[merry review + giveaway] An Artist’s Night Before Christmas by Joan C. Waites

This holiday season, millions of families will cozy up by the fire to enjoy Clement C. Moore’s iconic poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”

Indeed, many of us know “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” by heart, and reciting it re-awakens the child in each of us who still believes. As soon as we hear those first few lines, the magic and wonder begin:

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all
through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

Wait a minute. Do you really believe that? 🙂

What if there was a mouse stirring? What would he be doing up late at night while the rest of the house was asleep?

These are the questions award winning author/illustrator Joan C. Waites asked herself, and she’s detailed her answers in a delightful new picture book (the first she has both written and illustrated), An Artist’s Night Before Christmas (Pelican Publishing Co., 2017)!

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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!

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🌲 AUTHOR CHAT WITH KATE COOMBS 🐠

 

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!!

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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:

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🌿 SPECIAL BOOK GIVEAWAY! 🌼

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!

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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.

[review + giveaway] Agua, Agüita (Water, Little Water) by Jorge Tetl Argueta and Felipe Ugalde Alcántara

“A drop of water, if it could write out its own history, could explain the universe to us.” ~ Lucy Larcom

Listen. Raindrops patter on the roof. A tossed pebble plops into a pond. Water burbles over smooth stones in a stream. Big waves crash onto the shore — foamy ebb bubbles and sloshes, smaller waves lap.

Water — life giver, wonder, miracle.

In his beautiful new trilingual picture book, Agua, Agüita/Water, Little Water (Piñata Books, 2017), award-winning author and poet Jorge Argueta describes the life cycle of water from the perspective of a single drop.

My name
is Water
but everyone
calls me ‘Little Water.’

I like
to be called
‘Little Water.’

*

Mi nombre
es Agua
pera todas
me conocen por “Agüita”.

A mí me gusta
que me llamen
“Agüita”.

Little Water explains how it is born “deep in our Mother Earth,” gradually climbing along rocks and roots through light and darkness until it reaches the surface, becoming visible as droplets resting on spider webs, flower petals and the tips of leaves. Little Water is a “sigh of morning dew” singing “a sweet, tender and strong song.”

Drop by tiny drop, Little Water becomes a river, a lake, an ocean. Then it climbs to the sky, turning into a cloud until it returns “singing to our Mother Earth.”

I love Argueta’s spare lyrical free verse, his metaphor of song and music, and most of all, his use of personification to give voice to nature, a voice that’s endearing, intimate, and sometimes whimsical.

I am one color
in the morning and
another in the afternoon.

Soy de un color
por la mañana y
de otro color en la tarde.

Children will delight in following Little Water’s wondrous journey and seeing the interconnectedness of all living things. They will like hearing Little Water speak directly to them, one small friend to another sharing the secret of its existence, and with personal connection comes awareness, appreciation and caring for Mother Earth.

Alcántara’s luminous, jewel-toned illustrations reinforce the sense of continuity, fluidity and constant motion with their concentric circles and ripples. As raindrops make ever widening circles on the water, we are reminded that even small things can have an impact, as they transform themselves into larger elements with powerful repercussions.

We see many “little waters” bubbling up deep from the ocean floor, entangled amongst roots, flowing through verdant landscapes, tinted by the sunset, cascading down rocky cliffs, caressing the shoreline. Finally, there is the “water bird” described in Argueta’s final stanza, a graceful, blue winged creature symbolizing life itself.

As in many of his books, Argueta expresses his affection and deep reverence for Mother Earth. Water is perhaps her greatest gift, essential to the web of life, as soft as it is forceful, mysterious and pervasive:

I am all colors
and have no color.
I am all flavors
and have no flavor.
I am all shapes
and am shapeless.
I am Water,
I am Little Water.

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Soy de todos los colores
y no tengo color.
Soy de todos los sabores
y no tengor sabor.
Soy de todas las formas
y no tengo forma.
Soy Agua,
soy Agüita.

In addition to Spanish and English, Argueta’s poetic ode is presented in the back of the book in Nahuat, the language of his Pipil-Nahua ancestors in El Salvador — a great way to introduce readers to a fascinating ancient culture. Here’s a taste of it:

Nutukay At
Maya ha muchi
Nech ishmatit guey atchin

Naja Nugustú
Manéchilguiya
Atchin

In addition to sparking interesting discussions about the importance of water and identifying its different manifestations, Agua, Agüita will likely inspire young readers to write their own poems about the wonders of the natural world, perhaps personifying their favorite parts of it.

Beautiful and awe-inspiring with its own brand of charm, don’t miss this lovely, informative book, which holds special appeal for those who enjoy blending poetry with science.

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AGUA, AGÜITA/WATER, LITTLE WATER
written by Jorge Tetl Argueta
illustrated by Felipe Ugalde Alcántara
translated by Gabriela Baeza Ventura
published by Piñata Books/Arte Público Press, October 2017
Picture Book for ages 4-7, 32 pp.
*Junior Library Guild Selection
**On shelves October 31, 2017

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📘 SPECIAL BOOK GIVEAWAY! 📕

The publisher has generously donated a copy of the book for one lucky Alphabet Soup reader. For a chance to win, simply leave a comment at this post no later than midnight (EST) Wednesday, November 8, 2017. You may also enter by sending an email with WATER in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to U.S. residents only, please. Good Luck!

*

The lovely, warm and welcoming Linda Baie is hosting the Roundup at TeacherDance. Waltz on over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared in the blogosphere this week. Have you eaten all your Halloween candy yet? 🙂


*Interior spreads posted by permission of the publisher, text copyright © 2017 Jorge Tetl Argueta, illustrations © 2017 Felipe Ugalde Alcántara, published by Piñata Books/Arte Público Press. All rights reserved.

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

[spooky review + giveaway] The Pomegranate Witch by Denise Doyen and Eliza Wheeler

Hello my pretties! Ready for a spookalicious story?

*cackles and strokes chin wart*

No matter where we grew up, most of us can remember a mean or eccentric neighbor, a creepy old house that was supposedly haunted, or a place we were afraid (or not allowed) to frequent for one reason or another.

It was the kind of thing where we were both curious and terrified at the same time. We hungered for more even as we trembled in our boots. It’s wonderful how local lore and enduring legends figured in our childhoods, how we bore witness to the dynamic process of their evolution.

In The Pomegranate Witch (Chronicle Books, 2017), Denise Doyen and Eliza Wheeler serve up a deliciously eerie and suspenseful tale of five neighborhood kids who battle a green twiggy-fingered Witch for fruit from her haunted, zealously-guarded pomegranate tree.

Beyond the edge of town,
where streetlights stopped and sidewalks ended,
A small boy spied a farmhouse in a field long untended —

And before its sagging porch, amid a weedy foxtail sea,
Found the scary, legendary, haunted pomegranate tree.

The gnarled tree loomed high and wide; its branches scraped the ground.
Beneath there was a fort, of sorts, with leafed walls all around.
Its unpruned limbs were jungle-like, dirt ripplesnaked with roots,
But glorious were the big, red, round, ripe pomegranate fruits.

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Barking About Pet Crazy by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong (+ a giveaway!)

Jump, roll over, sit, and stay . . . it’s time to sniff out Pet Crazy, the third title in the popular Poetry Friday Power Book series created by poetry goddesses Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong. Yip!

Just for this post, you may bark, meow, cluck, or tweet your approval at any time. Perfectly acceptable. After all, it’s hard to curb your enthusiasm for this fun and frisky interactive story-in-verse and writing journal rolled into one, just purrrrfect for kids in grades K-3 (or bears of any age).

Pet Crazy includes 36 poems in all, with three poems featured in each of 12 PowerPacks.

PowerPacks include:

  1. Powerplay Activity
  2. Anchor Poem
  3. Response Poem
  4. Mentor Poem
  5. Power2You Writing Prompt

The anchor poems in Pet Crazy were written by Kristy Dempsey, Janice Harrington, Carole Boston Weatherford, Eric Ode, Helen Frost, Tamera Will Wissinger, Elizabeth Steinglass, Laura Shovan, Padma Venkatraman, Eileen Spinelli, April Halprin Wayland and Don Tate. Five poems culled from the Poetry Friday Anthology series take their place alongside seven newly penned verses.

Janet Wong has written original response and mentor poems, cleverly weaving all into a charming story about young Ben, who yearns for a dog of his own, friend and cat lover Kristy, and Daniel, Ben’s best friend, who gives Ben an unusual pet for his birthday.

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