My eight-year-old daughter did not want to say goodbye to her second grade teacher. Warm, fun, and enthusiastic, the woman is the stuff kids (and parents!) dream of. She made learning fun — even for students who were struggling — and became a trusty person to turn to whenever anything was amiss.
The night before her last day as a second grader, my daughter said, “Mom, if I’m crying when I come home tomorrow, don’t ask any questions.” While we both giggled at her matter-of-fact delivery, we knew that one thing was true: the idea of saying goodbye to someone she grew to truly love was really, really hard for her to grapple with.
While I understand that it’s a part of life, my heart breaks for her a little bit. It’s a loss. It may not be huge and life-altering in the grand scheme of things, but it’s still a loss. And it still hurts.
The transition has been a tough one, and there’s no great way to soften it — even though I desperately want to. What I was able to do is find a picture book that helps shine a light on the big feelings associated with goodbyes. Even better, it’s a story infused with hope and the possibility of new beginnings.
Cori Doerrfeld’s book Goodbye, Friend! Hello, Friend! is an absolute gem. Like her previous book, The Rabbit Listened, it fully acknowledges the fact that life can be sad and challenging at any age. Never coaching children to stifle their emotions or making them seem unimportant, Doerrfeld instead recognizes these emotions as things we all feel and work through.
On the first page, a trepidatious little girl (who we later learn is named Stella) hugs her mom goodbye before getting on a school bus full of kids. “Every goodbye,” the story tells us, “leads to a hello.” On the next page, Stella meets a classmate named Charlie. The two quickly become friends. The story follows them as the seasons pass, and they say hello and goodbye to new things: goodbye to playing outside, hello to playing inside. Goodbye to snowmen, hello to puddles.
The story’s comforting, repetitive pattern shifts suddenly when “a goodbye comes along that really feels like the end.” On this page, Stella and Charlie clutch each other tightly amid Charlie’s packed up belongings next to a “sold” sign outside her house.
Even in the middle of this great big sadness, the story reminds readers that “no matter what… goodbye to today… is hello to tomorrow.” Stella finds new ways to feel close to Charlie (like mailing her a picture she drew of the two of them) and even makes a new friend.
Doerrfeld’s drawings are so expressive that you can almost feel the emotions along with the characters — whether it’s wonder, joy, frustration, or heartbreak. The illustrations and the gentle, encouraging prose work together really well to portray change — even big, scary change — in a positive light. When one door closes, it inevitably opens a new door.
As she prepares to start third grade with a brand new teacher, my daughter’s mantra has remained the same: “I wish I could have Mrs. Lachowicz forever.” She’s not quite fully ready to say goodbye, but she’s slowly accepting the idea of opening that door and saying hello to someone new.