Goodbye, Friend! Hello, Friend!: Helping Kids Deal With Change
Picture books are very good at preparing kids for life. If a child has spent their entire life being read to, just imagine the endless number of experiences they’ve been exposed to already. They’ve seen many different worlds and many different personalities. They’ve seen countless examples of love, sadness, fear, and courage. And through these experiences they grow empathy, and wisdom - and without a doubt they are more prepared to face the world and whatever it will throw at them.
Disclosure: A copy of Goodbye, Friend! Hello, Friend! was provided to us by Penguin Young Readers to allow for this article. We agree to write about books that we are passionate about, and all thoughts and opinions are our own.
Sooner or later we all have to deal with life-changing events. So when life throws a few curveballs at my kids, I want to make sure they’re as prepared as possible to deal with the adversity. I really just want them to know it’s going to be okay. Things change sometimes, but life will go on.
Personally, I am a creature of habit. My wife will attest to the fact that I don’t always handle change well. Most of the time I prefer homeostasis. As an example, I very much hate it when something breaks. I’ll probably feel a little grumpy or anxious about it, and it’s hard for me to think about anything else until I fix it. It’s a silly flaw, but it’s one I don’t want to pass on to our kids if I can help it.
Changes are inevitable. But I am extremely confident that our kids will be ready for the changes they’ll face. That’s partly because of the love and support that surrounds them, and it’s partly because of the vast quantity of life experiences they’ve already gathered from beautiful picture books like Goodbye, Friend! Hello, Friend!.
Goodbye, Friend! Hello, Friend! is written and illustrated by Cori Doerrfeld - the creator of The Rabbit Listened - and it tackles the topic of change with a beautiful zen-like wisdom. The book is full of sad goodbyes, but it’s completely balanced by the happy hellos, and it will undoubtedly help children remember that things will always be okay. Ultimately, it delivers a spectacular lesson about keeping a positive mindset - not just when it comes to saying goodbye, but about life itself.
Through the experiences of the two main characters, best friends Charlie and Stella, the story touches on many of life’s changes - from the trivial to the most difficult of times. A snowman melting, a best friend moving away, the death of a loved one - all changes can be difficult. And if you’re sitting there empathizing with the characters the whole time, it’s very much like you’re gathering this life experience for yourself. You have the good fortune to try and tackle the emotions without the full brunt of their force.
Doerrfeld ties together all of Charlie and Stella’s sad goodbyes with happy hellos to follow - like saying goodbye to that melting snowman means saying hello to puddles to splash in. In doing so, she weaves together an interconnectedness for all of life’s experiences. On one hand, this is a very useful lesson on always keeping a positive mindset - if life hands you lemons make lemonade. But, at the same time, this story is also an incredibly deep meditation about the relationship between happiness and sadness.
Our kids are 6 and 3, and remarkably they’ve had very little experience with death up to this point. But our fish died last year, just like Stella’s fish does in this book. It was an incredibly sad day for us. It was hard for all of us to accept and understand. When Stella’s fish dies, Doerrfeld writes:
Goodbye to an empty bowl…
is hello to a full heart.
That lesson is similarly hard to understand at first glance. But in the pictures we see that Charlie is comforting Stella and helping her build an elaborate memorial for her fish, Gill. More so than anything else in the book, this example perfectly highlights the Yin and Yang relationship of hellos and goodbyes. Sadness and happiness simply don’t exist without each other. The death of a friend is miserable, but it can lead to an outpouring of love that fills your heart and reminds you of the beauty of life.
The entire book is full of these poignant moments in life that children will undoubtedly recognize and relate to. And I love that one of the overarching themes is: if you’re brave enough to say goodbye every once in a while, you might be rewarded with a very happy hello because of it. After all, on the very first page Stella has a tearful goodbye with her mom on the first day of school, but that’s what leads her to meeting her best friend Charlie.
That particular moment of the story reminds me an awful lot of our son. Occasionally drop offs can be tough. It doesn’t matter if it’s school or camp or gymnastics or music lessons - saying goodbye to your parents is seldom easy. But not one single time has he ever followed that up by coming home and saying he was miserable. He always has a good time, because he was brave enough to go.
We’re becoming huge fans of Cori Doerrfeld around here. Last year,The Rabbit Listened made our list of the best picture books of 2018. And The Rabbit Listened and Goodbye, Friend! Hello, Friend! are both phenomenal works of art to help kids deal with loss - and to build up social and emotional skills as well. And her illustrations are truly gorgeous. I love that on the copyright page, the art is said to be made from “digital ink, Dr. Pepper, and a good dose of nostalgia”.
And nostalgia is a surprisingly apt descriptor for the art in this case, because so much of the emotion in this book comes from the beautiful relationship between Stella and Charlie on display. Jumping in leaves, building blanket forts, making s’mores - their actions don’t merely highlight the growth of their friendship, but they also remind you of what it really felt like to be a kid.
And I think that’s one of the most important things we can do as parents. We need to remember what it was like to be a kid. If we’re going to help our kids navigate some of the tough moments in their lives, we need to be able to fully appreciate their point of view.
We need to remember how important their friendships are - and how much a fish can mean to them. We need to remember how important playing in the snow and having sleepovers can be. And, most of all, we need to keep in mind that a lack of life experience does not make their feelings any less valid. When life throws a curveball, it’s not my job to try to convince my kids that they shouldn’t be sad. It’s my job to help them understand that it’s okay to be sad. That’s what makes happiness even exist. Because every goodbye can lead to a hello.