The Navigating Friendships series focuses on helping children through social and friendship issues that every child will experience. My books teach children more about these issues, show them they’re not alone in dealing with these issues and teach strategies to successfully navigate these experiences. My books are an important resource, now more than ever, as children are socially isolated because of the pandemic. Because children aren’t interacting socially in the same way they always have, there’s less opportunity for children to learn through social interactions. There’s more need to teach children about these friendship issues so children to understand these struggles are a normal part of growing up. My aim is to give children comfort through knowing they aren’t alone in dealing with these issues. I want children to remember the stories as they deal with similar issues so they have positive strategies to rely on and know positive outcomes are possible. The stories will give children the confidence to deal with these situations well, which will avoid the negative consequences, such as low self-esteem, feeling rejected and school avoidance. As children grow up without the scars of feeling rejected and low self-esteem, they will become happier adults and treat others well. Even one happy child can impact so many others.
As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Licate, an award-winning children’s book author. Her books are published through Boys Town Press. Jennifer received her Master’s Degree in School Counseling from West Chester University and has worked as a school counselor for over a decade. She currently splits her time between two schools and enjoys the dynamic of working with children from kindergarten through twelfth grade.
Counseling young children one day and teenagers another (as well as raising two kids of her own) has taught Jennifer a universal truth: all children want to be loved, valued and respected for the unique individuals they are. She channels this truth and her love of counseling and creativity to craft children’s books whose aim is to help children of all ages navigate the challenges of growing up with stories that speak directly to them.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
My parents are both educators. My father was a high school principal…principal of the high school where I graduated. My mother was a family and consumer science teacher. Education and trying our best was always important in my family. I grew up in a small town outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with my sister, as my only sibling. My sister and I are so close in age that we were only a grade apart in school. We were always very close, going through all of our growing up years together and even attended the same college.
When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?
When I was in middle school, I read Lord of the Flies by William Golding. I would have never chosen this book on my own. I was assigned to read Lord of the Flies by my English/Language Arts teacher. The books I always leaned toward were ones with a heartfelt message of friendship and love, at the end. Usually, these books left me in tears, so touched how the characters’ lives changed for the better. A perfect example is Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. Lord of the Flies was a very different type of book. I was shocked by this book. I had never read a book that showed the evil nature of people, specifically children. I never thought children could act that way, no matter how terrible their circumstances. The other way this book was eye-opening was by showing how a group can become more powerful than the individuals within the group. The group can influence individuals to act in a way they would have never considered if they were making decisions on their own. I was appealed by this. I had seen the group mentality influence kids through peer pressure but never thought of it in this extreme way. This book was my first introduction to the field of sociology. I couldn’t get this book out of my mind, after reading it. Even by the time I entered college, I was still fascinated by how groups affect individuals’ actions. This book influenced me to choose sociology as my college concentration. Sociology opened me up the field of school counseling, which I pursued as a graduate program. My experience as a school counselor and working with children led me to write these books focused on the social and emotional development of children.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
The most interesting mistake I made when I first started out as a school counselor, which later led me to become an author, was not listening. Can you imagine a counselor not listening? Sadly, that was my funniest (most ironic) mistake. In my first year as a school counselor, I was so excited to share how we could help students and I thought everyone…including seasoned teachers would be excited to hear all the insight I had to share. How wrong I was! I needed to learn that even though I had good ideas, I needed to listen to the teachers’ feedback and ideas, also. So much is involved in helping children and the most effective solutions involve collaborating with others. It’s important to be humble and respectful when communicating with others. I could not share my opinions and ideas without first listening to the opinions and ideas of others. As a counselor, it’s so important for me to listen first, talk later.
Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?
The Navigating Friendships series focuses on helping children through social and friendship issues that every child will experience. My books teach children more about these issues, show them they’re not alone in dealing with these issues and teach strategies to successfully navigate these experiences. My books are an important resource, now more than ever, as children are socially isolated because of the pandemic. Because children aren’t interacting socially in the same way they always have, there’s less opportunity for children to learn through social interactions. There’s more need to teach children about these friendship issues so children to understand these struggles are a normal part of growing up. My aim is to give children comfort by knowing they aren’t alone in dealing with these issues. I want children to remember the stories as they deal with similar issues so they have positive strategies to rely on and know positive outcomes are possible. The stories will give children the confidence to deal with these situations well, which will avoid the negative consequences, such as low self-esteem, feeling rejected and school avoidance. As children grow up without the scars of feeling rejected and low self-esteem, they will become happier adults and treat others well. Even one happy child can impact so many others.
Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
The most interesting story I shared was the first story I wrote. I had such a strong desire to share I Lost my BFF because it wasn’t a story I could find anywhere. I didn’t understand why there were no books written about losing a best friend or being jealous of a best friend making other friends and the rejection that’s often felt when these friendships change. These friendship changes are so common in upper elementary and middle school when children grow and change in different directions. I wanted children to learn that friendships will end or change throughout their life and that it’s is a normal part of growing up. If children know this is normal, they won’t take these friendship changes as a rejection of who they are, as a person or as a friend. If children understand this, it will allow them to move on to positive friendships that serve them well.
What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?
My “aha moment” was that I couldn’t find stories to help the children I was working with. I was working as a school counselor in an elementary school and loved reading books to children to help them understand the problem they were going through, learn that other children dealt with this same issue and teach strategies to successfully deal with their difficulty. However, I had trouble finding books about common growing up friendship difficulties that most children experience. If children don’t understand that so many other children are feeling the same way or experiencing similar issues, it could negatively affect their self-esteem. It made me realize I could write these books to help children through friendship problems, allowing them to come through these problems feeling more confident in knowing they’re still special and unique.
Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
I had a parent reach out and share that they bought Am I Weird? for their daughter because she often struggled with feelings that she was different and did not fit in with other children. When this mother presented her daughter with Am I Weird?, her daughter read it intently. After her daughter read Am I Weird?, she told her mother that the book was about her and remarked that she doesn’t like the book. Her mother explained to me that her daughter doesn’t like talking about things that make her sad. Her mother did not bring up the book or issue again. Days later, her daughter was dealing with a friendship problem where she was excluded from an activity with her friends. Her daughter shared with her mother that she remembered the book. Her daughter told her that she felt like Eva (the main character). She knew she needed to stand up for herself and not let her friends treat her badly. Her daughter was learning she wanted friends who valued her and wouldn’t exclude her. Even these small examples show me that my book can give children comfort when they’re going through friendship and social struggles. Children will remember the book and know they’re not alone in dealing with these issues. This knowledge will give them the strength to stand up for themselves and know their value. It’s so important for children to have this knowledge as children or in early adolescence so they can make positive choices for themselves, as they grow up. Even one child feeling confident in who they are affects the lives of so many others.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
There are steps that should be taken to support children through friendship and social issues that all children experience. If children don’t have the education about these issues or these issues aren’t dealt with well, it can cause children to have low self-esteem, social anxiety, school avoidance and rejection issues. Social and emotional education should be mandatory in all schools, as a core subject that receives as much attention as language arts and mathematics. Learning these soft skills is as important as academics in setting children up for success in their future careers. In addition, social and emotional education will set children up to have successful relationships as children and later as adults which will allow them to pass these positive strategies onto their children. It can affect generations. I believe every community should employ more mental health professionals within the schools so children are able to talk to professionals on a regular basis in order to process their emotions, discuss troubling situations and talk through strategies to resolve these situations. Additionally, the community should provide programs within the community to support the education occurring within the schools and educate parents on these issues so they are able to support their children. These programs should include such things as parent education groups, panel discussions and author visits to share books and resources available to support children.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I define leadership as leading by example. Those in leadership that I respect the most lead by a quiet but strong confidence in who they are and the decisions they have made and are making. These leaders have a quiet strength. They aren’t shouting their advice and convictions but gently leading others toward following their advice and making better choices for themselves.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
There are so many things I wish someone told me when I first started. The first thing I wished someone told me was how important it is to listen to others before sharing my knowledge or ideas. I was not listening enough, which didn’t show respect for others. I didn’t understand why I was receiving so much resistance from the teachers I was working with when I first started working as a school counselor. Another school counselor gave me the advice to take more time to listen before I talk. Having a positive working relationship is so important in supporting children and you cannot have these relationships without collaboration and respect. In regards to becoming an author, I wish someone would have told me how much hard work and time it takes to put your book in front of others. I can have the most powerful message but if parents, teachers and counselors don’t know about it, it can’t help children. The process of writing a book takes a long time and involves so many steps. It took about two years from the time I started talking with my publisher, until the books were available for others to read. There were many edits that needed to be made and the illustrator needed time to create her beautiful drawings to support the story. Publishing a book involves a team of professionals working together. Each member of the team does their part to make the book it’s best and bring it to light. I could never publish a book without this team of people supporting the book and the message of the book. The role of a school counselor and author are different. As a school counselor I received positive feedback from parents and students about the support I offered. However, as an author, reading the reviews, I learned just how powerful words can be in helping others. It’s exciting and humbling to learn my message can reach more children than the children I work with at my schools. The work I do as a school counselor and as an author support one another. I didn’t expect publishing these books to make me even more passionate about the importance of children learning they aren’t alone in having these friendship and social struggles and knowing that these struggles don’t negate their value. Each child is special and unique and should know this.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite Life Lesson Quote is “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” by C.S. Lewis. The reason I love this quote is because we all have the opportunity to make changes to create a life we want for ourselves. It’s easy to look at hardships we’ve experienced and think that will predict our life but that doesn’t have to be the case. We always have the chance to make positive changes in our life. I didn’t know I wanted to be an author, until later in life. I could be disappointed in myself for not pursuing this earlier but that wouldn’t serve any purpose. I have changed through every experience I’ve had and this has added to the message I want to share through my books. This quote also speaks to my role as a counselor and the support I have for the field of counseling. So many children experience hardships and trauma but that doesn’t predict their future. They can find support and talk with a counselor so they are able to move past any hardships and achieve the goals they create for themselves.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
The person I’d like to have a private breakfast or lunch with is Joel Osteen. His messages are always focused on living a life you can be proud of and following your dreams. I always feel better after listening to him. I would love to hear his specific advice for my life. I love being around positive people who encourage and support others. I try to offer that support for the people in my life, so a private breakfast or lunch with someone I look up to in this area would be amazing.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I have a website at Social Emotional Books | Stories By Jennifer. I am also active on Instagram @jenniferlicate and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jennifer.licate/ and am on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jennifer-licate-86644210/
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you cotinued success on your great work!