Mark Pallis and Christiane Kerr are the writers behind a new series of books called ‘mindful storytime’. The first book is a beautifully illustrated story (by James Cottell) called Crab & Whale
. It gently introduces the power of being aware of the breath to children, as well as having principles like kindness, acceptance, curiosity and patience at the core of the tale.
I am lucky enough to have chatted with Mark, who has also written episodes of the Emmy winning TV show Tales Of Peter Rabbit, over email, and he was kind enough to take part in a Q&A for me.
You’ll find the questions and his responses below.
I am curious as to what brought you to write a book about mindfulness for children.
My kids are three and one. Both dudes, of course, and very much into high energy capers! Come storytime for the bigger one, I’d occasionally have these rare moments where we were both super chilled, just sitting there. And it felt so good! I thought, hmmm, is this mindfulness? Maybe. I looked into books for kids about mindfulness and none of them felt right – they were all ‘about’ mindfulness rather than being experiential. So I thought to myself, I can do better. The challenge was that I didn’t know anything about mindfulness, and that’s why I teamed up with Christiane Kerr who is a real expert. Her experience plus my own experience writing kids’ TV shows like Peter Rabbit meant that together we created a new book series where you and your child get to experience a little bit of breathing, and some sensory stuff, without any of the theory (which doesn’t really make any sense to very young kids anyway). Here, you have a book that puts the reader in control and gives you a springboard to practice sensations of breathing, as much or as little as you fancy.
Have you read the book with your own children or friends’ children? How has it been received? How have they responded to the breathing exercise at the end?
I’ve certainly tried it out – and in fact my son helped me decide on some of the illustrations. His favourite page is the big WHOOSH. I’ve had nice feedback from other kids too.
One other interesting angle, quite separate from the mindfulness stuff, is about the gender of the characters. I’m not sure whether you noticed anything… Let me explain. I have this big bee in my bonnet about the fact that pretty much all the animals in kids books are boys – have a think, it’s true! So I wanted to do something about it. In the first version, I decided to give my characters no gender at all – just call them crab and whale. I did some test readings and guess what, everyone just made them boys! That wasn’t going to work. So my cunning plan was to leave the gender unassigned until about three quarters of the way through the book where you hear ‘she’ for the first time. If you had them as girls all along, great, but if you had them as boys, you’re forced to check in with yourself.
We wanted to put the breathing exercise at the end for those people who wanted something concrete to try. The response to this vary – some people just want to read the story, others have told us that they go straight for the exercise. Others say that do it some nights and not others, depending on what book the child wants to read ‘just before bed’. I’m really excited that people are taking the book and using it in a way that suits them best – that’s what we were aiming for.
How did you come to work with Christiane Kerr on the project?
It was an amazing piece of luck. I was at an event called the ‘Chiswick Business Lunch’. It’s an event for local freelancers run near where we both live in West London. I was telling her about my project and it just so happened that she was exactly the person I was looking for! She loved the idea and had some great ideas…. and the rest is history!
How has mindfulness helped you personally?
I think the idea of it is what helps me the most. Anything can help you be in the moment. I always felt a connection with whoever it was who said that you could meditate whilst washing the dishes. Taking a breath here and there, stopping to smell a flower. It’s small things that you do when you can that have the greatest impact – I’ve never managed dedicated meditation or mindfulness time for a set period every day, but I do find myself stopping now and again and checking in with myself. Reading Crab and Whale with my son has also been helpful, mainly as a way to introduce the idea of breathing in a controlled way and also the idea of sensations and a way into talking about kindness.
I see this is a series – what plans do you have for the next books and when will they be published?
We have seven planned, one for each of the ‘Frames of Mind’ (core principles of mindfulness). We are going to do translations of Crab and Whale first, then an audio version. And then we are hoping to have the next one out later this year! We’ll make the announcement via our Facebook
I also had a chance to hear some thoughts from Christiane.
What motivated you to start this project?
Having taught yoga and mindfulness to adults and children for over 20 years, I had lots of requests about how families could integrate mindfulness into their daily life. Young children are naturally mindful and this book aims to give them an awareness of this, and to recognise it as a skill that they can carry with them and develop throughout life. The frames of mindfulness are lovely qualities to encourage in children and they give parents and carers the opportunity to discuss and explore them with their children.
What was the most interesting part of the process of writing the book for you?
I learnt a lot working with Mark and James about combining the skill sets of us as writers and James as the illustrator to bring the story to life. James’ extensive experience and wonderful illustrations made the whole process so much easier. The project has raised a lot of questions about how to make mindfulness engaging for young children.
What are your plans for the series?
Our aim for the series is to help make mindfulness as accessible as possible to children, families and classrooms alike. I would love for the attitudes of mindfulness and mindfulness practices to become seamlessly integrated into young people’s lives, to the point where it becomes as natural as brushing their teeth. Storytelling allows us to subtly introduce children to mindfulness and its benefits without being didactic.
Well my children love the book and I am looking forward to more in the series being published.
Let me know if you’ve come across this book or read it with your children or to a class.
We were given this book for free to review but this is not a paid post.