Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Mending our hearts: how do we teach kids to be kind to one another, guest post by Julie Sternberg

My heart is feeling very full right now, and I hope you'll join me reading this special guest post. Julie Sternberg recently asked me to help celebrate her new book, Friendship Over: The Top-Secret Diary of Celie Valentine. I said yes right away, since my students love love love Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie. But I decided on a spin -- I wanted to hear a little more from Julie about her thoughts on friendship and how we can help kids be good friends.
Friendship Over
The Top-Secret Diary of Celie Valentine
by Julie Sternberg
illustrated by Johanna Wright
Boyds Mills, 2014
Your local library
ages 8-11
Berkeley elementary schools have just adopted the Toolbox Project social-emotional learning curriculum. As our districts' announcement stated, Toolbox "teaches critical social competencies necessary for academic and life success such as: resiliency, self-management, and responsible decision-making skills." But really, it teaches us how to be good friends, how to create a community together.

I shared the Toolbox Project with Julie and asked her which tools helped her character, Celie. You see, Celie has trouble with her friends -- troubles that I just know my students will relate to. I was very touched by Julie's reply:
Mending our hearts, by Julie Sternberg

I wish I could go back in time and give this toolbox to my fourth-grade teacher to use with our class. She struggled and struggled to help us resolve conflicts and manage our emotions. She didn’t have difficulty because she was inexperienced or untalented—far from it. Our class just somehow tended to bring out the worst in each other.

Our teacher led several discussions on kindness and respect, but they made little difference. Then a boy grabbed a girl in an extremely sensitive, private area. We all found it horrifying. After that, our teacher took an unusual step. She cut the biggest heart I’ve ever seen out of butcher paper. Then she split that heart into two jagged pieces. She taped one on the far left side of one of our classroom walls, and the other on the far right. When she’d finished taping, she told us that the heart of our class had been broken. Only by being very kind to each other could we mend it.

From that time on, at the end of every school day, she’d give an official assessment of our behavior. If we’d been kind to each other, she’d move the pieces of broken heart closer together. If not, she’d inch them farther apart. When the heart was finally whole again, we had a party with lots of candy.
Julie Sternberg
Part of me loves this broken-heart strategy. When my daughters have long and needless fights, I consider cutting an enormous heart in two and taping the pieces far from each other in our apartment. But I know the strategy is flawed. Because I don’t remember how my classmates and I managed to be kind enough to each other to mend our collective heart. I just remember succeeding, and getting candy.

Instead I now see that I should tape up in my apartment the Twelve Tools for Learning, so we can all practice the skills that would help us manage our emotions and prevent conflicts from escalating. I particularly love the “Quiet/Safe Place” tool. I love the idea of saying, in the heat of a senseless battle, “Let’s all three go find a ‘place of rest and peace where we can gather ourselves.’” It seems so much nicer than shouting, “BOTH OF YOU GO TO YOUR ROOMS! NOW!” Which I might have done once or twice, or a hundred times, in the past.
Celie Valentine

It would have been interesting to use the Twelve Tools before I wrote FRIENDSHIP OVER, the first book in the series THE TOP-SECRET DIARY OF CELIE VALENTINE. Celie has all kinds of difficulty managing her emotions, and I would love to have her try the tools. The “Garbage Can Tool” might be my favorite for her: “I let the little things go—Put it in the garbage can and walk on by.” This would NOT be easy for Celie (though it would certainly be helpful). And it would be so much fun to write the scenes in which she tries, and fails at first, and ultimately succeeds.

It’s something I’ll keep pondering. Because there are Celie sequels to come!
I know my students are really going to enjoy reading Celie. She struggles with how to be a friend, how to be true to her own feelings but respectful of others. I wonder if Celie uses drawing and writing in her diary as a way to find a "quiet/safe place" -- somewhere she can go in her mind to sort through her feelings, calm down, and remove herself from conflict.

Please enjoy sharing Friendship Over: The Top-Secret Diary of Celie Valentine with kids who like realistic fiction. As the starred review from Kirkus says, "This satisfying slice-of-life story about the permutations of friendship and family resonates."

About the author:
Julie Sternberg is the author of the best-selling Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie and its sequels, Like Bug Juice on a Burger and Like Carrot Juice on a Cupcake. Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie is a Gryphon Award winner and a Texas Bluebonnet Award finalist; Like Bug Juice on a Burger is a Gryphon Honor Book, a Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Awards Nominee, and an Illinois Monarch Award Finalist. Formerly a public interest lawyer, Julie is a graduate of the New School's MFA program in Creative Writing, with a concentration in writing for children. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York. For more information about her life and work and to download free activity materials based on her books, visit her website:

Check out the other stops on Julie’s blog tour!
Mon, Sept 29: Mother Daughter Book Club
Tues, Sept 30: 5 Minutes for Mom
Wed, Oct 1: Sharpread
Thurs, Oct 2: KidLit Frenzy
Fri, Oct 3: The Hiding Spot
Sat, Oct 4: Booking Mama
Mon, Oct 6: Ms. Yingling Reads
Tues, Oct 7: GreenBeanTeenQueen
Wed, Oct 8: Great Kid Books
Thurs, Oct 9: Teach Mentor Texts
Fri, Oct 10: Unleashing Readers
Sat, Oct 11: Bermuda Onion
Illustrations copyright © 2014 b Johanna Wright, used with permission of the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Boyds Mills Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books


  1. Hi Mary Ann, I hope your students do enjoy Celie, and I love what you say above about her diary being a quiet and safe place for her. That seems just right to me. Thank you for having me as a guest, and for asking for my thoughts on such an interesting topic. All the best, Julie

  2. I think that with the title alone, it would be difficult NOT to want to read this book :) I have to say, though, that although the teacher's solution wasn't "perfect," it was obviously effective and certainly impressionable. The image and message she conveyed with her broken heart was a very powerful one. She helped them see, very clearly, how big the issue was and what the results were. The fact that Julie couldn't remember how they "mended the heart" means that the daily assessment wasn't as impressionable. Maybe the teacher didn't state, specifically, what it was that was kind/not kind and who was responsible.

    Regardless, anything that can help lessen the bullying and hurting of one another is a good thing :)

  3. Oh, I like point above from The teacher's solution did make a lifelong impression, and that is worth emphasizing. Imagine using the heart WITH the tools! (I'm feeling tired just contemplating trying to implement both strategies. I need to go back to bed. What a difficult job teachers have!)