An Emotional Menagerie: A Powerful Book of SEL 26 Poems

"An Emotional Menagerie:" A Book of SEL Poetry Cathy Collier

SEL (Social Emotional Learning) is an integral part of early childhood education. Fostering emotional intelligence is a crucial aspect of a child’s overall development. Kindergarten teachers play a pivotal role in laying the foundation for social and emotional skills that will benefit students throughout their lives.

Children can have many emotions or feelings throughout the day, but may not be able to explain any of them to others. When emotions are suppressed or unanswered they can lead to bad behavior and personal frustration.

One innovative resource that embraces this mission is “An Emotional Menagerie,” an alphabet book published by The School of Life. This delightful book combines the charm of an alphabet book with the richness of emotional exploration, assigning an animal to each emotion and weaving together poems that capture the essence of these feelings.

BUT…this isn’t just a book for kindergarten. As a matter of fact, it needs to be adapted for the kindergarten classroom…it may better used in its entirety throughout elementary school levels.

The Power of SEL

It goes beyond traditional academic skills, focusing on building self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Integrating SEL into the kindergarten curriculum not only enhances students’ emotional well-being but also lays the groundwork for a positive and inclusive classroom environment.

"An Emotional Menagerie:" A Book of SEL Poetry Cathy Collier

Allowing students the time and words to express their feelings is an important part of the day. I saw a 30-second reel the other day and the teacher had a mirror with feelings around the edge and asked students to tell her how they were feeling that day.

OF COURSE, I scrolled by and meant to share it and then when I went back to find it…I couldn’t. I LOVE that she incorporated the morning greeting with a check in with their feelings.

What an incredible way to know where your students are at the beginning of the day!

They can always share why they feel that way, but it is a window to allowing a private conversation later in the day. If a child is sad or scared or overwhelmed in the morning, it would allow you the knowledge to touch back with the child later. It could also be a chance to make sure you reach out to the guidance counselor for a casual touch or a quick conversation with your student. 

Relating emotions to characters is a powerful tool to help students understand what they are feeling.

SEL Mentor Text: An Emotional Menagerie

How did I find this book? Well, that story starts in New York City. I was on a girl’s trip in October and one of the girls wanted to ride bikes in Central Park.

It was drizzling, so it didn’t seem like a good idea, but she REALLY, REALLY wanted to do this.

About half-way around the park, my foot slipped off the pedal and I over-compensated by grabbing the brake on the opposite side and I flew over the handles.

SPLAT! I landed in the middle of the bike path. I was so embarrassed.

"An Emotional Menagerie:" A Book of SEL Poetry Cathy Collier

It didn’t take long to realize, not only was I embarrassed, I was hurt. One MedExpress visit later, and I was sporting a sling and had a fracture of my radial head (elbow).

I found this book later that day, while looking through a book store in Manhattan.

This enchanting book takes a novel approach to SEL by introducing young learners to emotions through the lens of an alphabet book. Each letter corresponds to an emotion, and a whimsical animal is assigned to represent that emotion. The result is a captivating collection of poems that not only describes the emotion but also provides synonyms and a helpful guide for understanding and expressing feelings.

SEL: What does it look like?

"An Emotional Menagerie:" A Book of SEL Poetry Cathy Collier

The brilliance of “An Emotional Menagerie” lies in its ability to make emotions accessible and relatable for kindergarten students. As children embark on this literary journey, they can associate the emotion with the animal.

The illustration supports the poem with the animals appearance. A is for Anger…and it’s a scary, roaring lion.

“If Anger was an animal,

It would have teeth and claws,

A mangy man, a bristly tail,

And growling, gaping jaws.”

G is for Guilt and shows a dog with his head hung-down over a ripped up newspaper.

“If Guilt were an animal

It would have hangdog eyes,

Drooping ears, slow-dragging paws,

And a voice that whines and sighs.”

N is for Naughtiness and shows a swinging monkey with his tongue sticking out.

“If Naughtiness was an animal,

It would gibber and shout,

Making faces, throwing food,

And monkeying around.”

SEL: What does it feel like?

The poem includes how that emotion would feel to the student? It uses animals and illustrations for the explanations.

D is for Daydreaming with a Sloth hanging on the limb.

“It slouches in those moments when

We let our minds just wander,

And lose track of the time as we

Invent, imagine, ponder.”

R is for Remorse with a sad, sitting, elephant.

“It comes when we think of the past

And wish to make amends.

How we might do things differently

How we the time again.”

An Emotional Menagerie: A Powerful Book of SEL 26 Poems

SEL: What are synonyms for our feelings?

"An Emotional Menagerie:" A Book of SEL Poetry Cathy Collier

Each poem in the book includes synonyms for the featured emotion, offering educators an opportunity to expand children’s emotional vocabulary.

This not only enhances language skills but also supports a more nuanced understanding of feelings.

V is for Vulnerability with a tiny ladybug on a big leaf around other big leaves.

“It beetles in when we have been

Upset of hurt of late.

A bruising blow has left us in

A fragile, weakened state.

We might say we feel sensitive,

Or perhaps delicate.

We’re leaving our defenses down,

And our hearts opened up.”

Some other poem examples pair:

 “yearning” with “dote” and “pine” and “ache.”

“obsession” with “fixated” and “preoccupied” and “possessed.”

“kindness” with “benevolence” and “altruism” and “compassion.”

SEL: Who can benefit from this?

I know this seems like a weird question, because of course, everyone at every age can benefit from this book. As an adult, I love the clear connections made by the illustrations and words (a staring bull for quarrelsomeness and a floating jellyfish for boredom…just floating around any which way).

Likewise, when sharing these poems with students, I think any age could benefit, but there may need to be some adjustments to the poems. The poems are typically 6 stanzas long, with 4 lines in each stanza…and this may be too much for our earliest readers. It may be too dense for understanding.

For our youngest students, maybe we only share the description stanza (first stanza).

Loneliness is illustrated with a whale, deep in the ocean with no one around and a sad gaze downward.

“If Loneliness was an animal,

It would glide throughout the deep:

No ears to hear its lonely song,

No company to keep.”

"An Emotional Menagerie:" A Book of SEL Poetry Cathy Collier

For other grade levels, maybe we share the first and last stanza. Panic is illustrated with a wide-eyed chicken flapping and prancing about.

“If Panic was an animal,

It would just run amok,

Getting into quite the flap,

Emitting squawks and clucks.

If the worst came to the worst

We’d find a way to cope:

You’re more resilient that you think

And in this truth, there’s hope.”

And with even older students, read the entire poem.

I also think this would be a great school-wide read-loud. For 26 weeks, a poem could be read over the morning announcements. Teachers could be provided with the poems, so it could be reread in the classroom with specific stanzas outlined above.

A Combination of SEL and POetry

“An Emotional Menagerie” from The School of Life is a valuable addition to any teacher’s toolkit for promoting social and emotional learning. Through its imaginative combination of animals, emotions, and poems, the book fosters a positive and engaging environment for young learners to explore and understand their feelings.

By incorporating this resource into the curriculum, educators can play a crucial role in nurturing emotional intelligence and setting the stage for lifelong social and emotional well-being in their students.

On a fun note, this YouTube video is a quick minute with the illustrator, Rachael Saunders.

As you can tell, I love this book. If you are interested in the book, check out the link throughout the blog for an Amazon link for An Emotional Menagerie.

Cathy Collier

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