When it really comes down to it, teaching is just trying to impart wisdom to the next generation so that they’re not doomed to repeat our mistakes. I’m really speaking to anyone with the responsibility of a youth’s understanding of this world. At school, when we introduce these social-emotional communication and regulation skills, they require just as much intentionality and practice as multiplication tables. At the top of my ‘syllabus’ is the recognition of what makes a strong, healthy relationship as opposed to one filled with toxicity and plagued with self-doubt. Now, I know that hindsight is 20-20, and I do look forward to the days when my students will look back at fourth grade and reflect, “Wow, Ms. Tell was spot on about that one.” Or… perhaps they’ll be able to read one of these books and absorb its lessons in that way. What I know to be true, though, is that when these conversations aren’t consistently practiced, we are not providing young people with the tools they need to recognize their worth and advocate for their needs.
For the two younger age ranges, I steered my focus towards friendships, with Trudy Ludwig’s picture book Just Kidding and Jen Wang’s graphic novel Stargazing. Both tie into familiar tropes – excuses amongst buddies veiled with “I was just kidding!” and how we treat one another in private versus public settings. I’ve also done my best to recommend two romantic-centered relationships that are not glorified or glamorized. Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me was one of the first YA texts of this nature where it felt grounded in reality as Freddy Riley experiences her first high school relationship. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff is every bit as breathtaking and brutally honest as Mathilde and Lotto’s enviable marriage reveals prescient cracks.