Posted in picture books

Celebrate World Meditation Day with Already a Butterfly

It’s World Meditation Day, and to relax and ease yourself into a meaningful day, I’ve got a gorgeous book to share with you, by Julia Alvarez and Raúl Colón.

Already a Butterfly: A Meditation Story, by Julia Alvarez/Illustrated by Raúl Colón,
(June 2021, Henry Holt), $18.99, ISBN: 9781627799324

Ages 5-9

Mari Posa is a young butterfly who has way too much to do and not enough time to do it: she has to gulp down nectar, pollinate a whole field, do her wing exercises, and then she has her future to think about! There’s just no time to enjoy being a butterfly, or take in the beautiful flowers she meets through her day… Luckily, a flower bud named Bud is there to teach Mari the secret with feeling happy “being just who I am”. Raúl Colón’s watercolor, pencil, and crayon artwork is dreamlike, with gorgeous images of nature and person-butterfly hybrids cascading across the pages. Together, Julia Alvarex and Raúl Colón have created an story with purpose, where a child of color is not only the star of the book, but one who experiences joy simply by acknowledging her own existence. Her name, Mari Posa itself, is a lovely nod to Latinx culture; mariposa is a Spanish term for butterfly. Helpful meditation techniques help lead kids and caregivers through the process, from breathing, to visualization, to being aware of one’s surroundings. I love this beautiful story. Perfect for a yoga and/or mindfulness storytime, before bedtime, or celebrating the beautiful beginning to a new day.

An author’s note on author Julia Alvarez’s own experience with meditation and her granddaughters, while volunteering at the Marisposa DR Foundation, describes her inspiration for Already a Butterfly and includes photos of Ms. Alvarez with her Mariposas in training. Colorful endpapers sprout flowers that readers will want to stop and enjoy again and again.

Print out some copies of the author’s Tips for Meditation, and make them available to your families! If there was ever a time to encourage our kids to practice mindfulness and meditation, this is it.

 

Julia Alvarez (@writerjalvarez) is the author of numerous bestselling and award-winning novels including How the García Girls Lost Their Accents and In the Time of Butterflies, collections of poems, and works of nonfiction as well as picture books. She has won the Pura Belpré Award, the Américas Award, the Hispanic Heritage Award in Literature, the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Literature, and the National Medal of Arts.

Raúl Colón (@raul.colon.7140) has illustrated several highly acclaimed picture books, including Draw!; the New York Times-bestselling Angela and the Baby Jesus by Frank McCourt; Susanna Reich’s José! Born to Dance; and Jill Biden’s Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops. Mr. Colón lived in Puerto Rico as a young boy and now resides in New City, New York, with his family.

Posted in picture books

Mop Rides the Waves of Life: A mindfulness story for kids

Mop Rides the Waves of Life: A Story of Mindfulness and Surfing, by Jaimal Yogis/Illustrated by Matt Allen (June 2020, Plum Blossom), $16.95, ISBN: 9781946764607

Ages 5-8

A friend of mine passed this book on to me, and I knew I had to write about it, because who couldn’t use a little more mindfulness these days? Mop is a kid with a wild mop of hair. He loves to surf, and he has a bit of a temper and a tendency to act out when he’s angry. His mom takes him to the beach and explains that he has to learn to surf life, too: “Breathing mindfully helps you notice the emotional waves inside”. She explains that he has to learn to surf those waves of fear and anger, because they will pass; when the good feelings come, to enjoy them, and when they start to ebb, keep paddling, because there are always good waves coming. Armed with this new information and linking it to his love of surfing, Mop is able to get through school interactions and enjoy his friends while being present and mindful. It’s a simply stated premise that makes for a good readaloud, and lets readers practice breathing and visualizing waves to surf during the storytime. Illustrations are soft, gently colored beach scenes and classroom scenes, a mixture of peaceful mindfulness with surfing movement. Waves take on the aggressive emotions of fear, anger, and sadness both in the water and atop Mop’s head when he’s learning to control his emotions, and he visualizes those waves turning to love, joy, and gratitude. A good book to add to your mindfulness readalouds and collections.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Gift ideas for Little Kiddos

They’re going to get tons of toys, why not be the cool gift-giver that gives books? Here are some recent faves:

My Favorite Color: I Can Only Pick One?, by Aaron Becker, (Sept. 2020, Candlewick Studio), $15.99, ISBN: 9781536214741

Ages 0-3

Caldecott Honor-winner Aaron Becker’s board book follow up to 2019’s You Are Light is all about choosing one’s favorite color… wait, can you choose a favorite color? Is it yellow, like the sun? Or blue, like the sea? But then again… there’s green… or pink! Yikes, how can someone have just one favorite color when there’s beautiful colors in all of nature? Aaron Becker takes readers through colors in nature, with die-cuts and small, colorful squares laid out; some translucent and beautiful to look at in the light. It’s an art book and a lovely meditation on nature; at its simplest, it’s a relatable book for any kid who’s been asked a question for which there is no one clear answer. Read and display with Mary Murphy’s What I Like Most, and, of course, You Are Light.

My Favorite Color has starred reviews from Booklist and Kirkus. Publisher Candlewick has a free, downloadable teacher’s guide with helpful tips to start a conversation.
This is a Book of Shapes, by Kenneth Kraegel, (Sept. 2020, Candlewick Press), $8.99, ISBN: 9781536207019
Ages 0-3
A laugh-out-loud concept book of shapes with curveballs thrown in, This is a Book of Shapes starts off like most concept books: A circle on one page; a statement on the other: This is a circle. The pattern follows for a few pages, and then… “This is an emu pushing a pancake wagon down a hill”. Wait, what? Perfect for those “are you paying attention?” moments, the book alternates shape statements with surreal, wacky divergences that will delight kids and grownups alike. Read as deadpan as you can – you may need to practice a few times to get there, I keep giggling as soon as I turn the page to the emu – for extra loud laughs. You can’t NOT read this for storytime. Make sure to have copies of Candlewick’s activity page handy for afterward.
1, 2, 3 Do the Dinosaur, by Michelle Robinson & Rosalind Bearshaw, (Jan. 2020, Kane Miller), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1-68464-044-7
Ages 2-5
Follow a little boy named Tom as he teaches all the dinos a new dance: The Dinosaur! Tom is a little boy dressed in dinosaur PJs, surrounded by all sorts of colorful dinosaurs as he leads them – and you! – through chomps, roars, tail swishes, and stomps. But what happens when the big T-Rex shows up? Why, you let him join in the fun, of course! The rhyming text is interactive and is perfect for storytime stomping and swishing. Colorful, friendly dinosaurs will appeal to all dino lovers. No scary ones here.  Think of Ed Emberley’s If You’re a Monster and You Know It, Sandra Boynton’s Barnyard Dance, Kelly Starling Lyons’s One More Dino on the Floor, or Laurie Berkner’s We Are the Dinosaurs. It’s a dino dance party and your readers are invited, so let them color in some dinosaurs and take them along!
Catch that Chicken!, by Atinuke/Illustrated by Angela Brooksbank, (July 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536212686
Ages 2-5
The latest outing from Anna Hibiscus author Atinuke and illustrator B is for Baby illustrator Angela Brooksbank is all about ingenuity. Lami is a little girl who’s the best chicken catcher in her village, but when she chases a chicken up a baobab tree and has a fall, her ankle is sprained and she needs a new way to think about catching the fiesty birds. Her Nana encourages her to think differently: “It’s not quick feet that catches chickens – it’s quick thinking”, and with a little thought, Lami has an idea: make the chickens come to her! A simple, smart way to get kids to consider alternatives, Catch That Chicken! has short sentences with lots of repetition; alliterative action words that will be fun in a story time (“Lami leans! Lami lungues! Lami leaps!”), and the colorful mixed media artwork is done in warm colors. Characters have friendly, welcoming faces and body language, and there’s a lot of movement in the pictures. A fun story for storytime and for little ones’ bookshelves.
Arlo the Lion Who Couldn’t Sleep, by Catherine Rayner, (Oct. 2020, Peachtree Publishing), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-68263-222-2
Ages 2-6
Arlo is a lion who just can’t get comfortable and fall asleep. The grass is too prickly, his family wriggles too much, he just can’t make it work and he is EXHAUSTED. Luckily, Owl is nearby and teaches Arlo a sweet relaxation exercise that soothes him right to sleep. When Arlo finally has a refreshing night’s sleep, he’s so excited that he wakes Owl to tell her… and proceeds to help Owl soothe herself back to sleep. Together, the two friends teach the trick to Arlo’s family, and everyone is happily dozing in no time. Except for Owl, who’s nocturnal. Kate Greenway Medal winner Catherine Rayner creates a sensitive bedtime story that’s perfect for teaching kids to self-soothe using visualization and deep breathing. Mixed media artwork uses soft colors, with warm landscapes and a cuddly, sleepy lion; the meditative phrase repeats throughout the story, helping little ones listen to their reader lead them into a night of pleasant dreaming. Perfect for bedtime reading, read this one slowly and guide your littles through thoughts and breathing into naptime or bedtime.
Arlo the Lion Who Couldn’t Sleep has a starred review from Kirkus. Publisher Peachtree has an excerpt and Author Q&A available on their website.
Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

A Little Space for Me addresses kids’ need for their own space

A Little Space for Me, by Jennifer Gray Olson, (July 2020, Roaring Brook Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250206268

Ages 3-6

In a story that speaks to all of us, but especially young children, A Little Space for Me is a relatable story of a little girl who needs a little space of her own from time to time. The opening sentence says it all: “Sometimes my life feels very crowded”: the art depicts a young girl sitting on a window seat of a living room, along with five other family members and a pet cat. The child’s life is crowded; her space gets too loud, messy, scratchy, bright – you get the idea. After seven months of quarantine and living in the age of the Coronavirus, this an unbelievably relatable observation. The artwork speaks volumes, showing the girl, curled into herself against the white space of the page, with a riot of color swirling around her as becomes “too much for no reason at all”. She needs space, and claims it for herself: in the story, she physically grabs the page and pulls it down, revealing a black and midnight blue stretch of our space that she puts into a bottle around her neck and claims more and more, as her need for space grows. When she decides to share her space, we see members of her family all have a piece of the space in their heads; their hair revealing the calming cosmos of space as the main character sits in a cross-legged meditation pose with her fingers in a meditation mudra.

Artwork and simple text really reaches readers in this story, made even more relevant by current events. When I first read this, pre-pandemic, I thought of many of my library families, many of whom live with extended family, which can make for crowded spaces. Reading it now, it takes on even greater relevance, as many of us are still sheltering in place, remote learning, with several family members working and attending school together in the same space. The book brings home the importance of meditation and mindfulness and the need to give kids their own space, and, even more important, to help kids understand how to recognize their need for space and ways they can claim that space. This is an excellent book to read at storytime, and an excellent companion read to Charlotte and the Quiet Place (2016) by Deborah Sosin and Leyla by Galia Bernstein (2019).

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Meditation, Gratitude, and Resilience – Books to help kids grow

Magination Press is the kids’ publishing arm of the American Pscyhological Association, and they cover some great topics for kids. These three books cover mindfulness, gratitude, and resilience: three traits that kids need now, seemingly more than ever.

Bee Still: An Invitation to Meditation, by Frank J. Sileo/Illustrated by Claire Keay, (Aug. 2018, Magination Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781433828706

Ages 4-7

Bentley is a lovable, calm honeybee who lives in a crowded hive. While the other bees are rushing around, Bentley takes a second to gather himself, then settles himself on a nice daffodil in the garden to meditate. He catches the attention of neighboring critters as he sits, eyes closed, centering himself. When Sammy Squirrel finally asks what he’s doing, Bentley happily explains that meditation helps quiet his mind and stay focused. This sounds great to the other animals! Bentley leads the group in a gentle guided meditation, to everyone’s benefit. The motto: “…when life is hard or you just need to chill, think of Bentley and try to bee still“.

This rhyming story about meditation and mindfulness is a great way to introduce preschoolers to the practice. Bentley guides his animal friends in a gentle meditation, and you can guide your storytime kids through a similar one, just by reading the book out loud. It’s a wonderful habit to develop, especially in kids. The muted watercolors and gentle rhyme scheme offer a meditative read; just invite the kids to close their eyes and listen. This is a great wrap-up story for a yoga storytime, or a calming bedtime – or anytime – read. A note to parents and caregivers provides further explanation about meditation, teaching kids to meditate, and how to create a family meditation time.

 

Grow Grateful, by Sage Foster-Lasser & Jon Lasser/Illustrated by Christopher Lyles, (Oct. 2018, Magination Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781433829031

Ages 5-8

This companion book to 2017’s Grow Happy brings back Kiko, the little girl who showed readers how to grow happiness. This time, she’s off on a camping trip with her class, and she’s a little bit nervous about going without her parents, but she’s happy, because her best friend, Jasmine is going on the trip, too. When Jasmine is put in a separate group, Kiko pairs with Camille, who’s also a little unsure about this whole camping and hiking business. At the end of an exciting day, their teacher gathers the kids around the fire and reflects on gratitude, inviting everyone to share what they are grateful for this evening. Kiko realizes she’s got so much to be grateful for, and can’t wait to get home and tell her family!

Grow Grateful teaches a simple but important lesson: gratitude. The entire story is a lesson in mindfulness – being aware of everything around you and your place within the world – and gratitude. Kiko is surrounded by beautiful nature, family, and friends. When she realizes that her parents won’t be on the trip, she still rises to the challenge, grateful for the chance to try something new; when Jasmine is put into another group, she doesn’t sulk or demand to go home, but joins up with another classmate who needs support and offers her own support. She takes in the beauty of nature and enjoys the new experience, filling her with gratitude. It’s a concept nicely explained by Kiko’s teacher, but perfectly summed up when Kiko drifts off to sleep and notes that she “feels happy in my heart”.

The artwork appears to be mixed media, providing a nice mix of texture and color for readers to catch. The characters in the story are multicultural, including Kiko, who has Caucasian parents and a sibling, but appears Asian. A note to parents offers advice for encouraging gratitude. This one’s a good add to storytimes and booktalks.

 

Yes I Can! A Girl and Her Wheelchair, by Kendra J. Barrett, Jacqueline B. Toner, & Claire A. B. Freeland/Illustrated by Violet Lemay, (Nov. 2018, Magination Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781433828690

Ages 4-8

Carolyn is a young girl with a lot of interests: she likes building with blocks, she helps around the house and with her baby brother, and she loves animals and castles. At school, she can do a lot of things her friends can: she gets onto the floor for circle time with the class, she joins in during reading time, and she hands out papers for the teacher. She may be in a wheelchair, but Carolyn isn’t slowed down at all! But when her friend invites her to a trampoline birthday party, Carolyn feels a little uncomfortable. All she can do is watch, while everyone else is bouncing around her – or can she? And when her friends decide to run a race at recess, a boy from another class jeers that she can’t run so she can’t play! Carolyn’s friends rally around her and tell her that she can be part of things – she can be a referee! – even if she isn’t a direct participant.

Yes I Can! is a book that teaches kids empathy. The text reaffirms that Carolyn, a girl in a wheelchair, is an active member of her class and her community. Using Carolyn’s “Yes I Can!” statement illustrates how much Carolyn can do – things that maybe kids didn’t realize using a wheelchair allowed one to do, like scooting across a carpet to join in circle time or feeding a class pet. But the book also examines how kids may feel when they’re left out of an activity, like being at a trampoline party, or being told they can’t take part in an activity because they can’t walk. It engenders a feeling of empathy by letting us ask kids, “How do you think Carolyn feels right now? How would this make you feel?” By having Carolyn’s friends rally around her, the author models positive behavior that lets readers know the right way to be a supportive, empathetic friend.

The group of kids is multicultural, and the artwork is animated with a more realistic bent. An author’s note offers talking points about disabilities, and how to be sensitive when interacting with people with physical disabilities. A solid addition to collections. The Measured Mom blog has a good list of additional children’s books about disabilities.

Posted in Uncategorized

Just Breathe… Mallika Chopra brings meditation to kids

Just Breathe, by Mallika Chopra/Illustrated by Brenna Vaughan, (Aug. 2018, Running Press Kids), $12.99, ISBN: 978-0-7264-9158-2

Ages 7-12

Self-help guru Deepak Chopra’s daughter, Mallika, began meditating at age 9. In Just Breathe, she introduces mindful meditation practices to a younger audience. She discusses stress, how stress affects the body, and how meditation can help in her introduction; she ends her introduction with a baseline meditation; something to allow readers to create a “safe, happy place” inside them. Other practices in the book build on this base. Divided into subsequent sections on breathing, moving, being silent, noticing, asking, and creating, she leads readers through breathing and meditation exercises that help reduce stress and anxiety, cope with pain, and get them moving. There are sections on walking meditations, and on yoga, with each breathing exercise lasting anywhere fromn one to five minutes (the introductory exercise is the longest at 15 minutes, but she emphasizes that even one minute of meditation can greatly help).

The artwork is calming, featuring kids of all colors and genders in various stages of mindfulness, from yoga to walking to laying down. The muted colors and gentle expressions add to the calm, meditative feel of the text. Chopra provides prompts for thought throughout the book, which could be really helpful in a guided session where a reader can gently prompt meditative thoughts. Chopra encourages face-to-face interaction and disconnecting from devices, even for a little while; she also brings attention to our inner voices, the power of journaling, and the joy that comes with creativity. She applies these lessons to everyday stressors kids encounter, including bullying or test jitters, providing solid context.

Just Breathe is a solid introduction to mindfulness and meditative practices for kids. I’m looking forward to adding it to my yoga collection, and want to see how a meditation program for school-age kids will go over at my library. I miss my yoga storytime!

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

What beast does your anger look like?

Simon and the Big, Bad, Angry Beasts: A Book About Anger, by Ian De Haes, (Apr. 2018, Flyaway Books), $16, ISBN: 9780664263553

Recommended for readers 4-7

Simon is a little boy with a BIG temper. And when his temper flares, he feels like different animals: a ramming goat, a roaring lion, even a giant dragon! At first, it feels wonderful to have that kind of control over people’s reactions, but eventually, who wants to worry about someone’s bad temper? Simon finds himself feeling pretty lonely until he learns how to tame some of those big, bad, angry beasts.

Simon and the Big, Bad, Angry Beasts is a smart, visual way to start a discussion about anger and anger management. Simon’s anger manifests as exceedingly larger animals as his temper runs unchecked, and his anger gives him a feeling of power: “It was great, it was marvelous, it was magical…” until his anger alienates everyone around him. Kids will enjoy and understand the powerful feelings that come with anger, and the illustrated beasts help with visualization, and can help kids communicate their feelings when tempers flare. Repetitive phrases like “it was great…” reinforces understanding – anger can make someone feel big and powerful, especially a child who may feel otherwise powerless – while leading into the moment where “it” is no longer great, marvelous, or magical, it is lonely; the story encourages readers to seek out meditation and relaxation practices to help, like Simon, control the beasts. A section for parents and educators at the end discusses anger management in children.

Simon and the Big, Bad, Angry Beasts is a nice addition to books on emotions and feelings. Similar books include Molly Bang’s When Sophie Gets Angry-Really, Really Angry and Rachel Vail’s Sometimes I’m Bombaloo.

Posted in Non-Fiction, Preschool Reads

Start the day off with Good Morning Yoga!

good morning yogaGood Morning Yoga, by Mariam Gates/Illus. by Sarah Jane Hinder (March 2016, Sounds True), $17.95, ISBN: 9781622036028

Recommended for ages 3+

Perfect for kids and grown-ups, Good Morning Yoga starts everyone’s day off with a series of yoga poses, accompanied by positive, uplifting visualization.

Kids are stressed out. Between test anxiety, general school and social anxiety, and overscheduling anxiety, kids are operating under a level of stress most of us never knew at such a young age. Yoga is a way to help everyone focus, breathe, and relax. Starting children off with a yoga practice is a wonderful way to give kids a head start on recognizing when and how to calm themselves and connect back with themselves when what’s inside them may go a little haywire – just like us.

Mariam Gates, the founder of Kid Power Yoga, wants Good Morning Yoga to help kids focus, relax, self-monitor, and self-soothe. She’s an experienced educator and yoga practioner – what a great way to bring the two passions together, right?

Ms. Gates and illustrator Sarah Jane Hinder put together a beautiful, calming vinyasa flow for kids and adults to follow to greet the morning. The book takes kids through a series of poses and breathing exercises, featuring multi-ethnic children and bright, varied backgrounds like a ski slope, a volcano, and a mountain top. The images illustrate that yoga is truly for everyone, everywhere.

The text leads the kids through poses and visualizations – a gentle stream, an explorer, a playful dog – and always, as with grown-up yoga classes, brings the children back to the centering breath with the repeated phrase, “As I breathe in, as I breathe out…” A series of pictures throughout the book and at the end guide the series of poses to create a flow that kids will quickly pick up. Each pose is fully explained at the end of the book.

I’ve been dying to do a yoga storytime for ages; ever since I read Storytime Katie’s Yoga post, where she did a preschool yoga program, and this book is going to be a valuable addition to my yoga libraries – both my work library and my home library! The book doesn’t come out until March, but never fear – Goodnight Yoga is available right now. Parents, check this book out, and do some yoga with your little ones. I used to do YogaKids DVDs with my older two when they were kidlings, and we had a great time with it. You’re laughing together, you’re creating fun poses, and for a little while, you’re just happy in the moment with the most important people in your life. Teachers, this is a great set of books to have on hand for a quick break in the day, especially during test season.

Here’s some of the beautiful art from Good Morning Yoga, to tide you over until March (or until you get your copy of Good Night Yoga).