Each month, we ask distinguished authors or illustrators to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!
Take a Breath
By Scot Ritchie
Being able to do a book on mindfulness was a gift.
As a freelancer I’m not unfamiliar with the stress and strain that comes with unpredictable work and tight deadlines. A number of years ago when I was going through one of those times, I experienced a panic attack. It happened in a restaurant, an ambulance was called and I was given oxygen. I managed to drive home and soon after began looking into what was available to help deal with life’s little surprises.
First stop was the doctor where I got some advice but mainly he gave me a bottle of pills. They did help but I knew I also needed life skills, so the hunt was on. I live on the “Left Coast,” where there’s no shortage of aging hippies, meditation groups and workshops dealing with self awareness. A few blocks from where I lived, there was a bookstore where, in the calm surroundings of patchouli and Enya, I found books on meditation and its cousin, mindfulness.
Next step was to sign up for a mindfulness workshop. An anxiety attack can be debilitating (for a month after mine I couldn’t drive across a bridge) so walking into a room full of strangers was going to be daunting. But I didn’t feel I had a choice. So, with all our shoes left at the door, I padded to my mat and, among like-minded people, began to learn some very useful tools.
One phrase our instructor used stuck with me: “Mindfulness is simple but not always easy.” A perfect example is learning to see life as it is, not what we want it to be. This simple instruction requires us to be aware of what we are thinking. Even young kids adopt notions (like wanting life to be different), early on, from parents and surrounding culture. So this a useful tool.
Jumping forward a decade, Jennifer Stokes, my most excellent editor, suggested mindfulness as a topic for our next book in the “Exploring Our Community” series. I had wanted to do a book on the subject but was concerned it might be perceived as being too “woo-woo” for a non-fiction series. I was wrong. Once I looked around, I realized it’s part of numerous curricula and there are other excellent kids’ books out there on the subject.
Having the chance to dispel the idea that mindfulness only involves sitting on a cushion meditating was important to me. Kids aren’t known for sitting still and focusing, so I made sure the book talks about active things you can do, like tae kwon do or walking with awareness. Movement and mindfulness do go together.
Follow Your Breath!: A First Book of Mindfulness (2020, Kids Can Press) is part of a series, so characters Pedro, Yulee, Nick, Martin and Sally show up in every book. These five friends are the perfect vehicle to show different approaches to being mindful.
Stopping to smell an orange or closing our eyes to notice a spring rainfall are things everybody can enjoy and learn from – no matter our age.
Listen to the Meet-the-Author Recording for Follow Your Breath!: A First Book of Mindfulness.
Hear Scot Ritchie’s Audio Name Pronunciation.
Read Scot Ritchie’s blog.
Text and images are courtesy of Scot Ritchie and may not be used without their expressed written consent.