Posted on 1 Comment

What We Learn from Love

Today is #FathersDay. As part of celebrating these #relationships and the ongoing discussion of #socialemotionallearning, today’s blog features a guest post from author Nelly Buchet and a cover reveal for our forthcoming book Abuelito.

Abuelito, a story I co-wrote with my friend David Corredor Benavides, is about the power of friendships—those we share with loved ones who are no longer with us, as much as those just beginning with newcomers in our lives. Based on David’s real-life relationship with his grandfather in Colombia, Abuelito tells the story of a child and his beloved grandfather. But it’s a little different than a classic grandparent story. There’s a third character—a very cute third wheel—who wants to be part of this extraordinary friendship. And who wouldn’t? She’s younger than Alejo, in complete awe of the “big kids,” and clearly doesn’t know how to approach them. Instead of asking to join, she stays on her side of the fence and mimics the boys’ activities as though she were with them.

All of us relate to the feeling of wanting to be part of something special. Younger siblings certainly can! And so can adults. I know I felt it when David told me about his abuelo. This desire to be included, and what to do about it, is one of the social emotional tenets in Abuelito. Readers see that Alejo and his grandfather aren’t purposely ignoring their little neighbor. She is hiding, in a sense. It becomes clear to the reader that if we want something, we must be brave, take action and, in this instance, ask if we can play.

Our little girl finds this courage when Alejo needs her the most. Interestingly, she finally makes her presence known out of empathy for Alejo, rather than wanting to gain something for herself. She’s now the one who has something to offer. Comfort. Compassion. This is another moment of social emotional learning in Abuelito. Not only does the little girl take a proactive role, she actively rescues her hero, Alejo—or “Abuelito,” as she calls him. Friendships are fluid: there will be seasons when one person needs more attention and TLC than the other, and yet both parties benefit from the relationship. Friendships are investments.

Additionally, readers can surmise that Alejo himself learns something: he understands that his neighbor was there all along. Inviting her over would’ve been a kind gesture, if only he’d known. In the future, he’ll be more aware of people in his peripheral vision. Both characters grow from this new friendship.

When life gives you lemons, someone new may be out there to make lemonade with you. For me, this person was David. Together, we made this book to honor both the friendship with his grandfather and our own. And yes, David’s nickname really was “Abuelito.”

Nelly Buchet is the author of ALA Notable Book and Irma Black Award winner Cat Dog Dog: The Story of a Blended Family (PRH, with art by Andrea Zuill, 2020), the four-board book Can’t Do series (Bonnier UK, with art by Pau Morgan, 2021), and How to Train Your Pet Brain (Beaming Books, with art by Amy Jindra, 2022). She has taught nonviolent conflict resolution in schools and created a nonprofit project that brings picture books to refugee children through orphanages and libraries. She splits her time between Berlin, Germany, and the US. @nellybuchetbooks.

Abuelito, written by David Corredor Benvides and Nelly Buchet and illustrated by Ana Sanfelippo, will release in March 2023.

Posted on Leave a comment

Mental Health Awareness Month

May is #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth. As part of this important ongoing discussion, today’s blog features a guest post from licensed social worker, trauma therapist, and author Bethany Walker.

The Struggle Bus. We’ve all been there. It’s a tough day, none of our choices seem to be right, we’re tired and frustrated and feel like we’re banging our heads against the wall. As adults, we have the capacity to express these emotions. Our children, however, have to learn this skill.

So how do we do this? How do we empower our children when they’re on the struggle bus? Social Emotional Learning.

Social Emotional Learning is a key part of childhood, just as much as learning reading or math or how to tie a shoe. SEL is described as “process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions” (CASEL, 2022). By providing children with a variety of tools in Social Emotional Learning we can help make this process more engaging and fun!

Books are an excellent tool for Social Emotional Learning. This can start as early as toddlerhood with picture books! An extra bonus to picture books is the visual representation of emotions, interactions, and experiences. Books can be jumping off points for all kinds of conversations with your little ones. Not only that, but it removes your little one from having to be the one with the heavy feelings or thoughts. Instead, by focusing on the stories of the character, you can discuss these feelings and thoughts without your child feeling put on the spot.

The Struggle Bus by Julie Koon is a great resource for teaching children how to understand and regulate the tough emotions that come from hard days and persevere until they finally reach their goals. In addition to the book, Kind World Publishing has a great selection of resources that parents and educators could use to take the story even further in helping their children through SEL.

The next time your child is having an emotionally hard day, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you can help them learn to drive their Struggle Bus.

Bio:

Bethany Walker is an author, licensed social worker, and trauma therapist. She currently resides in Longview, TX, with her husband, daughter, and pets. Bethany focuses her practice on children and families experiencing mental health crises and trauma. She is a member of SCBWI and Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Picture Book Challenge. Find her on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook @bookshelfofbeth.

Posted on 3 Comments

Blank Slates

This morning, I found myself with an unexpected Sunday home alone. No kids, no adults, no meetings, no travel. My day was a blank slate, a gift of time.

As I looked into the opportunity of the day, I found myself consciously resisting the urge to fill the space, in spite of litanies of work and domestic duties and even reaching out to others that I could have done.

It has been restorative, and it also has me considering all of the blank slates in our lives. We have the ability to realize these canvases for rest, reflection, and creation. But we have become conditioned to fill each gap, to turn to our phone screens in moments of silence, to start the next thing.

It has taken a lot of self-work to get to this place, where I can make a conscious choice to hit the pause button when I see it. That said, I am also using part of today’s canvas to create.

Humans are creators by our very nature. Our need to express ourselves, to explore ideas, to find ways to unite and understand and listen and learn: these need tending. They need a canvas.

However, blank canvases can also be overwhelming. (This overwhelm is often part of why art directors supply storyboards to artists, along with a means to jumpstart a conversation around finding a shared vision.) Facing a silent moment, a blank page, an empty score, an unscheduled day: these all have the power to help us turn inward.

If you aren’t in a place of comfort or familiarity with that source—your inner self—then a blank slate can be unnerving. But it can also be the perfect and same space to start to know yourself a little better. And that is an excellent creative space to explore.

Whatever your means of expression and rest look like, and wherever you are along your journey of personal evolution, I encourage you to seek out these moments. We don’t need entire days as a canvas—but we do need to start breaking the habit of reflexively filling free moments with things that aren’t our true mediums. It’s in those moments that we can reconnect with our own humanity. And in doing that, we can better connect with others.

P.S. I would love to know: Are you actively resisting the urge to escape into distraction rather than reflection or creation? Where are you finding or protecting moments that feed your creativity? Do you recognize blank slates?

Posted on Leave a comment

Making Magic

Reading with a child is a gesture of love. It is a tangible gift of time, our most precious resource. Reading can stop the noise and fury of everything else that surrounds us in that moment. It creates a space for questions and conversations, observations and laughter, a means to model gestures of kindness and creation and exploration and how to get through hard stuff.

We love picture books for so many reasons, but their ability to make us laugh, to help us cry, and ultimately to allow us see each other and ourselves a bit more clearly are my favorites.

It is critical to our collective survival to protect the creative space of picture books and children’s literature, to protect the magic of what happens when we read with children and when we help them start the journey of literacy. Perhaps that sounds hyperbolic, but I assure you it is not.   

Picture books, children’s books, are vehicles for a multitude of life skills. Of course, this includes literacy and critical thinking. But alongside that, the experience of being read to taps into social and emotional learning cues that children will carry throughout their lives. And what stories are available to read, to hear, to hold need to include everyone’s story, not just those that reflect our own.

Today is National Children’s Picture Book Day, part of the larger IBBY-sponsored International Children’s Book Day. I hope you can take a few moments this weekend to read to a child in your life or to yourself if you have a chance to revisit a favorite book (or find a new favorite). It is also a great reminder to support your local libraries. Shop independent bookstores. Champion teachers who are working to broaden classroom collections for readers.

Read together. Make magic.

Posted on 3 Comments

The Transition Months

I don’t know how things are in your home, but we’ve gotten bumpy in recent days. And I have a theory on why. We just entered the Transition Months.

Yes, here in Minnesota, we have an entire month left of summer. Yes, the days are still long, the farmer’s market still bustles, the pools are still open. And yet.

We are also talking about school supplies. And who might the new teachers be? And will last year’s jackets still fit?

These short conversations have sent ripples into the ponds of imagination. Along with some excitement, I see nerves creeping in for both kids. Axel is starting Kindergarten, and that is a Really Big Change, for all of us. He is usually our peacekeeper, our jokester, our happy-go-lucky family member. But not of late.

We all sense summer winding down. We all know these changes are coming. August begs for closure and preparation for fall and school. But it also asks us to make the most of the remaining sunshine, of the opportunity to slow down just a bit longer. And September awaits, knowing so many new routines need to be created, new people need to be met, new fears need to be addressed.

It’s a lot. These are the transition months, not just of weather and time, but of our life rhythms and responsibilities, of rules and patterns and people.

A lot of unknowns float over all of us right now—enormous things beyond our control. None of that changes the cyclical truth that these months are always big months. Whether you have kids in your home or not, the social cycle shift of summer-to-fall impacts us collectively.

I am cutting myself and my family some extra slack this time around. Yes, things are bumpy. Yes, I think I know why. Sometimes, the most helpful thing we can do for ourselves is simply acknowledge that we’re in transition.

Posted on 4 Comments

Big Feelings

Today is the last day of First Grade for Reese. We’re having lots of big feelings, as a tumultuous school year comes to a close. We are so fortunate to have had wonderful teachers and a district that has managed an unprecedented-in-our-lifetimes event in an effective way.

Reese is excited for summer but very sad to say goodbye to school and her friends and teachers. It speaks volumes about an environment and its adults when a kid feels that way. Yes, she loves learning. But underneath that, I have to appreciate and look at the “why.” And it isn’t just our home environment; that love has come from a spectrum of adults who have genuinely leaned into making this situation work for kids.

The big feelings today of sadness about change, bittersweet feelings of good-bye to this chapter but excitement about the next, gratitude for the work the teachers have done, aren’t just being felt among the kiddos. I’m feeling them too, and I was caught off-guard by it.

A surprising effect of the pandemic and leaving a big company executive position to start Kind World is that it’s given me space to process emotions that I previously didn’t have bandwidth for. I have capacity to notice my feelings and to sit with them. To reflect on where they’re coming from and to put them in perspective. To slow down and cherish—yes, cherish—some sadness for a closing chapter, especially a good one.

I wonder how many of us are in similar situations? Finding space to feel things we didn’t or couldn’t previously process? Conversely, how many of us are in spaces now where that bandwidth is gone? Where there’s no room to process and so those big feelings keep piling up?

Social-emotional learning (SEL) has been a buzzword among education for some time now, and with good reason. But it’s also a real thing for us adults. We can’t help the kids in our lives with SEL if we’re not also doing some of that work. If you have the gift of time right now, are you using it to recognize some of your own big feelings? And if you know someone who could use that gift of time for some emotional breathing room, how might you create that space for them?

Happy, optimistic, sad, nervous, excited, wondering, curious, scared, relieved—experiencing these emotions means we’re alive. When we don’t have or take time to feel them, we’re missing an essential element of our existence. As I told Reese last night: being sad is a gift. It means we had a chance to experience something that’s worth missing.

Finding gratitude for change, after all, is a pretty big feeling.