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Welcome back to Picture Book Therapy Thursday! A Chat with Jessica Speer on BFF or NRF

It's the first blog post of 2023 and I have so many exciting things in store for the year! My debut picture book Lena & the Dragon goes on sale February 28, 2023 and is currently available for pre-order. We have great authors lined up for Picture Book Therapy Thursday and I'm looking forward to getting the blog rolling again.

The last few months of 2022 were a blur as I ended up having a big change in career by starting my own private practice (something I would not have seen coming at all in January of 22!). That pulled me off track with the blog but I'm looking forward to getting regular posts going again. I am aiming for monthly posts here.

Without further ado, let's jump into our latest Picture Book Therapy Thursday feature. For January, we are starting strong with a different take on the "picture book"-- a Middle Grade interactive guidebook! Jessica Speer joins us this month to discuss her book "BFF or NRF".

Jessica Speer is the award-winning author ofBFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships and Middle School – Safety Goggles Advised. Her interactive books for preteens and teens entertain readers while exploring social-emotional topics. Blending humor, a dash of science, stories, and insights, her writing unpacks the social stuff that peaks during adolescence. She has a master’s degree in social sciences and explores topics in ways that connect with kids. Jessica is regularly featured in and contributes to media outlets on topics related to kids, teens, parenting, and friendship. For more information, visit

Jessica, thank you so much for joining us for Picture Book Therapy Thursday! What inspired you to write BFF or NRF? When my daughters entered their tween years, friendship struggles started to emerge. This reminded me of my struggles and the experiences of so many. As a social scientist, this piqued my curiosity. What is it about early adolescence that intensifies social struggles, especially for girls? I dove into books and research on the subject. I talked to experts. What I found was a confluence of events that create an environment primed for social struggles. Tweens learn how to navigate complex social groups alongside the physical, emotional, and intellectual changes that go along with puberty. And all of this happens as peer acceptance grows in importance and confidence levels drop. During my research, I uncovered insights about friendship that I thought would help tweens. To make sure these ideas resonated with girls, I started an after-school friendship program focused on social-emotional skills and awareness. The honest feedback, stories, and voices from program participants shaped BFF or NRF from start to finish.

What was the process like from inspiration to getting published? The process was long, which is typical for traditionally published books. From start to finish, including research, running a program, writing and rewriting the book, pitching it for publication, editing to bookshelves---the process was over seven years.

BFF or NRF utilizes a wonderful format of interactive guidebook. There are lots of illustrations and interactive pieces. How did this format come about?

This book dives into tricky topics, so I knew it had to be fun, relatable, and interactive. When I was a preteen, I loved quizzes because they helped me discover things about myself and my world. The girls in my program also enjoyed the quizzes, so that is an important component of the book. The illustrations, activities and fun colors also help to bring emotions, insights, and stories to life.

Do you have a section in the book that was your favorite to write? I loved writing the quizzes. The first chapters of the book include two quizzes: How Healthy is My Friendship and How are My Friendship Skills? These quizzes help readers get to the heart of what might not be going well in a friendship and how to improve the situation. The quizzes also connect us with our shared humanity. We all have different skills and needs when it comes to relationships. Your quizzes remind me of the teen magazines I used to get growing up but I love that these offer things to help improve friendships and not just let you know who is secretly crushing on you.

Why do you think this book is so important for kids to have on the shelves? Whether you are 9 or 99, relationships can be tricky. BFF or NRF is filled with friendship truths and insights on how to navigate the inevitable bumps in the road. My hope is that kids and families go back to the book in times of struggle. It helps them know they are not alone and offers ideas on how to move forward. How do you think parents, teachers, or counselors could use your book and the guide to engage in deeper conversations with kids? Since the book grew out of a program, it offers a framework for groups, classes, and families. I've heard from parents and school counselors that the Friendship Pyramid and nine Friendship Truths a go-to resources that helps kids navigate friendship. Every chapter includes activities and discussion points. There is a list of discussion questions at the back of the book too. Friendship requires a variety of skills that take time and practice to develop. It’s a messy process filled with change, mistakes, and misunderstandings. My hope is that BFF or NRF serves as a warm and compassionate guide as girls journey through their social world.

Jessica, thank you again for taking the time to answer our questions! Readers, be sure to pick up your copy of "BFF or NRF" here and share it with the teens and tweens in your life!

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