I Am Courage

I Am Courage
Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds
Abrams

The sixth in the I Am series looks at the topic of inner strength and resilience, things we’ve all needed to draw on in the past eighteen months or so.

This book is presented by a child narrator on a bike ride. The ride (like life) is full of challenges, but despite being faced by such obstacles as a dark path, a bridge across a deep gorge, even meeting with a frightening dog,

the child believes in their own strength and resilience, drawing on it to keep going. This sometimes entails asking for support from other people and sometimes it means giving support to others. Resilience is shown first on the child’s T-shirt, then as a bonfire and then on flags that the narrator gives to others, each time taking the form of an iconic flame symbol that helps them to find their own inner strength. 

That friends are key in the whole process of keeping the flame alive no matter what, is shown in the final two spreads where we see the narrator and friends creating a large sail and sailing off on a raft with the symbol hoisted aloft.

Peter H. Reynolds uses different colour backgrounds, each one vibrant, in keeping with the range of feelings the characters show on their faces during the course of the journey.

After Susan Verde’s first person narrative, she offers an author’s note wherein she suggests some yoga poses and breathing techniques that should help youngsters in affirming the brave, confident and courageous humans that they are.

The Tossy-Turny Princess and the Pesky Pea

The Tossy-Turny Princess and the Pesky Pea
Susan Verde and Jay Fleck
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Rather than being a playful fractured fairytale version of the Hans Christian Andersen classic The Princess and the Pea, this is a deliberate reworking of the story using a hippo as the princess, by yoga and mindfulness teacher and writer of I am Yoga, to help young insomniacs get a good night’s sleep.

Usually good at falling asleep, said young royal – a busy creature by day – finds that one night after her usual daytime schedule, she just cannot fall asleep. What she doesn’t know is that earlier in the day a pea from her brother’s lunch accidentally ended up in-between the mattresses on his sibling’s bed and he’d been unable to retrieve it.

After two sleepless nights the princess is by day cranky, completely lacking in energy and generally out of sorts.

Fortunately however her friends – the royal gardener, the royal chef, the royal librarian and the royal astronomer in turn, are ready and willing to give her some good advice.

The gardener teaches her the lizard pose; the cook demonstrates a calming breathing technique; the librarian shows her a ‘feet and legs up the wall’ means of relaxing, and the astronomer shares his lie down, let the whole body relax … look at the sky … and place each … worry on a star “until with every sparkle, they disappear.”

That night, the princess, once again wide awake, but somewhat relieved to know that others too have trouble sleeping from time to time, brings to mind the sage advice of her friends and tries their yoga and meditation techniques … until at last, she falls fast asleep. The following morning she’s bursting with energy once again and willing to overlook her brother’s pea accident, sure in the knowledge that it had resulted in some valuable learning experiences on her part.

Jay Fleck’s droll scenes featuring the princess and the royal entourage are engaging (little humans will be amused at their attire) and a final author’s note explains each of the techniques mentioned in the story.

Intended primarily as a pre-bedtime book, this is a gentle, soothing tale about learning to let go of your worries and the importance of friendship.

I Am One / Our Little Kitchen

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

It’s never too soon to introduce a young child to the idea that s/he can make a change in the world and this gorgeous book by a team whose books I greatly admire, shows the way.

Subtitled ‘A book of Action’ this one is clearly much more focused on being active than several of the others in the series and it’s a pitch perfect demonstration, given by a child of how seemingly simple actions can make all the difference.

Here we witness the planting of a single seed, a brushstroke, a note ‘to start a melody’, a step to set off on a journey, and I particularly love the “One brick to start breaking down walls’ sequence of actions

so pertinent in our increasingly troubled times.

The harmony between Susan Verde’s words and Peter H. Reynolds’ signature style illustrations is what truly makes this such a special introduction to social activism; it’s tender, inspiring and uplifting.

Furthermore, Peter has dedicated the book to Greta Thunberg and in the final author’s note, (that also contains a beautiful meditation) Susan writes that her inspiration came from a quote from the Dalai Lama: what more can one ask?

A conversation opener, but equally or more importantly, an impetus to seize that inner power and take action.

Also about taking action – singly and as a community is:

Our Little Kitchen
Jillian Tamaki
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Inspired by her own experience of volunteering in a community kitchen, here’s a really tasty, deliciously diverse, offering from Jillian Tamaki. Now, with hands washed and aprons on, we’re ready to go in the community kitchen. We’ll create a meal – something that happens every Wednesday and it’s a bit of a squash to accommodate all the enthusiastic volunteers.

Luckily, they have their own little garden so there’s no need to look too far afield for ingredients; and there appears to be a fair bit stored away that needs using up and there are donations from the food bank. (Beans again – can they be creative?) It’s definitely a case of waste not, want not (although the odd item is clearly no longer fit for human consumption.

This team clearly makes its own music as they work: ‘glug, glug, chop chop, sizzzzzzzzle, pick! Peel, trim, splash! Toss, squish, mmmm!’ Then comes the shout, “Fifteen minutes!’

The countdown is on as the hungry start coming in; they clearly know one another – there’s plenty to chat about while they wait.
Eventually the leader gives the order “Let’s go!” and in comes the food – yummy and very ‘SSSSSSLLLLLUUUURRRRRPPPP!’- worthy.

Speech bubbles abound, providing a running commentary by the workers and the recipients of the bounty produced by the team; indeed, the entire atmosphere is cheery and relaxed,

made so evident by Jillian Tamaki’s vivid colour palette and the fluidity of her lines. In fact the entire book is a veritable feast for all the senses. There are even recipes on the front and back endpapers.

I Am Love / The Golden Rule

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

Showing love and compassion towards others is one of the most powerful things we can do for our fellow human beings.

What’s more it doesn’t cost us anything; we just need open hearts and the willingness to give some of our time.

That is what the child narrator in Susan Verde and Peter Reynold’s latest ‘I Am … ‘ book demonstrates.

When we discover somebody is going through a tough time, perhaps something has happened to make them feel hurt, sad or angry, something unfair maybe; if a person is fearful and it seems as though darkness is all around, a listening ear may be all that is required … or a loving hug and some softly spoken, reassuring words like “Everything will be alright.”

Love is also gratitude: being thankful for what we have; it’s taking care of our minds and bodies.

Understanding is key and on occasion love is expressed creatively and takes effort.

Remembering is another way of showing love – remembering those who have died or are no longer with us for other reasons, perhaps a friend has moved away but they still need our love.

Small gestures can mean so much; they’re a way of demonstrating our connectedness to every living thing in the world, no matter what life brings.

The book concludes with an author’s note, a few heart-opening yoga poses and a final heart meditation.

Add this to your foundation stage PSHE class collection.

The Golden Rule
Ilene Cooper and Gabi Swiatkowska
Abrams Books for Young Readers

In a city street a boy and his grandfather stand together looking at a sign that says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ The boy asks what it says. Grandpa reads and explains that the world over it’s called the Golden Rule.

As they walk further they talk about its meaning and for whom it’s applicable. Grandpa says it’s for “Everyone, everywhere”.

No matter the religion, the same basic tenet – essentially the cross cultural, universal reciprocity principle – is found in the holy book of the six examples he cites – Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and the Shawnee tribe.

On a park bench the discussion turns both more realistic and philosophical, as the old man asks the boy to imagine himself in certain situations and asking how he would react. It then moves on to embrace countries as well as individuals – … “maybe there wouldn’t be wars,” comments the lad

before coming right back to the notion that, as Grandpa states in conclusion, you can’t make others practice the Golden Rule, … “It begins with you.”

Somewhat didactic yes, but the message also holds good for those of no religious faith such as this reviewer and Ilene Cooper’s text offers a good starting point for discussion with primary school children.

Incorporating both traditional religious symbolism and floral, avian and animal imagery Gabi Swiatkowska’s richly pattered, painterly illustrations, have an old fashioned look about them that feels just right for the book.

I Am Human: A Book of Empathy / Let’s Talk About When Someone Dies

I Am Human: A Book of Empathy
Susan Verde and Peter H.Reynolds
Abrams Books

The team who gave us I am Yoga and I am Peace now explore what it means to be human.

Humans have a playful side and find joy in relationships, we hear; but on the negative side sadness brings a heavy heart. This though, is countered by a reminder that part of being human is the ability to make choices.
Positive actions – such as compassion and helping others, being fair and treating all people equally, bring a feeling of connectedness with fellow humans.

In keeping with the child narrator’s mood, Reynolds changes his colour palette from bright to a dull bluish grey as the actions switch from positive to negative.

Yes, we’re all flawed human beings who make mistakes but Susan Verde and Peter Reynold’s little book of empathy is perfect for starting a discussion with young children about making good choices. To this end, there’s also a loving-kindness meditation to share.

Let’s Talk About When Someone Dies
Molly Potter and Sarah Jennings
Featherstone (Bloomsbury)

Most young children will bring up the subject of death either at home or in school, or both, and many adults are unsure of how to engage in a discussion about it. This book, written in child-friendly language by a teacher, will for those adults especially, prove extremely helpful.

Each double spread – there are a thirteen in all – takes a different aspect and almost all start with a question such as ‘Are there different words for death?’; ‘What might you feel when someone dies?’ …

‘What do people believe happens after death?’ and, the only one that isn’t prefaced by a question, “To remember a person who has died, you could …’.
There’s a brief ‘It’s important to know’ paragraph at the end of most sections and Sarah Jennings has provided bright, appealing illustrations (often including speech bubbles).

The tone of the entire book – both verbal and visual – is spot on for the primary audience and is suitable for those of all faiths or none.

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.

I Am Yoga

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I Am Yoga
Susan Verde and Peter H.Reynolds
Abrams Books for Young Readers
A young girl narrator, feeling overwhelmed by a world that seems to be spinning way too fast for her,

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calms herself through her yoga practice. She quietens her thoughts, focuses on her breath, then closes her eyes and begins first to imagine, and then move into a series of yoga asanas beginning with the grounding Mountain pose and thence into Tree pose and on to what the author calls ‘Airplane’ pose.
I can sparkle with the stars./ I shimmer and shine.” she says in Star pose and in Moon pose …

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I can dance with the moon./ I light up the sky.” thus describing each asana according to how it makes her feel.
Yoga means union and here is a wonderful demonstration of how this child can become through her practice of yoga, at one with herself and with the world …

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and nature itself.
The connectedness to nature is beautifully captured in Reynold’s depiction of savasana:,how perfectly he portrays that feeling of ‘shanti’ in his watercolour picture of the narrator by the sea’s edge.

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Indeed every one of his watercolours is both expressive and so aptly coloured, be it in a single hue, or several.
Verde’s lyrical text is full of both joy and tranquility, and perfectly pitched for young children to engage with the asanas, a more detailed verbal description of each of the sixteen covered, together with their Sanskrit names, being given in an author’s note in the final pages.
As an early years/primary teacher and a yoga teacher, I believe yoga should be part and parcel of every child’s daily experience from an early age and have seen the benefits it yields. For anyone wanting to introduce children to this life-enhancing practice, this little gem of a book, with its affirmations on every page …

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is a splendid starting point. Just get it and get going with some yoga.

If you like yoga why not try meditation with some meditational mood music

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