Not too long ago, when I featured Emily Sutton’s gorgeous watercolours and bird sculptures here at Alphabet Soup, I promised to also spotlight her partner Mark Hearld.
Prepare yourself for even more fangirl sighing and swooning. Though I admire many, many artists, there are only a handful about whom I can safely say, “I love everything he (or she) does.” (This holds true for both Emily and Mark.)
Mark is a Yorkshire native who studied illustration at the Glasgow School of Art and Natural History illustration at the Royal College of Art. He works across a variety of mediums, producing unique paintings, linocuts, lithographs, cut-paper collages, hand-painted ceramics, wallpaper and fabric designs.
He is inspired primarily by the flora and fauna of the English countryside, a deep love and fascination for nature he’s had since childhood.
“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!
🌲 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.
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!
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.
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
♥ Take a few minutes to bask in the beauty and stillness: Enjoy this lovely reading of Breathe and Be:
🌿 SPECIAL BOOK GIVEAWAY! 🌼
The publisher has generously donated a copy of Breathe and Befor 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. 🙂
I only just discovered Alice Oswald’s poetry a few months ago. I loved this poem from the opening lines — an astute observation expressed in deceptively simple terms.
In a reading she gave at Boston University two years ago, Oswald likened the water cycle — how water returns and returns — to the roll of a pianola, an instrument she loved as a child.
As water takes the path of least resistance, so her stanzas, with their absence of punctuation, naturally flow one into another, without the impediment of cliché or predictability. Upon first reading, I was so taken with her pristine diction and following her train of thought that I wasn’t aware of the rhyming couplets! I love her skillful use of slant rhyme, too.
A former gardener who read Classics at New College, Oxford, Alice now lives on the Dartington Estate in Devon with her husband and three children. She is the recipient of the TS Eliot Prize, the Ted Hughes Award, and the Foreword Prize.
In an interview with Susannah Herbert at The Guardian, she said:
To be a poet is as serious, long-term and natural as the effort to be the best human you can be. To express something well is not a question of having a top-class education and understanding poetic forms: rather, it’s a question of paying attention.
You’ll forgive me if I’m a little out of breath. Been chasing that rascally Gingerbread Boy all week. Wanted him to pick our giveaway winner. It wasn’t easy catching up with him, let me tell you. I sprinted all over San Francisco (thankfully I was able to have lunch in Chinatown to fortify myself in the process). Though the city was beautiful and I enjoyed seeing all the wonderful landmarks mentioned in the story, to my dismay the Gingerbread Boy was nowhere to be found. Sigh.
Wise Mr Cornelius suggested I contact our dear friend M. Random Integer Generator directly. He is, after all, a robust gastronome who can sniff out gingerbread an ocean away. Some of you may remember that tracking down M. Generator can sometimes be tricky in itself. Double sigh. Thankfully M. Generator answered my telegram right away. Seems the Gingerbread Boy had already devoured the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and half the Arc de Triomphe. Mon Dieu! Quelle Catastrophe!
Mais, as soon as M. Generator told the GBB we needed him to pick a winner, he flew to the Alphabet Soup kitchen in a wink. After a little snack (34 apple pies, 54 Twix bars, 4 gallons of lemonade), our favorite Gingerbread Boy reached into the cookie jar and picked a name.
The winner of a brand new copy of THE HORRIBLY HUNGRY GINGERBREAD BOY is —
*drum roll, please*
🎈HOORAY! CONGRATULATIONS!! 🎉
Thanks to everyone for entering the giveaway!
(Best to back away before the Gingerbread Boy eats you.)
Hey, one of my ears is missing.
The clever and talented witty ditty darling Michelle Barnes is hosting the Roundup at Today’s Little Ditty. Be sure to sashay on over and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared in the blogosphere this week!
As I’ve said many times before, this is a big reason to celebrate because there is only one “first book” in an author’s life. This moment in time usually represents years of writing, hoping and waiting. No matter how many books Amy publishes down the road, this one will always hold a special place in her heart.
Like me, many of you know Amy through Poetry Friday and her wonderful Poem Farm blog. Did you also follow along as she posted a poem every day for an entire year back in 2010? I’ve been honored to share several of her poems right here at Alphabet Soup: she was a Poetry Potluck guest in 2011, sharing her famous Pineapple Slices, she brought a peanut butter jellyfish sandwich to our Peanut Butter Lovers Month celebration not too long ago, and her lovely poem “Apple Pockets” was featured in Nicole Gulotta’s guest post.
“Oh Lord, how shining and festive is your gift to us, if we only look, and see.” ~ Mary Oliver(“Look and See”, Why I Wake Early)
What do you see when you look out your window?
Thank goodness for Mary Oliver when you need a good share of hope, a reminder to turn your face to the light. Poppies speak of many things, in general, the imagination — but yellow stands for wealth and success, red for pleasure, white for peace. Enjoy Oliver’s “invitation to happiness” and this photo bouquet of color, beauty, joy, remembrance. Bask in the light of her words and shine on. 🙂
POPPIES by Mary Oliver
The poppies send up their
orange flares; swaying
in the wind, their congregations
are a levitation
of bright dust, of thin
and lacy leaves.
There isn’t a place
in this world that doesn’t
sooner or later drown
in the indigos of darkness,
but now, for a while,
shines like a miracle
as it floats above everything
with its yellow hair.
Of course nothing stops the cold,
black, curved blade
from hooking forward—
loss is the great lesson.
But I also say this: that light
is an invitation
and that happiness,
when it’s done right,
is a kind of holiness,
palpable and redemptive.
Inside the bright fields,
touched by their rough and spongy gold,
I am washed and washed
in the river
of earthly delight—
and what are you going to do—
what can you do
deep, blue night?
~ from New and Selected Poems, Vol. I (Beacon Press, 1993)