Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A Conversation with Susan Verde

Good morning, Susan.  I am thrilled to be meeting you virtually with hopes of spending time, even a little, with you in real life sometime in the near future.  After lots of rain these past few days, we have blue sky dotted with big fluffy white clouds, warmth and gusty breezes.  Let’s imagine for a few moments, the two of us are sitting on my back deck, soaking up the fresh air and holding cooling cups of tea.

Hi Margie!
Thank you for this interview. I can feel the gentle breeze and taste the warm tea...is it chamomile? It’s lovely.

I’ve just finished rereading all six of your children’s picture books, The Museum, You and Me, I Am Yoga, The Water Princess, My Kicks: A Sneaker Story! and I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness.  Each of the beautiful stories in these books is told from the first person point of view.  Would you please explain why these stories are told from this perspective?

Often when I am writing I am calling forth many of my own experiences and emotions so there is definitely an element of “me” personally coming into play. However, I also feel that hearing the “I” gives the reader a chance to really embody the story and “become” the character. With “I” there is an instant connection. Even if it’s an experience the child has never had or someone who might look different from the reader, in the first person the story becomes an experience that is possible and a feeling or set of feelings to contemplate and explore and perhaps emphasizes the universal qualities of the character. Any good story will do that whether it’s in first person or not but it’s definitely the way I tend to write.

All of your books, even My Kicks: A Sneaker Story! with its exuberance, have an undercurrent of gentle serenity about them.  To what do you attribute this?  Is this a conscience effort on your part?

What a lovely thing to say Margie. I can’t really say that it is a conscious effort but my approach to the ups and downs of life is to try to handle them with care and calm. Maybe being a mom or a teacher or perhaps even having a mindfulness practice have influenced this approach. Each experience in life is an opportunity to notice and proceed with kindness and my hope is that kids should feel that no matter what they are going through it’s okay...they are okay.

I would like to shift our conversation to your most recent title, I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness.  What prompted you to write a companion title to I Am Yoga?

I Am Yoga was meant to capture the way yoga makes us feel and how it helps us manage our feelings. Mindfulness is a component of yoga but also a practice unto itself so it seemed like a natural follow up. Children have a lot of stress, just like adults and mindfulness is a way of helping children manage. I Am Peace is intended to give them yet another tool just like yoga and to show them that it’s the peace we feel inside that helps us show compassion and empathy to others.

The comparison of the character’s jumbled thoughts to swiftly moving water, then riding on those thoughts adrift in a boat and eventually finding an island beneath the narrator’s feet is truly inspired.  Was there a specific event or moment when this analogy came to you?

In one of my trainings we learned many ways to help children connect to their breath as it is the best way to formally practice mindfulness and bring attention away from distressing thoughts. Using the image of breath as an anchor when our “ship of thoughts” is being carried away was one technique. I loved it so much and found it really helpful when talking about our worries and emotions and how we can get swept away. I couldn’t wait to use the analogy. Kids get it when you can give them something relatable and visual to connect to their experience. They know just what it means to be carried away by moving water...by too many thoughts and worries and what it means to come ashore and feel land under their feet.   

This is the fifth collaboration with Peter H. Reynolds as the illustrator of your words.  Were you aware before seeing his art of the three images without words which join your text, I make a difference to I can hug a tree… ?

Working with Peter is pure joy. When I write I know he will make the words come to life in a beautiful way that captures my intentions but with his own style. He is a very mindful person and artist. Because of our partnership and the fact that we really work in a collaborative way I often get sneak peeks of what’s to come and we have some back and forth. I did get to see this part ahead of time but I certainly wasn’t expecting it and when I saw it I was blown away albeit not surprised. The whole spread was such a moment of mindfulness. Kids love to see the dropping seeds and make predictions and then consider how the spilling of seeds is an act of sharing with and connecting to nature.

What is your wish for this title and its readers?

My wish is that I Am Peace makes mindfulness accessible to teachers, parents and especially kids. It can feel like an esoteric term and we hear it all of the time these days but it is really simple to practice and has measurable physiological and emotional benefits. I hope this book inspires the practice of noticing without judgement and being kind to oneself. We all have stress and big emotions but there are ways to get through it and find more peace within. I hope they learn that even with these tools they will make mistakes but again with kindness and awareness they can learn from their mistakes and not hold onto them. I often ask the children I visit and work with to talk about their worries and stresses and then ask them if they find it easy to be kind to someone else when they are feeling upset within themselves. Of course the answer is no. But, if we can cultivate more peace inside then we can share peace with others. Just imagine what this could do to our world…. I just have to say that children are so smart. They are willing to go deep and look inside and have so much wisdom to share. It’s through them that we can really effect change.

I hope you have a few more moments for some other questions.  I shared this book with two kindergarten classes this past week.  I think they might like to know a little bit more about you and your family.

What made you decide to shift your life’s work from working in the classroom as an educator (with a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and a Master’s degree in Reading Remediation) to teaching yoga and mindfulness to children of all ages with a full-time writing career?

I loved being a classroom teacher! When I had my children I took some time away from teaching but continued to practice yoga to stay sane as a mom of 3 and as a person in the world! As my kids got a bit bigger I began to think about how I could continue my work with children but I felt like I wanted to have a different experience than being in a classroom full time. My own yoga practice was so beneficial for me that it made sense to share it with children especially in the school setting where they feel so much stress and need more support even at a young age. That’s when I decided to become a kid’s yoga and mindfulness teacher. Best decision ever! Writing is something that I have been doing for as long as I can remember and mindfulness and yoga support that creative process. It is sometimes hard to juggle all of these things but I am fortunate because as challenging as they can be (and they can be VERY challenging), teaching, writing and parenting are all things that fill my soul and I am grateful everyday.  

If you could describe the location of your home and your house using your senses how would that be?

Ooh I love this question! My house is at the end of a long winding road lined by strong tall trees and lots of green in the summer and brown in the fall and white in winter. The house is covered in brown shingles and natural wood and there are big windows all around. Our street has other houses painted white and yellow with quiet neighbors until it’s summer then voices are heard and dogs are being walked and kids are skateboarding on the road. The tops of the trees that fill our yard let in the sunlight in warm patches. The leaves rustle in the breeze and fall in crunchy piles in Autumn. You can smell the ocean and the fresh cut grass and whatever is cooking in the kitchen when you stand in the backyard. Inside, the house smells like lavender oil and sometimes the stinky feet of teenagers. You can feel the grass between your toes and the hard pavement of the driveway and the itchy bites of mosquitoes in summer and the refreshing cool water in our pool. If you catch us on the right day you can taste the vanilla cupcakes that my daughter will no doubt be famous for someday. There are always sounds outside and in.. deer eating plants, crickets used for feeding pets chirp and our pet frog croaks, squirrels dance on the roof, and sometimes woodpeckers make the sound of a mini drill on the side of the house. There are talking children and clanging pots and pans, my daughter playing her ukulele and singing and my sons rapping and all of us occasionally breaking into spontaneous dancing AND a barking dog. There is always something to hear even when it’s quiet.

How old are your three children?  Do they practice mindfulness?

My boys, Josh and Gabe are twins and are on the verge of being 14 and Sophia is 12. They do practice mindfulness meditation and have reached a point where they are pretty good at  connecting with their breath and being kind to themselves when they feel overwhelmed or caught up in a big emotion and as teenagers they have a lot of big emotions!  They are also pretty good at reminding me to take a breath when I get overwhelmed. I love to see them doing the things they are passionate about and being fully present and in the moment. Gabe is a surfer, Josh pays football and Sophia sings. When they are doing those activities it is amazing to see how connected they are to their own experience. It’s mindfulness in action!  

What kind of dog do you have?  How did he/she get their name?

Our dog is a Coton de Tulear. It’s a fancy name but he’s really just a scrappy little white fluffy doggie who barks too much but is very loving. We were reading a lot of Harry Potter when we got him and I wanted to call him Neville but that was quickly dismissed so we just started calling out names and someone said Gizmo (could have been me thinking of the movie Gremlins) and we all agreed on that! Not much of a story but it has turned out to be the perfect name. He is definitely a Gizmo.

I couldn’t be happier to have been able to spend this morning with you Susan.  Thank you for chatting with me and visiting Librarian’s Quest.  I am wishing you PEACE.  

Thank you Margie! I am grateful for the time together and have really enjoyed answering all of your thoughtful questions. It has been truly wonderful. I wish you PEACE as well.  

To learn more about Susan Verde and her books please take a few moments to visit her website. She has links at her site to articles she has written for other publications on yoga and mindfulness.  By following the links attached to five of her books listed above you can read my blog posts.

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