chatting with author kate coombs about Breathe and Be: A Book of Mindfulness Poems (+ a giveaway!)

“Simply put, mindfulness is moment-to-moment non-judgmental awareness.” ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn

Today I’m happy to welcome back award-winning author and poet Kate Coombs to talk about her new poetry picture book, Breathe and Be: A Book of Mindfulness Poems (Sounds True, 2017).

Kate introduces the practice of mindfulness to children with fourteen poems that foster an awareness, appreciation and respect for nature through close observation and introspection, which in turn engenders a newfound sense of self.

With Anna Emilia Laitinen’s gorgeous watercolors, each double page spread is an invitation to pause, enter the world of the poem, and internalize the soothing imagery. Kate’s choice of the tanka (five lines divided into syllables of 5, 7, 5, 7, 7) is the perfect vehicle for brief but meaningful contemplation. The book begins with a centering awareness of breath and presence:

I breathe slowly in,
I breathe slowly out. My breath
is a river of peace.
I am here in the world.
Each moment I can breathe and be.

Subsequent poems illuminate various facets of mindfulness and meditation: objectively observing the flow of thoughts that “swim by like little fish,” finding a “quiet place” in the mind when seeking solace, imagining oneself as an element of nature (cloud, stone, river, seed, tree), and living in the moment:

Tomorrow’s an egg
that hasn’t hatched. Yesterday
is a bird that has flown.
But today is real. Here now,
this minute, the true wings.

Young readers will be able to see how nature can be a reassuring refuge in times of trouble, worry, sadness, or other emotional imbalance. By summoning the inner self, they can be a “calm umbrella” in the face of turbulence, or a strong, steadfast tree that remains patient in all seasons.

When days crash thunder
and throw lightning around
I am still, watching.
I am a calm umbrella
inside the blue and gray storm.

Envisioning each floating leaf in a stream as a negative thought drifting away can quiet overwhelming concerns. Above all, cultivating the ability to look within as well as without will enable them to “see the world new” and feel more “alive in this world.”

The illustrations feature a small group of multi-ethnic children in a northern landscape interacting with their surroundings atop tree branches and in hammocks, walking through the woods, and playing together by a campfire, on a hillside, in a boat, under a tent. There are trees in almost every picture and lots of small animals to delight and surprise. The peaceful image of toy boats drifting downstream, a tree-flock of fluttering birds, and a bevy of playful rabbits add to the charm, while butterflies and tadpoles signal transformation.

Sometimes I’m a cloud.
Sometimes a mountain or a stone.
Sometimes I’m a river,
a small seed or a great tree.
But I am always me.


A haven of stillness and beauty, Breathe and Be offers children and their parents a delightful, attainable path to inner peace and a renewed reverence for the natural world. After all, when was the last time you sat on a hillside to watch the clouds drift by, wiggled your toes in the sand, strolled through the woods to hear the whisper of leaves, or lazed in a hammock just “being”?

I see myself
by the ocean, toes touching sand,
fingers finding a shell
at the edge of blue water.
Where is your quiet place?

Let’s find out more about the book from Kate!




What inspired you to write a book of mindfulness poems for kids?

I actually wrote the book on spec! A writing friend of mine had become the children’s editor for Sounds True, which was just starting to publish children’s books such as Good Morning Yoga. She gave me a couple of topics and I was immediately intrigued by the idea of mindfulness. I started researching it and then wrote Breathe and Be. As you can imagine, it turned out to be a really rich experience.

Why did you choose tanka as your poetic form, and why did you write them in first person?

Mindfulness has its roots in Asian religion and philosophy, so I felt the tanka made a good fit. I thought about using haiku, but it just isn’t long enough for the kinds of things I wanted to say. I wanted each poem to be a comfortable, thoughtful little space to wander about in. I didn’t really notice that I wrote in first person! I think it probably made a good fit because mindfulness and meditation are very personal.

Kate’s workspace.

Please tell us a little about your writing process. Did you write most of the poems outdoors?

I did a lot of online research about mindfulness in addition to getting a few books, and I copied and pasted some of the ideas and lists and definitions I found into a document. Then I tried to turn each of the rather abstract ideas into an imagistic poem. Show, don’t tell! Although I didn’t write outside, my office windows overlook a tree-filled canyon, which is a good fit for this book full of trees.

When did you first learn to meditate? What is your daily practice like now?

True confessions: I’m not the world’s best meditator. However, I have learned that being in nature helps me experience mindfulness. I think that’s why this book turned out to be such a celebration of the natural world. I have a pine and scrub oak forest in the small canyon out back, plus 30 houseplants and a balcony herb garden. I wouldn’t know how to live without plants and trees. But with them and other beautiful things, like water and clouds, not to mention birds and bugs, I can be mindful. You don’t need a yoga mat to find peace and focus in nature. Though you can always lie down on your back in the grass!

Kate’s been taking cloud photos for about 5 years, and considers it a form of meditation.

How has practicing mindfulness fueled your creativity?

Mindfulness pulled me in and trying to describe it fueled my creativity. I did start entering a state of mindfulness as I wrote about it. More and more, I experienced the poems mindfully. It’s the most unusual experience I’ve ever had as a writer, creating and then living in a beautiful, tranquil space.

Describe your “quiet place.”

Both of my quiet places are featured in the book: a forest and an ocean shore. To be specific, my forest is in Sequoia National Park. Although I love simply walking the paths among the huge trees, my favorite spots are Round Meadow and Crescent Meadow in the Giant Forest area. Each meadow is filled with green growing things illuminated by sunlight, and each is surrounded by giant Sequoia trees, pines, and undergrowth. There is a combination of quiet and noise there, but the noises are the buzzing of bees and the wind through the grasses and branches. The sky is very blue.

A favorite family vacation spot: Sequoia National Park (1996)

My ocean shore is a beach along the Southern California coast just north of L.A., a little spot called Leo Carrillo that is part of a state park. When we were young we used to go boogie boarding there, but now I’m happy sitting and watching the waves, or walking along the damp sand just beyond the reach of the water, looking at little rocks and shells, the surf and sky, and seabirds, especially pelicans.

Please share your reactions to seeing Anna Emilia Laitinen’s illustrations for the first time. Which is your favorite spread and why?

I first saw the pencil sketches, and they were wonderful—I quickly fell in love with Anna Emilia’s beautiful work. I think its delicacy and peace match the quiet mood of the poems. Like Anna Emilia, I love nature, especially trees. The artwork makes me want to go for a walk in the woods.

I like all of the spreads, but I’m particularly fond of the little fish, just their colors and the way they swirl across the pages, with the children looking a bit like fish themselves.

What thoughts, happy or sad, are floating by you at this very moment?

I’ve had a tough year, but a lot of happy things have come into my life recently, and this book being published is one of them. Even though I know it’s my book, it feels like such a gift because it brings me comfort and happiness when I read it or even think about it. So that’s how I’m feeling right now!

Anything else you’d like us to know about the book?

I found out that the tanka is actually the predecessor of the haiku. Haiku is a cool little format, especially for pinpointing moments in nature. However, the tanka has more leeway both in terms of length and subject matter. I’ve seen it written with a very boring diamond-shaped formula in schools, but the real deal is much better. I hope this book will help kids experiment with writing tanka.

What are you working on now?

I’ve been regrouping lately after experiencing some writer’s block. I’m revising a picture book about traditional Polynesian navigation and I have a few other nonfiction picture books in mind. I’m also revisiting a poetry collection that has languished for months. I have a couple of middle grade projects on the back burner, as well. So we’ll see what happens!

I do have another poetry collection coming out next fall. It’s called Monster School and is a lot of fun, hopefully a little scary, too.

Thanks so much, Kate!!


BREATHE AND BE: A Book of Mindfulness Poems
written by Kate Coombs
illustrated by Anna Emilia Laitinen
published by Sounds True, November 1, 2017
Poetry Picture Book for ages 4-8, 32 pp.
*Includes an Author’s Note with more info about mindfulness

♥ Check out this cool Story Hour Kit!

♥ Other posts about the book:

♥ Take a few minutes to bask in the beauty and stillness: Enjoy this lovely reading of Breathe and Be:



The publisher has generously donated a copy of Breathe and Be for one lucky Alphabet Soup reader. For a chance to win, please leave a comment at this post telling us about your favorite “quiet place” no later than midnight (EST) Wednesday, November 22, 2017. You may also enter by sending an email with BREATHE in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to U.S. residents only, please. Good Luck!


The lovely, talented, and tea-drinking Jane is hosting the Roundup at Raincity Librarian. Float over there on your autumn leaf of choice and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared in the blogosphere this week. Go in peace. 🙂

*Interior spreads posted by permission of the publisher, text copyright © 2017 Kate Coombs, illustrations © 2017 Anna Emilia Laitinen, published by Sounds True. All rights reserved.

**Copyright © 2017 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

61 thoughts on “chatting with author kate coombs about Breathe and Be: A Book of Mindfulness Poems (+ a giveaway!)

  1. I adore the whole idea for this book….and the execution of it is gorgeous. I found myself copying and pasting snippets of this post to send to teacher friends I know need to calm down. ha! Thank you for a delightful meeting of minds between you two, Jama and Kate. I enjoyed this so much. I think this book will be wonderful for young readers…..but even better for adults!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree — adults would enjoy this book as well. These days, we ALL need to calm down and find ways to summon our inner gurus. Happy to hear you enjoyed hearing from Kate, Linda.


    1. This book seems to have that effect on most readers — the feelings of calm and relaxation kick in right from the first poem. 🙂


  2. Beautiful poems and art! And the reading is so calming. A beautiful start to my day!
    My favorite quiet place is on Penobscot bay in Maine, on a little island where we spend each August.
    It’s a perfect place to slow down and regenerate.


  3. I am at peace among the trees, in the mountains, or at the seashore, all of which sing very different (but equally beautiful) songs. Thank you for sharing this chat with Kate Coombs. She speaks my language, albeit with more eloquent phrases.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a wonderful book! Thanks for sharing it! I’m also a native Californian, and when I do a visual meditation, I often go to this hill with a tree over looking the Pacific ocean that was on the bike path of my alma mater, UC Santa Cruz in my mind. The views of the ocean there are so majestic, and I would always be alone there except for the little field critters. 😊


  5. I am mindful that this book is a must read for kids and adults alike. The poems, the illustrations, the concept are all inviting – and necessary in these unsettled times. Thanks for sharing Katie’s work and words, Jama. (Unfortunately (and fortunately) I am living outside of the US right now, so, alas, I forgo my chance to win this amazing book.)


    1. Didn’t realize you were away from the U.S., Bridget. Kate’s book is indeed a godsend these days, and it’s good to be reminded that children need accessible ways to cope with stress and turmoil too.


  6. Lovely book. My quiet place is a little pond on Lopez Island. There are cattails and dragonflies and when you swim in it your skin turns gold. I go there a few times a year in real life and more often in my thoughts.


  7. My favorite place is sitting outside by my over 100 years old cottonwood tree, squirrels and birds around. Don’t put me in the drawing, Jama. I have this marvelous book by Kate and Anna, and just shared it this past week. Beautiful post, and topped by that reading, too! Thanks!


    1. Love hearing about your cottonwood tree — what events it must have witnessed during its long life! I would think it’s quite a spiritual experience just being in its presence.


  8. Oh I just fell in love with the amazing details in her photos that she used to illustrate the poems in this book. Do you know who the artist was? And what other books he or she has done?


  9. Beautiful book!! My favorite quiet place is anywhere I can take a quiet breath and have a quiet thought. Beyond that, I like my parents’ front porch swing.


    1. I’ve always loved the idea of porch swings. Alas, no one I know or have known has ever had one, so I’ve never sat on one. Sigh.


  10. My quiet place is in nature. It’s where I do my best thinking. By nature, I mean just stepping out of my door. I take pictures of clouds like Kate. I find them so interesting. I love that they’re ever-changing.
    Thanks for a lovely interview and for introducing me to Kate’s new book.


    1. Clouds are fascinating — it’s always fun to interpret what various shapes might be. And because, as you said, they’re always changing, we feel lucky to catch a glimpse of something that especially pleases us before it fades away.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Ah Jama, this is such a safe, protective and inspiring book, with both words and art. I love the video reading you shared with us–and enjoyed hearing the words while taking in the images. The second to last spread reminds me of the protective quality that ” The Secret Garden” also offered. I also enjoyed your interview with Kate and learning more about her and how the book came about. P.S. love the Eye Candy of Aidan Tuner, and your “Save the soup” illo at the top, thanks for allD!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The video is indeed nice to watch — gives us a glimpse of all the art in the book while we hear the poems. The Secret Garden is my fave children’s book, and I’ve always loved the idea of a safe, protected place that has its own magic.

      Aidan is definitely easy on the eyes — I think there’s only one more episode of Poldark left to Season 3?

      Liked by 1 person

  12. This is such a lovely book. I can’t get enough of it! My quiet space has always been in nature, especially the woods. Where I live now, I like to walk through a local nature preserve. It’s tucked away and not many people know about it so I usually have the place to myself. I even know the secret path that leads to a hidden waterfall.


  13. what lovely little book. Such useful lessons for both adults and children. I know that i could benefit from spending some time with it. I do find my quiet space in nature as well


  14. This is the second piece I’ve read about this book, and so ant o get my hands on a copy. I will be tracking it down.
    My quiet place is the beach. I’m lucky enough to be able to walk there most days and it keeps me both sane and creative.


  15. Appreciations to Kate & Anna Emilia for birthing this meditation. And for you, Jama, for bringing stillness to me. This is what the world needs, Breathe & Be is.
    Appreciations to Kate for sharing so much of her inner self here. I will remember this post a long time. And I will be gifting this book to a classroom I visited yesterday as a presenter, where my favorite 1st grade teacher is giving peaceful attention to the student regularly stressed with a host of emotional learning disability behaviors. She guides the student to breathe, think of smiles, hold still, etc. in the midst of the classroom activities so that the other children now a few months into the year, don’t even notice. I think she is making a big difference in his future world. I will also be gifting this book to a dear Mom I know & to myself!


    1. Thank goodness for teachers like that. Good to know the student is coping better in the classroom. How nice of you to get this book for the class. Sounds like a perfect gift for them.


  16. My very special quiet place is my church when no one is there. That is where my mind can truly rest in peaceful solitude. My second favorite quiet place is my kitchen table before sunrise with only my thoughts and my cat for company!


    1. Love both your quiet places, Joanne. There’s a certain hush in an empty church that is beyond comforting. I like picturing you at your kitchen table before the rest of the world wakes up. 🙂


  17. I find when I’m learning a foreign language, kids books are the best way to get the basics in an enjoyable format. Perhaps that is my door into mindfulness, too, a foreign language to me at the moment. It requires a step back, and I am always overly connected to the moment. I look forward to reading this, as I’ve enjoyed the snippets I’ve been finding in the PF world.


  18. This looks like such a lovely book! My favorite quiet place is my little courtyard at my house, with a cup of tea in hand. Ruth,


  19. What a great book–perfect for kids and for the young at heart. My favorite quiet place is early morning at the beach near my house. I purchased coffee and a book and I am good to go. 😉


  20. Terrific feature and Q&A – thank you, Jama and Kate! the world needs more ” haven(s) of stillness and beauty.” Mine include just about anywhere in the outdoors, preferably with a furred or winged wild companion close by. Or one in a web, or one wading in a marsh….
    (These illustrations are so uplifting, too!)


  21. I love the appeal to a child’s imagination as a way of introducing mindfulness. And such stunning language here–“I am a calm umbrella inside the blue and gray storm..” swoon-worthy!
    My quiet place is at the end of our dock, which sits at the swampy end of a little lake and is often surrounded by toads and dragonflies. It’s quiet until the hound decides it’s not.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Imagining is envisioning, and kids can certainly be taught to utilize the power of their minds to steer them to calmer waters. In some ways, I think they’d feel freer to do this than some adults.


  22. Adding this book to my wishlist! Great article and interview, very comprehensive AND APPRECIATED!


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