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Friday 14 June 2024

Emotional Intelligence

This week Maureen Mann casts an alternative lens over a selection of CBCA Shortlisted titles to consider those that could spark conversations around empathy and resilience because of the emotional intelligence displayed in the characters. You are invited to add your own examples to this list.

The 2024 CBCA Shortlist contains books with a wealth of themes which can be explored in the classroom or at home. There are the regular themes of family relationships, friendship, historical settings, mental health issues and many others. I’d like to focus on Emotional Intelligence which I’ll define as the ability to empathise with others’ feelings, viewpoints, cultural backgrounds and diversity to develop resilience and coping skills. The ideal is that through experiencing Emotional Intelligence in story format that readers can then discuss and learn, at an appropriate level, from their reading.

Here are a few of my favourites from the 2024 Short List which I think will be excellent books to use with different age groups to focus on this concept.

Grace Notes by Karen Comer.  

Set during Victoria’s early lockdowns, Grace sets out to help her grandmother, now in a nursing home, cope with the absence of her husband, absence of music and contact with the outside world. Crux learns to understand others’ points of views through his interaction with other street artists. Positive family dynamics are very well portrayed, while allowing the reader to understand the everyday frictions.

Inkflower by Suzi Zail

This story has two timelines: the 1980s and the Holocaust years. The latter sections are harrowing, possibly making readers question their veracity over the hardships and cruelty but by using discussion readers should becoming more empathetic people. Lisa’s story in the 1980s shows her emotional adjustment to the earlier conditions as she learns more and more, and how to cope with the grief of her father’s encroaching illness. 

Scout and the Rescue Dogs by Dianne Wolfer and Tony Flowers.

Scout as a character is almost too good to be true as she responds to the plight of homeless dogs, of animals injured in the wildfires across Victoria and NSW, and her developing friendship from a school assignment. But Scout such an empathetic character and her actions centre on her emotional maturity, her generosity and her wonderful relationship with her truckie father. 

Being Jimmy Baxter by Fiona Lloyd

Jimmy is a carer and old beyond his years, while also being naïve. The reader has to come to terms with these variables to develop an understanding of his view of the world, and eventually realise that not everyone has the same opportunities or setbacks.

Grace and Mr Milligan by Caz Goodwin

Grace forms a strong friendship with her neighbour Mr Milligan as well as his pet goat Charlie and the three of them do everything together. When Charlie dies from old age, Mr Milligan in particular loses the will to live and Grace slowly encourages him to return to his old self. There are lots of discussion points which will help early childhood readers understand the sadness as well as the importance of friendship.

Bear and Duck are Friends by Sue deGennaro

Bear is scared of everything and Duck has to help him overcome his fears. It’s the small creature helping the bigger one until they both realise that, in fact, they are helping each other achieve their goals. Lots of discussion for early childhood readers on bullying and stereotypes and meeting new challenges. 

That Bird has Arms by Kate Temple & Jol Temple and Ronojoy Ghosh & Niharika Hukku.  

Roy is a bird who has arms but has to hide them from all the other birds because that’s an unheard-of condition. The other birds mock the basic concept, but all have to accept the differences when Roy demonstrates so clearly and uniquely that he can solve a problem. For the picture book reader, regardless of age, this understanding of diversity as well as the establishment of individual identity is a strength.

Every Night at Midnight by Peter Cheong

This is another book exploring identity and acceptance. Felix struggles to make and keep friends because he can’t join in normal activities: every night he turns into a wolf and fears being ostracised by his human buddies. On first reading, its suited to younger readers but older picture book readers will bring many more emotional experiences and maturity to all the events in this book. 

Do you agree with my selections? Which other 2024 short list titles would you like to add to this list of books exploring emotional intelligence? 


Maureen Mann

Retired teacher librarian and avid reader.

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