A Balm for the Soul (& a Perfect Valentine)
February 9, 2023 § 2 Comments
At a time when we’re normally asked to assume New Resolutions in the name of Self-Improvement, I actually began 2023 by stumbling onto some news that took the pressure off. Want to join me in shedding unnecessary guilt? Read on, good book people!
In January, The Today Show ran a news piece on their website, authored by Sarah Lemire, with “10 Surprising Psychological and Physical Perks Associated with Reading.” Most of them weren’t news to me—I’d previously read, for example, the 2016 study about recreational reading lowering mortality rates by as much as 20% (heck, yeah!)—but one of the perks had me doing a double take. According to a 2009 study, 30 minutes of reading has the same ability to decrease stress as 30 minutes of yoga. The article discusses the link between reading and wellness by quoting from a licensed psychotherapist:
“Reading has been connected to meditation in terms of the way our brain processes our environment and our physiological state,” Zoe Shaw, Psy.D., licensed psychotherapist and author of “A Year of Self-Care: Daily Practices and Inspiration for Caring for Yourself,” tells TODAY.com.
“If you’re sitting in a chair or laying in your bed and you’re focusing on reading, your body can actually go into a type of meditative state,” Shaw says. “So, you can get some of the benefits of meditating by reading.”
DO YOU REALIZE WHAT THIS MEANS? I can let go the burden of traditional meditation! Yes, I know meditation offers a myriad of benefits guaranteed to alleviate stress, but I really, really don’t like it. I hate it! (There, I said it.) Time and again, I’ve proven to be terrible at it, and my failure only creates more of the thing I’m supposed to be driving away! (I chronicled some of this here, because occasionally I get inspired to try again. At least, with the help of kids’ books.) While I have successfully adopted some mindfulness strategies—a few times a day I bring my attention to my breath—I cannot embrace the discipline that comes from true, sit-in-a-chair meditation.
Praise the literary gods, because it turns out that if I adopt the discipline of reading for at least thirty minutes a day—which I already do!—then it’s akin(ish) to meditation. It turns out I’ve been practicing meditation all along! I finished that article and I felt like throwing myself a party.
We all need the gratification that comes from being told, early and often, that we are already enough.
Enter Julie Fogliano’s thoughtful new picture book, all the beating hearts (ages 4-8), sublimely illustrated by Cátia Chien. It’s a book that echoes the message that we’re enough just as we are. It’s a poem that reads like a balm for our soul. It has nothing in common with Valentine’s Day other than a beating hearts message, but I’m all for using Valentine’s Day as an excuse to collect books that remind us of our connection to one another.
With her lyrical poetry at once grounded in detail and abstract in ideas, Julie Fogliano excels at authoring books that are about everything and nothing at the same time—my favorite kind of books, if I’m being honest. (I guess it’s no surprise that these are favorites, because Julie Fogliano’s work has made frequent appearances on this blog, including here, here, here, and here, that last being the second post I ever wrote! If you follow me on Instagram, you might have caught yesterday’s post about another new Fogliano title that would also be perfect for Valentine’s Day. So, yes, Team Fogliano.)
I’m also a card-carrying fan of Cátia Chien, originally from Brazil, whose art made Matthew Burgess’ picture book, The Bear and the Moon, my 2020 pick for Favorite Picture Book of the Year. In the case of all the beating hearts, her impressionistic pastel and colored pencil artwork, which often distorts form in ways that tug at our imagination, feels like a perfect fit for Julia Fogliano’s open-ended text.
One of the reasons I’ve always tried to uphold the daily practice of reading aloud to my kids is because it’s one of the few moments across the course of the day where I’m completely immersed in what I’m doing. The chatter in my brain quiets, and I can direct my attention to the task at hand—not just the words or pictures on the page, but the experience of sharing them with my children. I feel their energy alongside mine. It’s a moment of grounding. A moment of inspiration, joy, levity, or contemplation, depending on what I need it to be. Now, I can add meditation to the list.
In all the beating hearts, Fogliano and Chien invite us to reflect on our collective presence, the way we’re co-existing with every rotation of our planet in a way that’s “together but apart/ the same but exactly different.” It’s not a new concept for a picture book, the idea of drawing comfort from the reminder that we are not alone. That there’s wonder to be found in the predictability of our everyday lives. That, as Anne of Green Gables reminds us, “Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it yet.” But it’s done here with the full package, from the poignant lyricism to the jewel-toned illustrations to the extra-large trim size. And it’s one parents will relish reading, because its message feels equally good to us.
Let’s take a look inside.« Read the rest of this entry »
2020 Gift Guide: My Favorite Picture Book for Preschoolers
October 20, 2020 § 5 Comments
Similar to last year (when I picked this and this), I find myself unable to choose between two picture books for my very favorite of 2020. Still, the two I’ve chosen play to slightly different audiences, so I’m using that as an excuse to bring you two picture book posts this week. I’ll begin with my favorite for the littles.
It seems to me that what we should really gift our youngest children this year is what we wish for ourselves: the literary equivalent of a giant bear hug. In a year dominated by disconnection and uncertainty, we have had to work harder to love both one another and ourselves. If we are to fill the void that 2020 has left on our hearts, it will be through care and compassion, including and especially self-compassion. And that’s where The Bear and the Moon delivers beautifully.
Written by Matthew Burgess and illustrated by Cátia Chien, The Bear and the Moon (Ages 2-6) is a playful, poetic story about a bear and a balloon. But it’s also a visceral meditation on life’s impermanence—and on the forgiveness and self-love required to weather these moments of loneliness and sorrow. I’ve always believed that the best picture books should offer a little something to the adults called upon to read them again and again, and The Bear and the Moon provides comfort and reassurance to both reader and listener alike.
And then, of course, there are the mixed-media illustrations, which are in a class by themselves. Smudgy and sublime, they wash over us with a gorgeous palette of purples and blues, accented by the velvety black of the bear and the clean paper cut-out of the red balloon. And that expressive bear face? A thousand times yes.« Read the rest of this entry »