It's O.K. to say no: a story for kids

“Thanks, Maurice,” Marc Rosenthal, illustrator. 
This drawing was part of a New York Times memorial goodbye to Maurice Sendak. Rosenthal writes about Sendak, “I have learned these even more important things from him. It's O.K. to break rules. It's O.K. to be bad. Have the courage not to pull your punches.” 
His latest book, with his wife, Eileen Rosenthal, is “I'll Save You Bobo.” 
Rosenthal's books and artwork here, his website

Once upon a time a little boy named Dylan found himself in a seriously serious situation. He didn’t know how to say no.

That’s not quite true. His mouth could pronounce the word. “No.” There. He could say it.

But he didn’t.

He didn’t say no when someone asked him to do something he didn’t want to do.

He didn’t say no when someone wanted something he had.

He didn’t say no when he was tired.

He didn’t say no when he preferred something else.

He just didn’t say no. He could say no, he just didn’t know how to say no when he needed to say it.

He didn’t say no because he was afraid.

He was afraid someone might get mad or sad.

He was afraid that someone wouldn’t like him.

He was afraid of disappointing someone.

He was afraid of other feelings, too. Like feeling guilty.

He thought he should do or be what was expected.

He thought he was good if he said yes and bad if he said no.

He said yes when he meant no.

And then a curious thing happened.

A hummingbird buzzed at the window.

“Dylan, Dylannnnnn. I have a message for you.”

“Hey, slow down so I can hear you, Mr. Hummingbird. What is your message?”

“If we don’t learn to say no, we won’t like ourselves or the ones we’re trying to please.

When we start saying no, we stop lying. People trust us, and we can trust ourselves. All sorts of good things happen when we start saying what we mean.”

“Mr. Hummingbird, I want to say no! How do I say it?”

“There are hundreds of ways to say no. Do you want to learn?”

“No. I mean yes.”

“You can do it! The tricky part is saying yes when you mean it, and finding different ways to say no with kindness and firmness. It just takes practice.”

“I’ll practice.”

And he does.

“Thanks for putting me in this raft, but I’m unwilling to float right now. Maybe later.”

“I want a walk! I want a walk!” says Huggy Doll.

“Huggy Doll, taking you for a walk won’t work for me.”

“Here is a toy,” offers Mom.

“I don’t need a toy. I’m playing with my feet now.”

“I’ll read you a book,” says Dad.

“No thanks. Not now. How about after my nap?”

“Hey buddy!” says Big-Eye Fish, “Cut me off this thing.”

No can do.” 

“May I drive your truck?” asks Dylan’s friend Ryan.

“I prefer to be the only one driving my truck.”

“I really want to drive your truck,” Ryan asks again.

“I’m uncomfortable with letting others drive my truck.” 

“Conrad wants to know if you would like to play in the sandbox?”

“I appreciate his asking, however now is not a good time for me.”

“I hear you, Gwen. You want to chew on this spoon. I’m not ready for you to do that yet.”

“I’m going to swing you high,” says Mom.

“I prefer slow and low, thank you,” says Dylan.

“Do you want to go swimming?” asks Mom.

“As soon as I finish my bike ride.”

“For the twentieth time, may I wear your sunglasses?” asks Noa.

“That’s not negotiable!” asserts Dylan.

“Can I play with your wagon?” asks Dad.

“No! Not even if you had 7 zillion warts on your nose,” Dylan laughs.

Mom and dad practice too.

“Rev your boat engine, Mom! Pull me! Pull me fast round the house,” yells Dylan.

“Even though it might seem like it, my knee is not a boat,” says Mom.

“I know you want that cookie real bad. Remember we do not eat cookies before dinner. Do you want a piece of carrot or banana?”

Dad to Dylan, “Walls are not for banging. Here is a pan.”