

Messenger knows their mind and has the right to speak for themself. We cannot ignore or

dismiss that.

I hope that, however you communicate best, you have partners who receive your messages

loud and clear. And I hope RISSY NO KISSIES communicates that, no matter our differences in expression, we’re all worthy of love and respect.


Katey Howes is the author of Rissy No Kissies , which Kirkus called “ artistic gem for consent discussions, sensory-processing contexts, and anyone who champions children's agency and bodily autonomy.” Her earlier books included Be A Maker, which was named the #1 Makerspace Read Aloud of 2019 and awarded ILA’s Social Justice Literacy Award, and Magnolia Mudd and the Super Jumptastic Launcher Deluxe, a girl-powered #STEM picture book. A former physical therapist, mom of three ravenous readers, and life-long geek, Katey loved combining fact and fiction, fun and learning through her books and blog posts. We will miss her in the kid lit world.


1 Comment

Danielle Hammelef
Danielle Hammelef
Jun 09, 2021

I checked this book out of my library and enjoyed the important message. The illustrations are so bright and fun too.

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