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Lessons about peacefulness and positivity for young readers abound in these picture books about mindfulness and reflection.
As our lives become more hectic and overscheduled, it’s increasingly crucial to find moments of peace and relaxation, to feel like we’re a part of our environment, instead of like we’re just reacting to it. It’s important, too, to remember why the little things matter—they so often turn out to be the big things in our lives! Children are no exception and can also benefit from mindfulness activities. The books in this annotated bibliography provide examples and suggestions of mindfulness that even youngsters can follow and appreciate.
Meditation and Quiet Reflection
Breathe. By Scott Magoon. Illus. by the author. 2014. Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman, $16.99 (9781442412583). PreS–K.
Bright digitized artwork combines with spare text to depict a brand new baby whale as it swims, dives, plays, sings, and makes new friends in his ocean world. But every few pages, as the baby whale emerges from his arctic waters, the word breathe appears. While children learn that whales are mammals, they can also breathe deeply along with the whale and practice relaxation.
Emily and the Mighty Om. By Sarah Lolley. Illus. by Sleepless Kao. 2014. Simply Read, $16.95 (9781897476352). K–Gr. 3.
Emily’s new neighbor Albert spends a lot of time outside, stretching his body into bizarre positions, which he calls yoga, and during this meditation uses the word om. The girl is dubious until Albert gets trapped in a twisty position and can only utter “O! ” Passersby try to help, but Emily’s group “om” relaxes and unlocks Albert in this lighthearted look at patience and relaxation.
Meditation Is an Open Sky: Mindfulness for Kids. By Whitney Stewart. Illus. by Sally Rippin. 2015. Albert Whitman, $16.99 (9780807549087). Gr. 1–4.
For kids who have “that wobbly feeling inside that makes you scared, sad, and mad all at the same time,” this book explains how meditation can help deal with (though not solve) problems. Using an elephant and a monkey as guides, it offers several kinds of meditations to promote relaxation, focus, kindness, and other states of being. Concluding questions and answers offer more tips.
The Quiet Book. By Deborah Underwood. Illus. by Renata Liwska. 2010. HMH, $12.95 (9780547215679). PreS–K.
Every page tells a different story, allowing children to explore the many kinds of silence and the emotions that accompany them. Young animal characters, rendered in digitally colored pencil, balance the quiet at the top of a roller coaster, before a concert starts, right before someone yells “Surprise!” with the hush of the first snowfall, being the first awake, and during a bedtime kiss.
A Quiet Place. By Douglas Wood. Illus. by Dan Andreasen. 2002. Simon & Schuster, $16.95 (9780689815119). K–Gr. 3.
A boy discovers the joy of being alone when he gets away from busy streets and clamoring grown-ups. This solitude allows him to dream and imagine he is a rider for the Pony Express, a pirate, an explorer, a cave dweller, a mountain climber, and a participant in other adventures. Oil paintings reminiscent of the Saturday Evening Post illustrate these idyllic dreams of escape.
Silence. By Lemniscates. Illus. by the author. 2012. Magination, $9.95 (9781433811364). PreS–Gr. 2.
A little girl appreciates the sounds she hears when all is silent, like the soft sounds her feet make when she dances, or the thump of her heart while running. A second portion identifies seasons and the specific sounds that mark each one. Textured illustrations accompany the poetic text, which concludes by asking children to be present in the moment: “Be still. Listen. How many things can you hear?”
The Sound of Silence. By Katrina Goldsaito. Illus. by Julia Kuo. 2016. Little, Brown, $16.99 (9780316203371). Gr. 1–3.
Yoshio asks a street musician (a koto player) in Tokyo what her favorite sound is. When she tells him ma, the sound of silence, a confused Yoshio tries to hear it. But with the bustle of the city, beautifully captured in pen and digital color, he wonders where to find silence. The images grow simpler as he grows more introspective and attentive. An afterword elaborates on the Japanese idea of ma.
An Awesome Book of Thanks! By Dallas Clayton. Illus. by the author. 2010. AmazonEncore, $17.95 (9781935597377). K–Gr. 2.
This exuberant rhyming book with childlike illustrations shows kids how to look around and be grateful for all the wonderful things in their lives. Clayton spans from the realistic to the imaginative, such as alligator acrobats. He also reminds children to be thankful for “places to go / when you want to cry” and even bad things that might turn out to be good, “for they make us all stronger.”
Bear Says Thanks. By Karma Wilson. Illus. by Jane Chapman. 2012. Simon & Schuster/Margaret K. McElderry, $16.99 (9781416958567). PreS–Gr. 2.
Bored and lonely in his cave, Bear thinks of inviting his friends to a feast, but his cupboards are empty. To his surprise, Mouse, Hare, Badger, and others arrive with pie, muffins, nuts, and other delicious food. When Bear feels uncomfortable with nothing to offer, his friends encourage him to share his stories instead. Rhymed verse and repetition give children a chance to participate in the story.
The Blessings Jar. By Colleen Coble. Illus. by Rebecca Harry. 2013. Thomas Nelson, $12.99 (9781400322732). PreS–Gr. 1.
In this gentle Christian tale of gratitude, Punky Grace’s day is ruined when her friend falls ill and can’t play with her. To lighten the girl’s mood, Grammy suggests they spend the day doing things that fill up a blessings jar—a container filled with items that remind Punky of God’s blessings. This day of togetherness and thankfulness reminds the girl that there is much to be grateful for.
Giving Thanks: Poems, Prayers, and Praise Songs of Thanksgiving. By Katherine Paterson. Illus. by Pamela Dalton. 2013. Chronicle, $18.99 (9781452113395). Gr. 4–7.
Paterson offers several meditations on ways she experienced thanksgiving, gratitude, and love throughout her life. Following each are several pages of poems, hymns, and snippets of praise songs from various cultures and religions. Dalton, who is a practitioner of the early-nineteenth-century American paper-cutting technique called scherenschnitte (“scissor cuts”), lends beautiful artwork.
Gracias / Thanks. By Pat Mora. Illus. by John Parra. Tr. by Adriana Dominguez. 2009. Lee & Low, $17.95 (9781600602580). PreS–Gr. 2.
From the sun waking him up in the morning to a cricket chirping him to sleep at night, a young bicultural boy gives thanks for the many things and people who enrich his life. These blessings, in both Spanish and English, feature childlike imagination and fresh imagery. Vivid acrylic illustrations have the feel of folk-art woodcuts and whimsically portray the details of the boy’s world.
Look and Be Grateful. By Tomie dePaola. Illus. by the author. 2015. Holiday, $16.95 (9780823434435). PreS–Gr. 1.
Simple but direct text describes a young boy who awakens and spends his day carefully observing the world around him, including the sun, flowers, a rainbow, and people of many races, and expressing his gratitude. A final spread depicts the boy and his sister kneeling in prayer. DePaola’s signature acrylic artwork features simple figures painted in a soothing, muted palette.
Lump Lump and the Blanket of Dreams: Inspired by Navajo Culture and Folklore. By Gwen Jackson. Illus. by Lissa Calvert. 2016. Friesen, $11.49 (9781460264386). K–Gr. 3.
Lump Lump, a bear cub, doesn’t want to hibernate, until he hears Blue Bird’s song about “a blanket of dreams.” In this tale drawn from Navajo tradition, the cub and his mother gather from other animals the components needed to create the blanket (the white light of morning, a net of twilight) and ask the Spider Woman to weave it. Along the way, Lump Lump learns sharing, gratitude, and to appreciate nature.
More. By I. C. Springman. Illus. by Brian Lies. 2012. HMH, $16.99 (9780547610832). PreS–Gr. 3.
After a mouse gives Magpie a marble, the bird goes from having nothing to having something to wanting “more and more and more.” When Magpie’s collected treasures grow out of control, buckling his nest, a few mice dig him out until all that’s left are three little objects, which are “enough.” Detailed, realistic illustrations complement the minimalist story of almost entirely quantity words.
More Than Enough. By April Halprin Wayland. Illus. by Katie Kath. 2016. Dial, $16.99 (9780803741263). PreS–Gr. 1.
Dayenu means “It would have been enough,” and it is the title of a song sung at Passover. It would have been enough for siblings to go to the market, enjoy sweet rain falling, and rescue a kitten from a shelter, but as Passover begins, there is still more: friends and family gather at Nana’s. Once children understand the meaning of dayenu, they’ll get into the spirit of gratitude as well.
Ten Thank-You Letters. By Daniel Kirk. Illus. by the author. 2014. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen, $16.99 (9780399169373). PreS–Gr. 2.
In this follow-up to Ten Things I Love about You (2012), Pig and Rabbit return for a lesson on gratitude. Pig is working hard on a thank-you letter to his grandmother when Rabbit asks him to play. Inspired by Pig, Rabbit decides to write a thank-you letter of his own while waiting. One letter turns to ten with neo-retro illustrations capturing the merriment and wordplay of each letter.
Thanks a Million. By Nikki Grimes. Illus. by Cozbi A. Cabrera. 2006. Greenwillow, $15.99 (9780688172930). Gr. 1–3.
Sixteen poems that range in form from free verse, haiku, and rhyming couplets to riddle, rebus, and multiple voice encompass many modes of expressing appreciation. Richly textured acrylic paintings illustrate the poems that also run the gamut of emotional tones. Some are lighthearted while others tackle gratitude as a concept or deal with more difficult experiences such as homelessness.
The Thank You Book. By Mo Willems. Illus. by the author. 2016. Hyperion, $9.99 (9781423178286). PreS–Gr. 2.
In this Elephant and Piggie early reader, Piggie is struck by the need to say thank you to everyone important to her and sets off on a “Thank-O-Rama” spree. It’s clear from the start that Gerald suspects Piggie will forget him. Humor ensues as Piggie hugs and thanks even the most insignificant of her friends, until she realizes that she has forgotten her best friend—and the reader.
Being Present and Living in the Moment
“I Have a Little Problem,” Said the Bear. By Heinz Janisch and Silke Leffler. Illus. by Silke Leffler. 2009. North-South, $16.95 (9780735822351). PreS–Gr. 2.
A bear walks through town asking people for help. But before he can explain his problem, each person interrupts to present him with a solution: wings from an inventor, vitamins from a doctor, and so on. Finally he meets a friendly fly who listens to his problem and offers a good solution. Those listening closely may notice that each person cuts off the bear’s sentence one word sooner than the last.
No One but You. By Douglas Wood. Illus. by P. J. Lynch. 2011. Candlewick, $16.99 (9780763638481). PreS–Gr. 3.
Descriptive free verse and beautiful oil paintings of children of many races focus on a young person’s intimate tie with nature, through the senses. From the smell of the earth after a rain shower to the feel of a puppy’s soft muzzle, these physical experiences depict children being present and remind readers that solitary moments can become joyful connections to the wider world.
Now. By Antoinette Portis. Illus. by the author. 2017. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter, $17.99 (9781626721371). PreS–Gr. 1.
In this warm story of mindfulness and small joys, a young girl shares some of her favorite things, from singing to watching clouds to smelling a flower, all culminating in spending time in her mother’s lap. Her experiences may seem inconsequential to some, but each circumstance is deeply special. A variety of facial expressions communicates the girl’s wonder about the world.
Sidewalk Flowers. By JonArno Lawson. Illus. by Sydney Smith. 2015. Groundwood/House of Anansi, $16.95 (9781554984312). PreS–Gr. 1.
At first a little girl in a red hooded jacket walking with her dad is the only speck of color in a world of inky black washes. Soon she starts to see wildflowers all over. The colors expand in this wordless book as she gathers a bouquet and spreads her cheer, leaving a few stems on a dead bird, with a napping man, in a dog’s collar, and so on. This quiet story emphasizes the wonder of everyday pleasures.
Solutions for Cold Feet and Other Little Problems. By Carey Sookocheff. Illus. by the author. 2016. Tundra, $16.99 (9781770498730). PreS–Gr. 1.
This deceptively simple book of advice also has a charming narrative arc about a little girl’s developing relationship with her somewhat troublesome dog. Divided into five short sections, the minimal text features a common problem, such as a missing shoe, and common-sense solutions that emphasize acceptance and living in the moment, such as “Wear a pair of mismatched shoes.”
Take the Time: Mindfulness for Kids. By Maud Roegiers. Illus. by the author. Tr. by Julia Frank-McNeil. 2010. Magination, $14.95 (9781433807947). Gr. 1–3.
Translated from the French, this book encourages kids to take a moment and think through the effects of their words and actions. For instance, the narrator ruminates, “When everything is topsy-turvy / with my head spinning / and my feet up in the air / I slow down and take the time / to be with my friends.” These gentle reminders help children to slow down and calm themselves appropriately.
The Three Questions: Based on a Story by Leo Tolstoy. By Jon J. Muth. Illus. by the author. 2002. Scholastic, $16.95 (9780439199964). PreS–Gr. 3.
Based on a story by Leo Tolstoy, in which a tsar asks three questions (What is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do?), Muth’s fablelike version, rendered in soft watercolors, is about a boy, Nikolai, and his animal friends. When his friends can’t answer the big questions, Nikolai consults old turtle Leo and learns about living in the moment. For more stories like this, see also the author’s Zen Shorts (2005) and Zen Socks (2015).
Waiting. By Kevin Henkes. Illus. by the author. 2015. Greenwillow, $17.99 (9780062368430). PreS–K.
Five toys look out a tall window at nothing much, waiting. Pig waits for rain; Owl, the moon; Bear, the wind; Puppy, the snow; and Rabbit just waits. Short sentences combine with a soft palette of brown ink, watercolors, and colored pencils to depict a window and each toy’s quiet reflection. In this Caldecott Honor Book, little ones will understand what it’s like to dream and wait.
What Do You Do with a Problem? By Kobi Yamada. Illus. by Mae Besom. 2016. Compendium, $16.95 (9781943200009). K–Gr. 2.
A child tries to avoid the problem hanging overhead, illustrated as a literal dark cloud. After ignoring it, hiding, and running away just make the cloud larger, the child says, “Enough!” Facing the storm head-on with a logical frame of mind, the child sees the cloudy problem for what it is—opportunity. This simple tale shows how a small shift in perspective can make a big difference.
Angela Leeper is the Director of the Curriculum Materials Center at the University of Richmond (VA).
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