When I taught preschool, we did a lot of lessons on emotions. I’m not sure there was anything we did over the course of the whole school year that didn’t somehow connect to emotions, since teaching kids how to deal with their own feelings and participate in a community where everybody else also had feelings was our overreaching goal, in the end. We may have told parents we were teaching their kids the colors of the rainbow, but you best believe there were some lessons about how people can ‘feel blue’, and what that meant, and how to help ourselves & our friends when we feel that way. We just learned to squeeze them in anywhere and everywhere, and if I was mentoring a new teacher in an early childhood classroom right now (that’s anything up to third grade), I’d tell them to do the same. Because kids need to learn how to talk about their emotions; how to cope with them; how to recognize them in themselves and in other people; how to best deal with their own moods and feelings; how to assess the feelings of others; and how to communicate their needs based on those feelings and emotions, or whatever kind of classroom community you’re trying to build is going to go kaput r e a l l y quickly. (Not to mention, like… they also need these skills for real life.)
I don’t build classroom communities anymore, but I have family and friends with small children, and they’re gracious enough to let me ply my trade on them. Here are three books I’m passing on this week, about feelings, how we recognize and name them, how we deal with & accept them, and how we ask for help if/when we need it.
I’m going to start out with the best named book of the bunch, Star Wars Search Your Feelings, Galactic Basic Edition written by Calliope Class & Caitlin Kennedy. Could the inner Star Wars nerd in me resist a book with this cover, called Search Your Feelings?
No. I didn’t even try, because why would I? This book has all of your favorite characters in adorable pint-sized illustrations by Katie Cook, and I probably should have bought another copy so that I could deface it and put some in frames. Each illustration is paired with the name of an emotion, and a few verses of rhyme that explain what that word means. (And I know we’ve talked about how pedantic I am about rhyme schemes, and yes, there’s a couple of verses that… fall short of the requested perfection, but not enough to put me off the whole book,)
Examples of verses that it just right though, include “Leia, Luke, Han, and Chewie, disgusted and stuck in slime. Frantically call Threepio, to get out just in time.” and “‘These aren’t the droids you’re looking for,’ the old man calmly stated. But the stormtroopers were confused, mixed up and agitated.” This book is going to be a big hit with my Star Wars loving nephew (age 5), who’s ready for an introduction to some more complex emotional vocabulary, so long as they’re introduced in a relatable way. Being able to match up this face of Lando’s to the word “guilty”, is just the kind of stretch-learning he needs right now.
Next up is What to Do When You’re Feeling Blue by Andi Cann. This is an excellent book about the emotion of sadness, how it can feel to little kids, and how they can often feel overwhelmed by it. It does some really great work around building socio-emotional vocabulary for younger kids, especially around the idea that feelings are just temporary, and sometimes we can change them, and sometimes we can’t and have to wait them out. The responses of the main character’s parents to her queries about sadness are smart & at the right level to be understood by early school age kids.
This is not a book about grief, or depression, this book is about situational, mood-type sadness, and how it comes and goes, and how we can live with and through it. That’s a resource that’s valid, and needed, and important for kids who sometimes can’t remember that moods don’t last forever, or that sadness can show you important things. Also: The book is available through Kindle Unlimited, for people that might benefit, and also comes with a journal, if you’ve got a beginning writer who could use journaling as one of their emotional outlets.
This last one is actually my favorite, which is saying a lot, because: look at the company it’s in. But Cori Doerrfeld’s The Rabbit Listened has earned it’s top position fair and square.
Through the use of the softest most cuddly looking illustrations of an adorable non-gender-specific child, and a menagerie of soft squishy animals, and the most gently subtle “we have to let people feel their own emotions, not try to tell them how they should feel” story I’ve probably ever read. Taylor has built a magnificent structure – so many levels! so many towers! look at those arches!! – and disaster strikes, and it comes tumbling down. Taylor has no idea how to cope.
Enter all of their animal friends: an angry bear who wants to shout
about it, a busybody chicken who wants to talk about it, a kangaroo who wants to clean it up, an ostrich who wanted to forget, an elephant who wanted to remember, etc. But Taylor doesn’t want to do any of those things, so, one by one, his friends come and go, and Taylor is left by himself.
Until the rabbit comes, and sits with them, and … just sits. Rabbit comes close enough to snuggle into Taylor’s back, and then just stays. Waits. Let’s Taylor ask that they stay, then waits in silence some more, just supporting each other. And the difference is absolutely obvious in the illustrations: Look at the difference between Taylor’s comfort with Chicken vs. Rabbit:
One of the things I say to my niblings (over and over and over, to hear them tell it) is that friends show up. That’s it. Your friend might be going through something hard, and you might not know how to help them… that’s ok. Show up and try any ways. Go to the funeral (obviously this is for my older niblings), make the phone call, reach out if you
can’t be there in person: Just SHOW UP. It’s one of the core elements of my life philosophy: It’s always going to matter if you were there, in person, in spirit, in the form of flowers or a card or a banana you mailed from Canada that one time because you knew it would make your depressed friend at least chuckle at what an idiot you are. I’ve also been teaching them that their real friends are the ones who show up for them, since before they had any friends who weren’t related to them, and I’ll keep doing it. It’s served me well, and I don’t think it’s served any of them wrong either. Life is full of hard things: Find & keep the people who can stand there with you when they come to your door; be that kind of people for others.
So to see it so clearly illustrated in this book was an unexpected bonus.
Rabbit shows up for Taylor. That’s it. And eventually Taylor takes enough strength from that they suddenly do want to remember it, and talk about it, and be angry about it, and clean it up, and all the things the other friends tried to rush Taylor right through, because it was their way of dealing with their emotions. Rabbit shows up and lets Taylor figure out their own way, what works best for them. And that’s an important lesson for kids to understand: Everybody copes with things differently: Your friends might not want to yell when they’re angry, they might want to cry. That’s ok. Everybody is supposed to be different! You can still help just by holding your friend’s hand while they cry, or maybe hugging them when they’re done. Or asking them what they need. Maybe they want to rant, maybe they want to forget about it for today. Maybe they’re more sad than angry. Or too exhausted to be worried about it tonight. All of these ways of being are perfectly fine, even if they’re not your way. And Rabbit shows that all our friends require from us sometimes is that we just… show up. I can’t explain how happy it makes me to have a book that illustrates what I mean when I say that, just so clearly, for the littlest niblings, in the hopes that they’ll be able to internalize & understand it even earlier than their older cousins.
And again: Adorable, soft, fuzzy illustrations.