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Books Help Kids Navigate Complex Times

15 September 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

The world is complicated these days—at times, even downright stressful! And while our primitive bodies were designed for occasional acute crises, modern times require our minds and bodies to juggle psychological and social stressors, both chronic and acute, each and every day. It’s exhausting. It’s hard on us, and it’s hard on our kids too. And yet books are a wonderful way for us—as librarians, booksellers, and parents—to teach our kids social-emotional skills that help them understand and manage the complexities of their worlds.

But what is social-emotional learning, really? I have a colleague who says, “Social-emotional learning is just learning.” And she’s right. But the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines it partially as the ability to acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, and feel and show empathy for others. The development of these abilities allows for deeper self-awareness and social awareness and enables individuals to have less emotional stress, more positive social behavior, and better academic outcomes.

As a parent and also the writer of The Nocturnals, a series of middle grade and early reader books, I have witnessed firsthand how stories can be a wonderful place for children to identify and engage in social-emotional learning and dynamics—not only positive dynamics but a wide range of behavior. The modeling of good behavior is of course valuable, but the demonstration of imperfect behavior is perhaps equally valuable. How many of us have witnessed a child’s delight when he or she reads the stories of our favorite tantrum-throwing pigeon by Mo Willems, or the naughty escapades of Junie B. Jones, or the quirky and unorthodox characters of Roald Dahl? Kids like characters and situations that are imperfect because they can relate to the imperfections and impulses these characters demonstrate.

. . . .

I consult with Nisba Husain, a child psychiatrist, who agrees. She recommends that we help our children tolerate their full spectrum of feelings and that we help them understand that it is in our nature to experience feelings such as anger, jealousy, and greed. As a society we tend to judge these emotions as negative, yet without the acknowledgement of such feelings, we can’t know joy, appreciation, and fulfillment. These emotions occupy two sides of the same coin.

Kids are smart. They see and are aware of the times we live in. And they witness all types of behavior, including the actions and discourse of adults, which I think we can all agree is not always optimal. Having characters in books that encourage conversation and provide insight into what motivates behavior—good behavior, bad behavior, and even confusing behavior—is necessary for any child’s education and the adoption of social-emotional learning principals.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

First, at the very end of the quote from the OP, PG says you are correct if you think the author incorrectly substituted “principals” for “principles.” Autocorrect is not always a reliable servant.

Since the audience for children’s books is constantly refreshing itself – younger children are becoming able to understand stories and older children are becoming able to read stories for themselves – old children’s books are highly-recyclable.

The Cat in the Hat was first published in 1957. That and many other Dr. Seuss books have continued to delight children of a certain age ever since.

For example:

Look at me!
Look at me!
Look at me NOW!
It is fun to have fun
But you have to know how.

delighted children in 1957 and, PG suggests, is fully capable of delighting children in 2019, over sixty years later, in exactly the same way.

PG is not an expert on social-emotional learning (although he first went through a social-emotional learning process a long time ago and thinks he’s still engaged in it), but have children’s learning patterns for acquiring social-emotional skills really changed?

Certainly, social standards change (Ms. is handier than having to guess between Miss and Mrs.), but is the process of learning those social standards different today than it was in 1957? In the United States? In Brazil?

PG suggests that

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
Any direction you choose.

still works for children in 2019 and is likely to continue to do so for a long time into the future.

Children's Books

6 Comments to “Books Help Kids Navigate Complex Times”

  1. Sorry, PG, but Publishers Weekly doesn’t like ‘The Cat in the Hat’ because it isn’t the newest thing trad-pub is trying to push to new parents.

    Besides, with the right books for kids they can have ready-made SJWs programmed and ready to demand their rights in kindergarten/first grade.

    • Theodore Geisel is getting the same unpersoning HP Lovecraft, Laura Ingalls Wilder, etc. have already gotten.

      https://people.com/books/dr-seuss-books-racist-problematic/

      • Good point, Patrick, but unpersoning hasn’t shown itself to be powerful enough to really work and I suspect its lifespan may be limited.

        That said, I tend to place book banning and those who advocate the banning of books into one large single basket.

        Facism seems to be a recurring and ineradicable force that keeps popping up in various societies and sub-parts thereof.

        I think fascism with a human face is not the exception, but the rule, at least in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Just as various educators at distinguished instutions are trying out book burning and book banning today, so did respected professors either support or fail to oppose the same practices in Nazi Germany.

        • The dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe.”
          Tom Wolfe

          • Unfortunately no longer true now that we have a fascist in the White House. 🙁

            • Pardon me, but I must inquire: how did you get here from your native timeline, and how did you not realize that you were no longer in it?

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