Taking Time

Taking Time
Jo Loring-Fisher
Lantana Publishing

This is simply exquisite. In eleven different parts of the world, children savour the moment: on each double spread there is a gorgeous, mixed media scene showing a young boy or girl in an everyday setting relishing the beauty of the surroundings.

A little girl somewhere in India pauses to listen to the song of a bird;

a boy collects pink blossoms as they fall from a tree: ‘ Taking time to listen to / a bird’s song on the breeze. // Taking time to gather up the blossom dancing free.’ (I love Jo’s use of rhyming couplets on consecutive spreads here and throughout the book).

Far away in Alaska a child snuggles in the soft fur of a husky dog; indoors another child feels a soft cat, ‘taking time to feel the beat’ of its ‘rhythmic purr’.

A spider spins its web watched in awe by a little girl in Nepal, while in the Egyptian desert, clutched by a loving adult, a small child contemplates their journey.

The immensity of the evening sky, a passing flock of colourful birds,

the kind, reflecting eyes of a grandparent, soft snowflakes as they float gently down, the imagined sounds of the sea echoing in a shell – all these too are cherished moments for those who take time for awareness of the here and now.

On the final spread all the children come together in a verdant green field to share their wonderings as they play harmoniously with their special keepsakes: ‘Taking time to cherish you, / and also cherish me.’

Both sets of endpapers show details from the illustrations, the front ones annotating a world map marking the children’s homelands – Alaska, Ecuador, the U.K., Norway, Russia, Egypt, Tanzania, India, Nepal, China, and Japan;  the back ones depicting just the keepsakes, cleverly creating a matching game for readers to play.

If you have, or work with, young children, I urge you to share Jo’s beautiful book, showing similar slow mindfulness to that demonstrated by her characters in Taking Time.

Stars Before Bedtime / What’s in Your Mind Today?

Stars Before Bedtime
Claire Grace & Dr Jessamy Hibberd, illustrated by Hannah Tolson
Wide Eyed Editions

As the authors of this book, Claire Grace a writer/editor and clinical psychologist and writer Dr Jessamy Hibberd remind us in their introduction, it’s not always easy to fall asleep in our world of constant stimulation and establishing a bedtime routine can help enormously.

To that end they have created a combination of bedtime story, and mind and body-calming exercises to help youngsters wind down as they bid ‘goodbye to the wriggles and the fidgets’ before dropping off into peaceful slumbers.

Brief stories about the constellations of the night sky,

inspired by mythology, together with instructions for mindfulness exercises related to the particular story form the basic elements; those and Hannah Tolson’s surrounding visuals created with a restful colour palette, which contain a mix of the starry night sky with symbolic representation of the constellations

and homely images of the related physical exercises in a detailed bedroom setting. (An appropriately coloured lavender crescent moon symbol is used to indicate the relevant text for each exercise.)

Among the activities included are yoga style poses, stretches, guided visualisations and conscious breathing.

Pages for grown-ups at the front and back offer ‘how to’ suggestions as well as ways you might use the book. (Each double spread can stand alone if you don’t want to read the entire book, so for instance you could choose to share the story of Draco the dragon and the accompanying stretching snakelike exercise and breathing.)

Wearing my teacher and yoga teacher specialising in yoga with children hats, I recommend giving this book a go. It should pay dividends if you persevere. Try out the different strategies suggested so that you establish that much desired, peaceful routine mentioned at the outset.

More mindfulness for little ones in:

What’s in Your Mind Today?
Louise Bladen and Angela Perrini
Little Steps Publishing

There’s always a way to let go all our thoughts no matter what we have in our minds, as this gentle book shows and tells using a variety of children and their thoughts.

By focussing on the simple breathing exercises in Louise Bladen’s calming verses, and Angela Perrini’s attractive, quirky illustrations of the mentioned girls and boys,

both children and adults can quell their busy minds and find a place of tranquillity.

Leyla

Leyla
Galia Bernstein
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Young hamadryas baboon Leyla finds her large family overwhelming with their constant noise, grooming and snuggling.

She just wants some peace so decides to run away in search of a quiet space of her own.

Having run sufficiently far, so she thinks, for there to be nothing around, she stubs her foot on a sharp rock

and then comes upon a lizard; a very still, quiet creature “very busy doing nothing” so he says.

At her request, the lizard teaches Layla to do the same: they sit peacefully in meditative mode feeling the warmth of the sun and listening to the rustling of the leaves, the buzzing of insects.

Some time later, Layla opens her eyes and realises that she now misses her family and is ready to go back to them. She does so however, safe in the knowledge that she can always return to doing nothing with her new friend for “I’m always around,” he assures her.
As a result she finds herself better able to cope with all the attention she receives from her welcoming family, partly because true to his word, that lizard was ‘always there.’ And she certainly enjoys talking about her adventure.

As someone who practises meditation (and yoga) daily, I can attest to the benefits of what that lizard offered Layla.

The author’s warm story, we learn was inspired by watching hamadryas baboons, in particular a very young one, in a Brooklyn zoo. Her expressive illustrations created digitally with the addition of hand-painted textures, say plenty about Layla’s feelings be they overwhelmed, angry, in pain, scared, peaceful, happy or excited.

In our ever busy, pressurised lives, we all, young and not so young, need to become more mindful; this book is a fun demonstration of the importance of mindfulness.

The Unworry Book

The Unworry Book
Alice James and Stephen Montcrieff
Usborne

Enormously reassuring and full of practical ideas for managing stress is this alluringly presented book written by Alice James, with expert advice from clinical psychologist, Dr Angharad Ridkin, and designed and illustrated by Stephen Montcrieff.

Having explained that we all worry from time to time and why, the book devotes the next few spreads to working out how you really feel – worried, excited, or nervous perhaps? It’s really beneficial to become emotionally aware (an emotional map is included to help) and know the kinds of things you can do to alleviate your worries.

Next comes the wealth of coping suggestions, many of which are designed to develop mindfulness. Most require nothing more than a pencil or pen like those on ‘Peaceful pencils’ which takes a multi-sensory approach -listen to the sounds of the writing implement brushing across the paper; ‘notice the glistening wet ink … or grain of the paper as your pencil draws across it’; smell – the book’s pages, the wood of your pencil or ink of your pen; feel the pencil’s ridges, or barrel of the pen; feel the textures of the page and how it seems?

What about making a decorated worry box – an example is included here – I love the idea of it being a creature that can eat up worries.

It’s impossible in the space of a fairly short review to include all the excellent strategies offered so I’ll just mention a few. There are pages highlighting the importance of breathing and laughing (both are yoga techniques) to help cope with excess adrenalin, as well as a spread with an amorphous creature demonstrating a sun salutation.

A couple of ‘arty’ ones are tearing up paper (preferably rubbish) and using it to be creative; creating peaceful patterns being mindful of the shapes and how the space is filled. And doodling is a great stress reliever – how many of us doodle our way through stressful meetings I wonder?
It’s well accepted now that being physically active is good for our mental well-being; it releases those mood-boosting, feel good endorphins so get moving.

There’s a focus on language too – some starting lines for limericks (great fun) an instant giggle inducer I think; a focus on the physicality of writing various words in different ways; a (behind the door) story starter; as well as a host of brain puzzles.

Another smashing idea is a ‘fiddle star’ – the making of which is a worry distractor,

as is the finished article.

Getting off to sleep tips form the final pages; while in conclusion are a ‘helping hand’ and a ‘who to/where to go’ for times when worries become overwhelming (including a link to the publisher’s website).

Stress among children – even very young ones is on the increase – I refrain from elaborating on the negative effects of the current ‘numbers before children’ education system, though it is a huge stress-inducing factor. There are others of course and a veritable gold mine such as this book is invaluable for both youngsters and those who live or work with children.

Happy / As We Grow / We Are Together

Here’s a trio of books from Caterpillar Books one of the Little Tiger Group imprints that I was excited by on my return  home after three weeks away in India.

Happy
Nicola Edwards and Katie Hickey
Caterpillar Books

Mindfulness is a popular theme at present and we’ve had several books on the subject for children in recent months, possibly as a response to the growing concern about the pressures even very young children are under in their everyday lives both in school and at home.

I know from experience that offering youngsters a brief period of quiet, calm time each day when they can be in the here and now away from the stresses and strains of life leads to a happier, more relaxed classroom or home atmosphere.

This beautiful book encourages children to become mindful, offering them some ways to be in the moment, to explore their emotions by tuning in to their senses in a meditative manner. They can listen to the natural sounds around them; or tune in to and focus on their feelings. Tension can be released not only from our minds but also our bodies in a manner similar to that at the end of a yoga session when participants are encouraged to tense and relax the muscles in their bodies one by one until the whole body is completely relaxed.

How many of us really pay attention to what we eat, to savour every mouthful noticing the texture and flavour as we chew: it’s a really great way of being mindful and perhaps more appreciative of our food.

Touch too is a way of connecting and calming, particularly when outdoors in natural surroundings; looking with awareness too works to calm and connect as do smelling and deep slow breathing.

The gorgeous illustrations and gentle, rhyming text herein will surely encourage children to slow down and become mindful, to discover that place of peace that’s deep within us all.

As We Grow
Libby Walden and Richard Jones
Caterpillar Books

This Walden/Jones collaboration is a great way to look at life as a journey full of changes, challenges and joy, that begins as a very tiny babe totally unaware of what is to come as we grow and travel through the years. What we can be sure of though, is that each stage will be different, full of excitement and new adventures. There’s that toddling stage that opens up a myriad of new experiences and quickly gives way to the more assured young child full of imaginative ideas, when language develops rapidly and words are a toy and a tool. Fuelled (one hopes) by mind-opening books a plenty that help with those ‘hows’, whys’ and whats’.

The transformation into a teen is a dramatic one when times are unsettled, restless and confusing, a time of self-discovery prior to adulthood; in the early stages of which independence and challenge go hand in hand before perhaps settling down and maybe even becoming the parent of a new little one.

Like life, this entire book is full of beautiful, memorable stopping points

richly portrayed in Richard Jones gorgeous scenes and Libby Walden’s lyrical text.

We Are Together
Britta Teckentrup
Caterpillar Books

Britta Teckentrup celebrates human diversity through a rhyming text and her inimitable vibrant style illustrations with their peep through cut out pages.

What better way to encourage young children to value togetherness than these opening lines: ‘On our own we’re special, / and we can chase our dream, / But when we join up, hand in hand, / together, we’re a team.’

Readers are then presented with a sequence of gorgeous scenes of children out together in the natural world that will surely encourage positive feelings in youngsters both about themselves and others.

Perfect for sharing in foundation stage settings and a great starting point for a circle time discussion.

Maths, Manipulations and Mindfulness

5 Wild Numbers
Bella Gomez
Words & Pictures

Vibrant scenes of jungle animals introduce counting and the numerals 1 to 5 in this chunky book.
The thick sturdy pages accommodate a die-cut numeral on each spread with a sliding disc so that small fingers can follow the arrows, move the disc and trace the numeral for ‘One fierce tiger’, ‘Two stripy zebras’, ‘Three parrots’, ‘Four long-tailed monkeys’ and ‘Five pink flamingos’.

The rhyming text introduces exciting words such as ‘paces and snarls’ for the tiger; ‘laze’ and ‘scorching days ‘ for the zebras and even metaphorical language – ‘ their feathers shining bright as jewels’

A fair bit of pressure is needed to move the discs so in my view the value of this activity lies in helping develop fine motor skills but is of limited help in learning to form the numerals.

Shapes Colours Numbers
Dario Zeruto
Words & Pictures

This is a wordless, (apart from the initial ‘How many shapes and colours can you find?) simple, yet ingenious, chunky book that as it unfolds, encourages youngsters to find out about 2D shapes and colours, and do some counting along the way as they explore a series of gatefold flaps.

Playful, engrossing and educational, and all based on five colours, squares, triangles, rectangles, circles and diamonds.

Touch Think Learn Wiggles
Claire Zucchelli-Romer
Chronicle Books

An engaging rhythmic text, inspired perhaps by Hervé Tullet, urges young children to use their wiggly fingers to dance on each spread as they trace shapes, tap and hop, slide up and down, follow circle outlines, zigzags, and spirals as the text is read aloud.

The text is upbeat and playful, the shapes cut out in fluorescent green, pink, or yellow are attractive and inviting but the white type against pale blue pages less satisfying that the brighter shade of blue used for the cover.

ABC Mindful Me
Christiane Engel
Walter Foster Jr.

Mindfulness – paying attention to the present moment, or being in the here and now – is very much in vogue at the moment, with schools adding it to their daily programme, often sadly, tacked on as an optional after school extra rather than it being part and parcel of the curriculum.

Christiane Engel’s sturdy large format board book could help integrate it into the foundation stage curriculum at least. She takes us on a journey through the alphabet linking each letter to an activity – walk, yoga, breathe for example, or a state of mind or concept –awareness, giving, joy or thankfulness.
The rhyming text talks directly to the child and the illustrations are attractive and inclusive.

The book concludes with some creative ideas related to the book’s overall theme.

If you think young children need help to be mindful then this will be useful: I know from experience that if left to their own devices, preschool children naturally reach a state of mindfulness; adults just need to step back – it’s they, rather than children who need a book such as this.

Kaya’s Heart Song

Kaya’s Heart Song
Diwa Tharan Sanders and Nerina Canzi
Lantana Publishing

From the cover illustration it’s evident that the little girl – her name is Kaya and she lives in the Malaysian rainforest– is truly savouring the moment.

As the story begins Kaya observes her mother sitting yoga style and humming. “Mama, what are you singing?” Kaya wants to know.

Her mother explains that it’s her heart song and that having a heart song makes anything possible. Kaya’s response is that she doesn’t know hers: her Mama encourages her to learn to listen for it and sends her daughter off to play outdoors.

Maya follows a butterfly into the jungle and it leads her to an unfamiliar spot but there she discovers someone who is familiar – her friend Pak.

Pak is the guardian of a gate behind which, nestling among thick foliage, is a broken elephant carousel.

Intrigued, Kaya decides to investigate and as she untangles the vines from around one of the elephants her mind begins to quieten and become still. A soft rhythmic beat sounds in her ear as with a Boom taktak boom taktak boom / Shick shak shook / Boom taktak boom taktak boom / Shick shack shook’ the carousel begins to rotate and the elephants move in time with the music.

Suddenly Kaya understands that she has found her own heart song and then, just as her mama had told her, magic happens …

Grounded in the practice of mindfulness – being fully in the present moment – this is a truly mesmerising picture book.

With a lush colour palette Nerina Canzi depicts Kaya’s magical world, creating a truly immersive place both for the main protagonist and for the reader. Her spreads work in perfect harmony with the author’s words and to lose yourself between the covers of the book is to be, like Kaya, in the here and now throughout the experience.

The final page explains simply the practice of mindfulness, linking it with yoga and meditation, and also reminding the reader what brought Kaya to a mindful state.

From the time they start school children today live in an ever more pressurised and often stressful world and this beautiful book demonstrates to both children and adults the benefits of cultivating the mindfulness habit. It can help them change their own world and perhaps that of others. Just a few minutes a day: no distractions; just being fully present in the here and now.

It’s a state of being that young children absorbed in their play (especially with creative materials) reach when adults stand back and watch without interrupting or trying to guide what they’re doing: watch that total concentration, nothing else matters – that’s mindfulness. When I taught 4 and 5 year olds I saw it many times every day; it wan’t taught to them, it’s just how they were.

I Am Peace / The Two Doves

I Am Peace
Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds
Abrams Books for Young Readers

This is a companion book to yoga teacher, Verde, and illustrator, Reynolds’ I Am Yoga.
Here, a worried child narrator, feeling “like a boat with no anchor” …

shares with readers how focussing on the here and now helps to calm all those worries and troubling emotions, allowing them to dissipate and disappear. Inwardly watching the breath enables the child to feel centred and then, through acts of kindness, by connecting with nature and fully using the senses, feelings of at oneness with the world, inner peace pervades and can be shared with all those who need it.

With today’s increasingly fast-paced, pressurised and stressful world, this is a lovely gently joyful reminder to children, and also adults of the importance of cultivating the habit of mindfulness. That (along with yoga), can help them change their own world and perhaps that of others. Just 3 to 5 minutes a day with no distractions, no doing, merely being.
Peter Reynolds’ ink, watercolour and gouache illustrations reinforce the mindfulness message and add a delightful touch of whimsy as he portrays the child, peace symbols and all, balancing, cloud watching, feeding the birds and meditating.
(A guided meditation is included at the end of the book.)

 

The Two Doves
Géraldine Elschner and Zaū
Prestel

In search of a safe place to rest, a white dove lands on a deserted island; deserted save for another dove, a blue one that has been badly injured.

The white dove tends to the blue one until after a few days, it’s sufficiently recovered to take flight,
Together the two birds take wing eventually landing in – or rather in the case of the blue dove, falling – into a large garden where, under an olive tree, a man was painting, while around him some children played.
The man is the artist Picasso. The children see the wounded dove and want to care for it. Soon though both man and children are busy creating pictures of the bird,

pictures that Picasso tells them as their images are borne aloft by a gust of wind, will “go to countries all around the world.
Soon after, the white dove takes flight once more leaving the blue one safe in the children’s care.

This lovely story of Géraldine Elschner’s, inspired by Picasso’s iconic work, The Dove of Peace, is beautifully illustrated by Zaü whose ink drawings filled mostly with greys, greens and blue give a strong sense of both the desolation of the war struck third island and the stark beauty of its countryside.
Adults using the book with primary age children may well need to fill in with a little information about the Spanish Civil War and on the visual references from Picasso paintings that the book’s illustrator mentions in a note at the end of the book.

My Magnificent Jelly Bean Tree / Ollie’s Treasure

My Magnificent Jelly Bean Tree
Maura Finn and Aura Parker
New Frontier Publishing
Get ready for a spot of taste bud tingling when you read this enchanting tale.
It’s told by a young boy narrator who ponders the mouth-watering possibilities of planting and nurturing a single jelly bean till it grows into a fine fruit-bearing tree. Not possible say some, but this lad knows better.

Such care does he lavish on his tiny bean that not only does he have a ‘slurping, dribbly goo’ inducing crop of plump juicy beans, but the tree is sufficiently strong to bear the weight of a tree house built in its branches; one with a twisty twirling slide for rapid descent.

All kinds of creatures, both feathered and furry, will naturally be attracted to the fruits of his labours, but the lad can deal with those and then crown himself jelly Bean King: a sovereign who can dance naked in the rain,

shampoo himself with bean juice and even find time to invite family members to come and visit.
Having the imagination to entertain possibilities, a strong determination to succeed and a caring nature are the requirements for making the bean dream come true: so it is with one small child.
Those are some of the dispositions we need to foster in all children. This mouth-watering debut picture book from Finn and Parker can help spark that imagination. Rhyming text and whimsical, patterned illustrations together weave a lovely read aloud.

Ollie’s Treasure
Lynn Jenkins and Kirrili Lonergan
EKBooks
Young Ollie loves treasure hunts, something his grandma is well aware of, so she sends him a map. Thrilled to bits, Ollie embarks on discovering what the treasure might be. He follows each of the instructions ‘… Skip to the tree with the biggest green leaves … wriggle your toes and feel the grass under your feet … ‘ and so on.

When he reaches the end of the trail he’s more than a little disappointed to discover not the truck or the game he’d eagerly anticipated but a piece of card.

He tosses the card away but as it falls he sees the side he’d not bothered to read. It reminds him of his senses and ends by asking ‘How did you feel?’
Only then does Ollie stop to reflect on the sensory delights of the rose’s fragrance, the tickliness of the grass and more; and in so doing, realises that within himself is the capacity for happiness.
Wise gran: she’s enabled her grandson to begin to appreciate that there’s more to life than material rewards.
Essentially this is mindfulness for young children, the book’s author Lynn Jenkins, being a clinical psychologist. Illustrator Kirrili Lonergan characterises Ollie – a young mouse – as full of energy and thoroughly enjoying his engagement with the natural world. Yes, with its focus on attention, attitude and gratitude, it is a touch didactic but as part of a programme for young children’s mental health and well-being, it offers a good starting point for reflection and discussion.

I’ve signed the charter  

Striker, Slow Down!

How often do we ask children to ‘calm down’ or ‘slow down’? Fairly frequently I suggest. Now here’s a little book to help subtitled “A calming book for children who are always on the go‘:

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Striker, Slow Down!
Emma Hughes and John Smisson
Singing Dragon
Striker the kitten, like many young children, leads a frenetic life, dashing from one activity to the next, never stopping or slowing down, despite frequent pleas from his mum and dad.

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Seemingly the only times he stays put are mealtimes and when he’s fast asleep. Now if you’re the parent of a whirlwind-type youngster, this will surely resonate.
One day though, the inevitable happens: Striker’s rushing results in a bumped head. Only then is he ready to sit down quietly with his mum, and start to relax.

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Those of us who work with young children know it’s not as simple as that. I do know however, that regular short sessions, be they of yoga, breathing, listening to a meditative story or whatever, do lead to calmer youngsters who can spend short spells being relaxed and peaceful in mind and body.
This little book is written in rhyme (creaking slightly once or twice) and Emma Hughes, the author, is herself a yoga teacher so obviously knows things don’t happen overnight as the book might suggest. However, if it does nothing more than set adults and young children off on the calming path, then it will have served its purpose.
For a start, take time to sit quietly together, share the book and enjoy the bright, bold, appropriately uncluttered illustrations.