Ahead of the annual Chapin Book Fair, a special guest visited Chapin’s Lower School! Children’s book author Susan Verde spent a recent morning in the library, sharing stories with the students about her life, her writing and her most recent book, “I Am Peace.”
Ms. Verde, a former teacher turned writer, is also a yoga and mindfulness instructor. As the students, who themselves frequently practice mindfulness in Lower School, first gathered before her, she asked them to be ‘mindfulness detectives’ by noticing how they felt in the moment. “Whenever I do a school visit I get a little nervous, and I know this because I get butterflies in my stomach. I also get a little excited, and I know this because I can feel my heart beating faster,” she explained. After sharing her feelings, Ms. Verde asked the students to share how they felt.
“I feel happy!”
“I feel calm but excited to be here!”
“I feel tired because I went trick or treating last night.”
Ms. Verde went on to explain how our bodies are affected by our emotions, and that her new book, “I Am Peace,” illustrates how mindfulness can help us to feel calm. But before she discussed more about this book, the author detailed how she first became interested in writing.
“When I was your age I was always dreaming up stories. My favorite books were Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, and The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats,” Ms. Verde shared. The crowd gasped with excitement. “I love those books too!” one student exclaimed. “I loved those books so much that I wanted to write my own,” the author added with a smile.
She explained how she keeps a journal, drinks lots of coffee, and draws inspiration from many places including her three children, teaching yoga, and reading books. “I always carry a journal with me to jot down notes,” she added. “To get ideas, I write a lot of poems and silly things that aren’t necessarily for a book but still inspire me.”
Ms. Verde shared with the group the story of how she drew inspiration for her book, “The Museum,” during an actual museum visit with her kids. As they were walking through the exhibits, the author’s son suddenly stopped and lay down on the floor. “Mom, I can’t look at one more painting of food. I’m starving!” he said. Ms. Verde immediately pulled out her notebook and wrote a poem about how the art they were seeing was making them feel. That poem eventually grew into a published book!
The idea for Ms. Verde’s newest book, “I Am Peace,” came from her experiences as a yoga and mindfulness instructor and explores the many different ways we can be mindful in our lives. Before she read it aloud to the students, the author led them in their very own mindfulness exercise. “Does anyone know what mindfulness is?” she asked.
“Talking about your feelings.”
“Resting your brain.”
“Calming down and taking control of yourself.”
“Letting your feelings out.”
“Resetting your body.”
“Taking a moment for yourself.”
Impressed, Ms. Verde offered her definition of mindfulness simply as stopping, listening and noticing our feelings and surroundings in any given moment. To demonstrate this concept, she played a note on an instrument called a “singing bowl,” asking the group to listen carefully and place a finger on their noses when they couldn’t hear the note anymore. “Just by doing this, you are practicing mindfulness, and you probably even noticed other sounds in the room that you didn’t before,” she said.
Next, the students were asked to stand up, think of something that makes them mad, and then notice what happens to their body. “It doesn’t feel good does it?” Ms. Verde asked. “Now take a deep breath and let everything go. Breathing can help you to relax and reset when you are feeling mad.”
For the final part of the mindfulness exercise, Ms. Verde worked with the students to make a list of the things they worry about. Conflicts with siblings, talking in front of a group, waking up and getting to school on time, and forgetting things all made the list. “When your brain is full of these worries, it will be hard to learn and concentrate. Mindfulness can remind you to take a deep breath, pause and think rationally,” Ms. Verde explained.
“I Am Peace” provides many other examples of ways to be mindful in our daily lives including taking a moment to watch the clouds, sharing kindness with others, and even hugging trees. As their time with Ms. Verde came to a close, the students listened carefully as she read the book, leaving them with the tools they will need to embody peace in their own lives and then share that peace with those around them.
*Susan Verde will be signing her books at the Chapin Book Fair on Wednesday, November 15.