5 Engaging SEL Books to Teach Body Safety

By: Neeti Sarkar

Let's face it. Some classroom lessons we teach are light and airy and fun, and then some are quite the opposite. Initially, I found delivering personal safety lessons almost debilitating. Never an easy or likable topic to teach, it remains among the most important ones for us school counselors. While there are umpteen curriculums like Second Step (I use some of their material in addition to other resources I've gathered over time) and lesson plans available on the internet, I've found that one of the least threatening ways of approaching this topic with young children is to use SEL books that enable you to have broader and deeper conversations about the topic, be it proactively or reactively. If you're looking to stock up on books that you could use to teach body safety, here are some you should consider:

1. My Body Belongs to Me by Pro Familia

With simple language and colorful illustrations, this book is my go-to for students in lower elementary. It is centered around a young girl named Clara who learns that her body belongs to her and no one else. She learns about different kinds of touches, and that some touches are not okay and should be reported to a trusted adult. The protagonist also shares what she can say, such as 'Stop, I don't like that' or 'No, please stop' if someone gives her an unsafe touch.

This is a great book for even parents and teachers to use to teach body safety, consent, boundaries, and reporting abuse. It aims at empowering kids to be assertive and speak up if they receive unsafe or unwanted touches.

2. Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept by Jayneen Sanders

I use this book in classroom lessons on this topic with Grades 3-5 mostly. It tells the story of a young knight named Sir Alfred who lives with his single mom, Lady Susan. They are poor, and Lady Susan works for Lord Henry Voltnar in his castle. Often, Alfred tags along with his mother to work. He develops a great camaraderie with Lord Henry and enjoys his company and even the initial tickling game until Lord Henry tickles Alfred in a way that makes him feel uncomfortable. Lord Henry even touches Alfred's private parts repeatedly, despite Alfred asking him not to. While Alfred feels terrible and weighed down by all of this, he is specifically warned by Lord Henry not to tell anyone about their tickling game otherwise Lady Susan would lose her job and it would be Alfred's fault. Alfred carries this in his heart, scared to tell his mother, not sure if she would even believe him, until one day, he lets it all out when his mother reassures him that some secrets should never be kept. Lady Susan believes Alfred and assures him that she could still make a decent living by knitting sweaters for the rich people of the town.

The book is written in a way that is easy for children to understand. The illustrations are colorful and engaging, making the subject matter more accessible and less intimidating for young readers. Another important message the book conveys is that sexual abuse is never the child's fault and it also includes practical tips and strategies for staying safe from abuse. These include identifying safe adults to talk to, learning the difference between safe and unsafe touch, and understanding that it's okay to say "no" to unwanted touch.

3. A Terrible Thing Happened by Margaret M Holmes

The story is about a little raccoon named Sherman Smith who witnessed the most terrible thing. He tried to forget about it and hide it, but it began to bother him. He had all kinds of feelings for no reason - he felt nervous, his tummy ached, and he even had bad dreams. All of this made him feel angry and led him to make bad choices that got him into trouble. It was only when he met Ms. Maple, his counselor, and confided in her that she was able to help him heal, work through his feelings and experiences, and eventually feel much better.

Because the 'terrible thing' is not named and remains ambiguous, it can be applied to any kind of trauma a child is going through. The story is relatable and can be used by parents and caregivers too at home.

4. The Kid Trapper by Julia Cook

This is a book I often use with students in grades 4 and 5. In this story, the protagonist spends time playing video games at his adult (male) neighbor's house. The man is loved by all but eventually, he begins to blackmail the boy into drinking, posing for pictures, etc. Although the book does not directly state that it is about sexual abuse, it most definitely alludes to it. The book touches on 'sticky situations' and what to do if one encounters them. Emphasizing telling an adult, stopping things before they go too far, and trusting one's gut, the book not only offers comfort and healing for possible victims, but preventative strategies for children if they encounter similar situations.

5. What's Inside Your Backpack by Jessica Sinarski

'What's Inside Your Backpack?' is the story of a little girl called Zoe Hamron who just wants to live a carefree life but she carries a lot of 'heavy books' in her backpack that weigh her down. Some of these books called 'Shame' and 'Worry '' make her feel scared, on edge, and unsure. The heaviest book in her backpack is called 'Unsafe Parent' and is the hardest one for her to talk about. Zoey fears that talking to another trusted adult about it may get her into trouble or make things even worse. However, once she does open up to these people, they give special strategies that help her feel lighter.

Using the metaphor of books and bookmarks, the author provides gentle and effective strategies to help children who have experienced trauma or are going through some heavy stuff in their personal lives.

Do you use books to teach body/personal safety? What are your go-to books to teach this unit/lesson?


About the author: Neeti Sarkar is a Primary School Counselor at an IB school in Bangalore, India. Over the span of almost 10 years, she's worked with students aged 3-18, but enjoys working with the littles the most. Neeti's also a seasoned journalist, so when she isn't making behaviour plans, teaching guidance lessons, and supporting her school community in various other ways, she makes time for her other passion- writing.

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