Children’s Books as Prompts for Reflection

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE.

Think back to your childhood, can you recall a book that you connected with, cared for, loved and cherished? That book was your friend. You had a reciprocal relationship with the story, the pages, and pictures. Do you still have the book? A musty volume of illustrated children’s stories sits on my shelf to this day. In it, is the poem, The Duel, by Eugene Field which tells the story of the Calico Cat and Gingham Dog. Why was I drawn to this story? Each time, my father would read it to me, in an animated, dramatic voice I was mesmerized. Why and how did these two friends, end up in a duel with bits of gingham and calico scattered about as they got in a terrible spat and ate each other up? The book and the poem are entrenched in my memory representing the translation of a childhood experience from the physical to the representational. Revisiting and rereading is like seeing an old friend, even though the book depicts a friendship that ended badly. To have friends is important to young and old. Sometimes our friendships endure and sometimes, they end, but the good memories should live on.

My 98-year-old mother who is an artist, a teacher and friend, has been living in the same apartment for 46 years. It is filled with books, paintings, photos, and sculptures that are valued for their many memories. Age and the pandemic have turned her independent living into a lonely existence. It is time for her to move to a senior’s home, where she can once again have a friend and be a friend. She can find others who share her many interests in art, nature, and books. Our friends keep us young. Friends are essential to a healthy life. They are just as important for our well-being as healthy eating habits or a good night’s sleep. As we sort through and help my mother pack up her many possessions, it will be a time to remember and to look forward. Thankfully, she has space in her new apartment to display her most cherished pieces, but it still will not be easy for her. I do know that she is wise and strong, and hopefully will come to recognize that friends are important too.

Professional friendships are essential to our happiness and satisfaction. Friendship, emotional support, and connectedness to others are strongly correlated with positive emotions, while solid social ties foster a sense of resilience and belonging. Our friends help us to be happy at work. Friendships are an enduring theme in the narrative of my life. They are the focus of my Facebook Page and the subject of a soon to be published book with Redleaf Press, Cultivating Professional Friendships in Early Childhood Education. In the book, I encourage my fellow ECEs to engage in a parallel process of reflection to consider their own professional friendships while supporting children as they navigate the complex relationships that they have with their peers. To help on both levels we can look to books!

In anticipation of the return of the Reading for the Love of It conference, where I will be presenting two workshops, I have been expanding my collection of children’s books about friends! I have loved some of these books for so long, while others are new to my collection. When I share them with my grandchildren and see how they connect to the stories and characters, I know that friendships are important to them too. To find books about friends, I searched and read other blogs about friendship books. In 18 Adorable Children’s Books About Friendship, I found a new friend, The Shadow Elephant.

This book about empathy, emotional awareness, and comforting friends, features a depressed elephant who is trying to process negative emotions and not feel bad about feeling bad. A new friend, a little mouse, is there for him, in his time of need. My cousin and friend, Bonnie, told me of a blog about the big blue guy by Maria Popova that reinforces my belief that children’s books can and should be used by adults as prompts for reflection. When the tiny mouse emerges “from another scale of existence and asks simply whether she can sit beside the elephant and rest a little” a friendship is born. “This small ask — this nonjudgmental and unanxious presence with the elephant’s sadness — becomes the portal of his transformation”. Sometimes that is all we need from our friends. This endearing fable of friendship offers children and adults, opportunities to reflect deeply on self, feelings, and friendships, three important elements of our peer-to-peer relationships.

And when you are comforted
(we all eventually are)
you will be happy to have known me.
You will always be my friend ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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