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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.

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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.