“Meditation is to be aware of what is going on: in your body, in your feelings, in your mind and in the world.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
This is a small collection of picture books that invite children to think about their own thoughts and feelings, to feel good in their bodies and to connect with other people and living beings with greater attention and care. The books offer ways to feel calm and to have a still mind in a world full of distractions. For children, some benefits of mindfulness practises may include: reduced aggression, anxiety and stress; increased ability to self-regulate, to pay attention and concentrate; and an overall sense of well-being. I hope these beautiful books contribute to children’s enjoyment of reading, and to their awareness of themselves and the world.
Alderfer, Lauren ; illustrations by Kerry Lee MacLean. Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda. Boston : Wisdom Publications, 2011.
This brightly illustrated book offers children a very simple explanation of what it means to be present in the moment (e.g., when doing things like walking, playing, reading, eating and resting). Monkey observes that Panda seems so happy. Panda points out that his attention stays focused on each activity as he is doing it. Monkey does the same activities but his mind wanders, and this reduces his happiness. Monkey soon realizes that mindfulness means being engaged in the present moment, and not allowing himself to be distracted by other thoughts. Maclean’s soothing colour palette beautifully reinforces the book’s message about learning to live in the moment.
Goldsaito, Katrina ; illustrated by Julia Kuo. The Sound of Silence. New York ; Little, Brown and Company, 2016.
In this story, Yoshio wanders through the bustling streets of Tokyo, so vividly captured in Kuo’s illustrations (rendered in pen and coloured digitally). He is aware of different sounds but one that attracts him the most is the music of the koto. When the musician tells Yoshio that silence (ma) is her favourite sound, he begins to search everywhere for silence – in the bamboo grove, on the train platform, at his home – but silence is nowhere to be found. Only when he is truly engaged in an activity he loves does Yoshio feel stillness within, and realize that silence has always been there, between and underneath every sound. In the afterword, the author explains ma and its importance in many Japanese traditions, and in music. Goldsaito writes about composer Toru Takemitsu, whose favourite sound was silence, yet he incorporated the stream of city sounds into his compositions. This lovely book shares an important message about how both attending to sounds and finding silence contribute to being in the moment.
Hindley, Judy; illustrated by Manya Stojic. Can You Move Like an Elephant? New York: Transworld Publishers, 2003
This colourful book will appeal to children who love pretend play and who learn best by moving. Readers will gain greater awareness of their bodies and practise their physical skills as they swing their elephant trunks, wiggle like slithering snakes, strut proudly like peacocks, and flick their butterfly wings. Children can imagine what it is like to inhabit the body of another living creature (feeling empathy), while exploring movements that are slow and delicate or fast and strong. Greater mindfulness of ourselves and our connection to other living beings will grow as readers look, listen and move – key ways of learning for young children.
“Mindfulness is paying attention here and now, with kindness and curiosity, so that we can change our behaviour.” ~ Dr. Amy Saltzman
Verde, Susan; illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. I am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2017.
This book imparts many ideas about mindfulness. One is that we can be aware of our feelings and of how they can overwhelm us like rushing water, but we can calm ourselves through our breathing and begin to feel grounded again. Another is that we can be aware of nature and the wider world, and our connection to it. Lastly, when we find our own peace we can share it with others. There is a simple and beautiful message about awareness of our feelings, understanding our impact on the earth and on others, and how using our senses can increase our sense of wonder. Reynolds’ illustrations, rendered in ink, gouache, watercolour and tea, show one child’s journey toward mindfulness; readers will see what serenity can look like. The book concludes with information about mindfulness, and a guided meditation to explore with children.
Witek, Jo; illustrated by Christine Roussey. In My Heart: A Book of Feelings. New York: Abrams Appleseed, 2014.
Roussey’s illustrations use bright colours and whimsical but familiar shapes that encourage children to imagine what feelings might look like – shining, happy starts; angry orange explosions; calm floating balloons; or green, hopeful plants. We follow a little girl’s journey through each of these feelings, and others. A lovely message of this book is that we have many feelings, and while those feelings can be positive, they can sometimes be challenging. Witek describes how emotions feel in our bodies, how we might express them, and what we might need as we experience each feeling. This gives readers a language for naming and talking about their feelings, which can help with self-regulation, and mindfulness as it relates to our different emotional states. The concentric die-cut hearts on each page illuminate the idea that our hearts hold many feelings – big and small, loud and quiet, quick and slow – and the author leaves readers with a question for reflection: How does your heart feel?
Wood, Douglas; illustrated by P.J. Lynch. No One But You. Sommerville, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2011.
Lynch’s dreamy illustrations, rendered in oil, bring the poetic text of this story to life. Although different children throughout the book are shown interacting with nature (e.g., insects, water, birds, fish, turtles, plants, pets, frogs, the sky and stars), the words reinforce the message that each person’s experience is special, and unique. No one experiences the world with their senses in quite the same way that you do. The story includes rich details, describing each encounter of each living being, engaging the reader’s senses as if they were there. The book invites readers to use their senses and to bring attention and mindfulness into their explorations of the world, and to enjoy the sense of wonder and the feelings of love and peace that come with such wondering.
“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
To R.F., whose knowledge about meditation, mindfulness and the healing arts makes the world a better place.