Creativity helps to support our mental health and well-being by allowing for a connection to self-expression. Modern research suggests mindfulness-based meditation practices can help us contact creative flow by:
Age-old yoga and mindfulness philosophies have always reminded us that when we intentionally pay attention to present moment experience with kind curiosity and care, we create the space to connect with our innate strengths, including creativity. When we can bring a caring, mindful presence to whatever it is we are doing, we naturally create the conditions necessary for creative intelligence to flow through us.
Looking for a quick creative boost in the middle of your day? Consider trying this mindfulness meditation practice known as the Sky of Awareness. Invite a fresh perspective, and explore what arises. Enjoy:
by Rashmi Bismark, MD, MPH, Mindfulness educator and author of Finding Om
The events of this past year have certainly amplified the importance of self care and community care for all. As a kids yoga teacher, one of your priorities has been family wellness. What does that look like for you at home, and where does yoga fit into it?
Family wellness has definitely been the core inspiration behind all that I do. It's a work in progress and often changes. I talk to my family about eating a balanced diet, hydration and exercise to maintain a healthy body, but we also talk about maintaining the spirit within our body. We talk about how breathing can change how you feel, and we practice different ways to do it. The conversation about wellness is continuous in our home. This helps because kids will call you out on just about anything! So when I slip into a funk and am not being mindful of what I am providing for nourishment, or if we haven't moved our bodies in an intentional way they say, "Hey Mom..." One thing that stays pretty consistent is our breath.
What inspires your relationship with yoga?
My relationship with yoga is inspired by the memory of how I felt before beginning a practice with meditation and the difference in how I felt once it became a lifestyle. I was at a breaking point, and not only did I benefit from my practice but my whole family did. My relationship with my husband improved. My interaction with my kids improved, and my perception of things completely changed. When I reflect on the trauma that has affected generations of Black people and the lack of access to heal, I am inspired to share my passion for yoga.
Part of your mission is expanding the face of wellness for Black kids and families. Tell us more about your vision and the @blackkidsdoyoga Instagram movement.
My vision of expanding the face of wellness for kids wellness started with our social media pages, helping others to acknowledge that representation is a problem and supporting the cause to change the media. It extends to providing resources and a community through our books and Black Kids Do Yoga Club. My goal is to flood various platforms with positive images of black children learning, understanding and being empowered by mental and physical wellness. I want those children to have available access to resources that support their practice. Finding books, videos and communities that mirror and embrace parts of your identity should not be a research project.
Your work has also led you to self-publish a picture book called Our Family’s Doing Yoga and start a YouTube channel to explore yoga as a family. What were some of your inspirations for this book and your YouTube channel? How do you hope kids (and their adults) will be impacted?
As a child I was blessed to have images of people who positively resembled my reflection presented to me in my home. Outside of my home it took more work to find. Books that showed positive images of the Black community weren't readily available. Images on television often portrayed us negatively, and even within our own community we faced internalized racism. When I envisioned motherhood one of my top priorities was to be a mother whose children felt seen and heard. When my children took interest in my yoga practice, I wanted them to know that this practice was for them. I wanted them to visibly see it in the books and videos we used as support but the options were slim. Writing Our Family's Doing Yoga was a way to share our story and empower my children to embrace their practice as theirs. As we began to influence others, I was often asked about YouTube videos that showed children of color. Once again our children were underrepresented in the industry on the platform, so we began creating videos to share. I am a mother and an educator. It is woven in my make up to nurture and nourish. That's what I hope my work is doing.
This is such a fun story. What inspired you to write Luna’s Yum-Yum Dim Sum?
This book was a little bit of a departure from how my books usually get written. Generally, I create a story that I want to write then try to shop it around to publishers to see if anyone is interested in acquiring it. However, on Luna’s Yum Yum Dim Sum, it was actually my editor at Charlesbridge Publishing, Alyssa Mito-Pusey, who contacted me and asked if I was interested in submitting a story. I was intrigued by their goal of focusing on diversity and building math concepts into fun stories in non-didactic ways. Of course I said, ‘yes’.
I was a little nervous going in because math was never my strong suit growing up, but how I wished I had fun math stories to read. Maybe I wouldn’t have been so intimidated by math as a child. I was all on board for writing a book that children would love to read and that can engage them in the math concept without it being just another math book!
How long did it take you to write this book?
Alyssa first asked me to submit a story in Feb. 2018. I think I wrote and sent Alyssa my first draft in July 2018. However, although she liked the setting and the writing, she said they weren’t looking for a straight counting and shape book. She wanted the characters to actually solve a math problem in the story.
So, it was back to the drawing board for me. I consulted with Marlene Kliman, the math expert at TERC about various math concepts and this very informative discussion led me to explore the idea of Luna and her brothers having to split 5 pork buns among the 3 of them, which would introduce early fractions to the picture book audience, and the question of what does sharing fairly mean (obviously, it meant different things to Luna and her brothers), and is sharing fairly the same as sharing equitably? I re-wrote the entire story in a month (while on vacation on the East Coast for part of that time) and re-submitted it to Alyssa in August 2018.
She and Marlene loved the story, and she sent it up to acquisitions in September. I was offered a publishing contract for Luna in November 2018.
The siblings really brainstorm to figure out how the dim sum would be split. Is math your favorite subject?
No! I hated math in school. I felt very intimidated by it because I never felt I was good at math. But math is all around us! I remember taking my children on walks when they were little and counting the petals on a flower, or clouds in the sky. Whenever we ordered pizza, we counted the pizza slices (there are 8 slices of pizza, but 5 of us so how many do each one of us get?), and invariably, it always came down to who gets the last piece? Math can be incorporated in so much of our daily lives. When you bake cookies with your kids, they can help measure ingredients and here is an opportunity to discuss simple math concepts (how many half cups make one cup? How many quarter cups in a cup? etc.)
Math for me growing up in Southeast Asia was by rote learning - math problems, worksheets, formulas, memorization. It was very boring! And math books were dry and uninteresting to me too. The Storytelling Math books turn that around - the story comes first, and the math learning is a byproduct. But if kids enjoy the story, they’ll get the math concept as well. At the back of each book in the series, there is backmatter on how readers can further explore the math in the book through simple activities.
You incorporated the Chinese horoscope and Chinese food in your story. How important is it for you to share your culture with children?
In all my books, except my first one, sharing the culture my story is based upon is extremely important. Most of the time, that’s my own Chinese culture. I believe kids do need to see themselves in books, and learn and engage in stories that connect them to their culture. Not every child may be familiar with everything about their own culture. A Chinese child born and raised in the US may not necessarily experience the same cultural traditions and rituals as a child born in China or Taiwan does, so they may actually learn something new about their own culture. It’s also important for them to learn about other cultures. This creates great opportunities for meaningful discussions in the classroom and at home - what’s similar about these traditions and rituals? What’s different? It’s a great way to celebrate diversity.
In my first book, Otto’s Rainy Day, I told a story about a boy who wanted to go outside and play in the rain, but I didn’t have any specific ethnicity in mind. The illustrator drew him as a boy with blonde curls. They’re really cute illustrations, but after that book, I wanted to personally connect more with my own heritage, and subsequently, I wanted to connect kids with my culture and show them the many wonderful rituals, traditions, and celebrations I enjoyed as a child.
What do you hope children learn or take away from Luna’s Yum-Yum Dim Sum?
That math doesn’t have to be boring. And math can be found in so many daily tasks and rituals that they may not even know about. They’re doing math every day (and hopefully having fun with it!) Who doesn’t like baking (and eating)chocolate chip cookies?
Natasha Yim is a children’s author, and freelance writer. She has published seven picture books including Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2014); The Rock Maiden (Wisdom Tales Press, 2017), and Mulan’s Lunar New Year (Disney Press, 2018). Her most recent picture book, Luna’s Yum Yum Dim Sum (Charlesbridge Publishing) was just released on Dec. 22, 2020. She has written for the children’s magazines, “Highlights for Children”, “Faces”, “Appleseeds”, and “Muse”, and is a regular contributor to Mendocino Arts Magazine. Natasha is currently working on two picture books and two middle grade novels. She has just signed on with Disney Press to create a picture book based on the as-yet-unreleased Pixar film, “Turning Red.” Publication date is Spring 2022.
If you’d like to learn more about Natasha Yim please visit her social media links below:
Mark your calendars for World Read Aloud Day 2021, also know at WRAD! It will take place on Wednesday, February 3, 2021.
LitWorld started the event in 2010 to celebrate the power of reading aloud and to advance literacy efforts around the world. In support of this work, many authors and illustrators offer free 20-minute virtual read alouds to teachers and classrooms. This year, several members of KidLit in Color are available to read with you!
Most WRAD virtual visits will go something like this:
1-2 minutes: Author gives a quick introduction & talks a little about their books.
3-5 minutes: Author reads aloud a short picture book, or a short excerpt
5-10 minutes: Author answers a few questions from students about reading/writing
1-2 minutes: Author book-talks a couple books they love (but didn’t write!) as recommendations for the kids
Before you sign up, you'll need to be able to provide:
Please check your scheduled time carefully. All times are listed in Eastern Standard Time.
To sign up, go to our form on SignUp Genius and choose an available slot.
#OwnVoices, #OwnVisions: Writing and Illustrating an Arab American Character
When I began writing FARAH ROCKS FIFTH GRADE, my debut chapter book series, I was excited that Capstone books had taken a chance on the idea. It was thrilling to know that I was writing the first chapter book series to feature a Palestinian American character -- Farah Hajjar, who is modeled on my own childhood and some of the experiences I had growing up.
Growing Arab American was difficult because there are so many negative stereotypes in the media about our community - and very few books and films with authentic representations to counter them. So while writing FARAH ROCKS was fun, it was also worrisome: I felt the pressure to present a character who felt real and who would be embraced by Arab and non-Arab kids alike.
Part of my worry was about how Farah would be illustrated. I still have memories of seeing stereotypical representations of Arabs in movies like Aladdin. Nothing was more vital than making sure Farah was portrayed in a realistic, positive way.
Enter Ruaida Mannaa, a talented artist and my wonderful illustrator! When I first saw the initial sketches of Farah-- a character who had, until then, existed only in my mind -- I knew Ruaida understood what mattered to me about capturing Farah’s essence.
Ruaida is of Lebanese origin, which makes FARAH ROCKS a book series written by AND illustrated by Arab women. Recently, I interviewed Ruaida about how she developed the look of Farah!
Susan: You have an interesting background. Where did you grow up? Tell me about your cultural background.
Ruaida: I was born in Colombia, and my background is Lebanese. Both my parents are first generation born in Latin America (mom in Brazil and dad in Colombia). So I definitely grew up in a multicultural environment! Listening to Arab and Brazilian music, eating delicious foods, attending the loudest parties and hearing different languages.
Susan: How long have you been an artist? When did you first know you wanted to make this a career?
Ruaida: I’ve always been creative and passionate about art. This passion became my career very organically. I studied graphic design, worked as a designer and teacher for a few years and then got my masters in illustration from SCAD. I love that my job allows me to always learn something new, each project takes me on a new path and pushes me to think outside of the box.
Susan: What did you think about when you were hired to illustrate a book about an Arab American girl?
Ruaida: This was my first project with my current agent, and I was so excited when I learned about it and even happier once I got the gig. I instantly connected to Farah and her family and really loved the Arab words thrown here and there in the dialogues! Growing up I didn’t have any characters I could relate to in terms of cultural background, so being part of this project is a tremendous honor.
Susan: How did you go about sketching the character and the designs (such as the tatreez, etc)? Do you work in a specific program or by hand? Did you do any research?
Ruaida: Farah went through a few different stages to get her to look the right age, get the right expression and bring her personality to life. I used my niece as reference for the shape of her face, eyes and eyebrows, so she would look more like a real Arab girl. I always try to include some elements of Palestinian art in her clothing and in the decorative elements of the pages. I did a lot of research on Palestinian embroidery and ceramics, each book has a pattern that I create using traditional symbols from images that I collect. Everything is created digitally using Photoshop.
Susan: Who are some of your influences? What types of things inspire you?
Ruaida: There are so many! I love the work of Henri Matisse and Gustav Klimt, especially their approach to design and the use of color and patterns. But I also follow a lot of contemporary illustrators like Carson Ellis, Julia Sarda, Leo Espinosa and the list goes on. I love seeing different styles and ways in which artists interpret reality. But most of my inspiration comes from researching different cultures, traveling and reading. Creativity is fed by curiosity, so I'm always trying to learn new things and visit new places, paying lots of attention to folk art and traditions.
Ruaida Mannaa is a Colombian/Lebanese Illustrator and Designer. Her background includes several design projects as well as experience as a Digital Design professor. Ruaida believes that creativity comes from curiosity so she is constantly exploring and visually interpreting the world around her. Ruaida grew up in a multicultural family, surrounded by different languages, loud parties and delicious food! So culture and cultural exchange are definitely her greatest inspiration.
Ruaida graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design with a Master of Fine Arts in Illustration. She is currently based in Barranquilla, Colombia, where she works with clients all over the world.
You can learn more about Ruaida at her website.
As writers we spend so many months and years in our little bubbles writing that we're often clueless when it comes to marketing and promoting our books. This was the primary reason KidLit in Color was started a year ago. Many of our members had limited social media and marketing experience, and the group was a great way to support each other. Even though 2020 was a tough year to release a book, we learned a lot this past year that we hope helps you on your publication journey in 2021.
"Writers love doing the work of writing, but there's a business side to it as well. Spend a couple of hours a week networking, looking for publishing opportunities, attending face to face or virtual conferences, and spending time on social media promoting your own work and that of others!" Susan Muaddi Darraj, author of the Farah Rocks series.
"Do what works best for you to promote your book (connecting with bloggers and podcasters, doing events, building your social media presence, or updating your website and adding a newsletter). Most of all all, adhere to self-care measures, and enjoy the journey!" Valerie Bolling, author of Let's Dance.
"Make connections and engage with book bloggers, authors, and Instagram book reviewers before your book comes out! Engage with them and share their content. They’ll most likely share your book when it comes out plus you’ll make new friends!" Aya Khalil, author of The Arabic Quilt.
"My book debuted last in our group so I was able to watch and learn from everyone else. It's impossible to do everything so make achievable goals and work toward them. For example, instead of 50 blog interviews you may aim for 5. Instead of spreading yourself thin on all social media outlets you may choose to only participate on 1or 2. It's okay to find what works for you and do that unapologetically." Kirstie Myvett, author of Praline Lady.
2020 was your debut year. How was it?
My debut year started off strong, with From the Desk of Zoe Washington releasing on January 14. I had a couple of in-person launch events at local bookstores, and was able to attend Winter Institute, ALA Midwinter, and the North Texas Teen Book Festival. And then the pandemic shut everything down. Despite that, it’s still been a mostly positive debut year for me. Readers are discovering and enjoying Zoe’s story. Now, From the Desk of Zoe Washington is appearing on several “Best of 2020” book lists. I’m so grateful!
With the pandemic many authors were unable to do the school and in-person bookstore visits they had planned. How did you navigate that?
One disappointing moment this year was when the book tour my publisher had planned was canceled due to the pandemic. I had been looking forward to visiting those bookstores and meeting readers in person! I had no choice but to pivot. Fortunately, I’ve been able to do a lot of virtual panels and school visits. Also, three of my middle grade debut friends (Shannon Doleski, Lorien Lawrence, and Tanya Guerrero) and I planned an online book festival called Middle Ground Book Fest. It was a great opportunity to connect with other middle grade authors and help them reach teachers, librarians and readers during a difficult year. We had a lot of fun with it! The video recordings are still available on our YouTube channel.
What does your writing schedule look like?
Before the pandemic, I had a schedule. I woke up early a few times a week to write. (I could never quite make it to #5amWritersClub, but I’d write from 6 - 7:30 am). My day job is three days a week, so on the other two days, I’d write while my daughter was in school. I also wrote a lot on the weekends. But now that my daughter is doing remote learning, I don’t have those quiet days to write anymore! Now, I have to try to squeeze in writing whenever I can.
What are you currently working on?
I recently completed copy edits for my second book, A Soft Place to Land, which comes out on September 14. Now, I’m getting to work on what I hope will be my next published book - another standalone contemporary middle grade.
Do you plan on venturing into YA? (I know your debut initially started out as YA if I’m not mistaken?)
I did start out writing young adult books! The three (unpublished) manuscripts I wrote before From the Desk of Zoe Washington were YA, and I even thought Zoe’s story would be at first. I started out with her as sixteen years old instead of twelve. But a critique partner who read pages early on helped me realize that the book would be stronger as a middle grade. It was an adjustment to make the shift from writing YA to MG, but I’m so happy writing MG now! I do want to venture back to YA at some point, if I find the right idea.
What are some free or inexpensive resources you use that help you as a writer?
One free website that I like to use to track my progress when I’m drafting or revising is www.pacemaker.press. I like all the ways it lets you customize your plan, and it adjusts if you miss a day. Also, some authors and publishing professionals share fantastic writing tips for free on their website and newsletters: Susan Dennard, Patrice Caldwell, and Erin Bowman, to name a few. Finally, I love listening to writing podcasts like First Draft with Sarah Enni, 88 Cups of Tea, and Deadline City.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
What is your favorite quote?
One of my favorites is, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” - Maya Angelou. I even incorporated it into From the Desk of Zoe Washington!
What are you hoping for in 2021?
I really hope that the COVID-19 vaccine will allow life to return to “normal” sooner rather than later!
Last but certainly not least, how is Zoe doing?
I don’t want to spoil the book by saying too much, but if Zoe were in this pandemic, she’d absolutely use all her extra time at home to bake. In addition to cupcakes and other sweet treats, she’d join in on the bread-baking trend!
Janae Marks is the author of the critically acclaimed novel From the Desk of Zoe Washington and A Soft Place to Land (9/14/21). She grew up in the New York City suburbs, and now lives in Connecticut with her husband and daughter. She has an MFA in Writing for Children from The New School.
Visit Janae online at http://janaemarks.com.
The first time I’d ever heard of the praline ladies was in reading your book. What inspired you to write this story? Do you have a personal connection to it?
I was inspired by the actual praline ladies who sold pralines in New Orleans once upon a time. When I look at the black and white photos of them, I feel a connection that I can’t explain. Sadly, they’re often overlooked in the telling of NOLA praline history. My maternal grandmother was also an inspiration. She owned a shotgun house like the Praline Lady and she also made pralines for me when I was a child.
How long did it take you to write Praline Lady? (Btw, is it PRAY-leen or PRAH-leen?)
In New Orleans we say prah-leen, but in other regions they say pray-leen. I have a friend that calls it pecan candy.
I wrote Praline Lady over a decade ago, but life got in the way and I put it to the side. I would occasionally revisit it and do some edits, but it wasn’t until 2016 I was determined to finish it once and for all.
How difficult was it to distill all your research down into such spare text? What was your process for doing so?
I certainly collected more research than I would ever be able to use, but most importantly, the research helped me to gain a better understanding of what life was like in New Orleans during the 19th century. Once I was able to comfortably inhabit that place, I was confident in telling the story.
You employ literary devices like onomatopoeia masterfully and your text engages all five of the senses throughout the entire story. Would you say this is a hallmark of your writing style?
I do aim to engage all of the senses when writing especially for children so yes, you could say it is a hallmark of my writing style. When the Praline Lady plop, plop, plops the mixture onto the pan, I vividly remember seeing and hearing my Grandmother doing the same, except hers was on wax paper laid out on the counter. That was the best way for me to convey that memory and those sounds. By the way, I still stumble saying “onomatopoeia” sometimes, whereas my fifteen year-old says it effortlessly.
What’s the most surprising thing you learned in your research?
The most surprising thing I learned was that some of these women were able to self-purchase their own freedom or that of their loved ones. That was profound to me. Pralines meant liberty for some of them.
Was there something you had to cut from the text that you really wish you could’ve been able to keep?
I wish we could have included a recipe or some of the black and white photos of the Praline Ladies.
What do you hope readers gain from reading your book?
I hope readers understand that these Black women were entrepreneurs at a time when the odds were stacked against them. They weren’t educated and they didn’t have much, but they’re the reason pralines are interwoven in the fabric of New Orleans food history. This is their legacy and they deserve recognition.
What are you working on next?
I’m revising a middle grade novel and researching a biography picture book topic.
Do you have advice for aspiring authors?
Your talent will make room for you so don’t give up!
Finally—the most important question of the interview: Who makes the best Pralines in New Orleans and how far do they ship?
Well that is a tough question. I always like when friends or colleagues make pralines and share at holiday parties, but for those who aren’t as fortunate I’d recommend Loretta’s Authentic Pralines. Her pralines and especially her beignet pralines are DELICIOUS.
Kirstie resides in the rich cultural city of New Orleans with her family. She enjoys foreign films, visits to the beach, and playing board games. Her debut picture book, PRALINE LADY, was published in November 2020 by Pelican Publishing. Her work has also been featured in Country Roads Magazine.
If you’d like to learn more about Kirstie Myvett please visit her website at kirstiemyvett.com
With the holidays upon us, there are sure to be many opportunities to share wonderful foods with the little ones in our lives. A playful and engaging activity to explore together can be a pause for Mindful Eating. When we are mindful, we are paying attention to experiences with all of our senses, on purpose, with curious interest and care. Here is a 5-minute practice you can try with some favorite festive treats.
There are so many ways to explore! Have fun with this, and notice what you uncover together. We can’t wait to hear all about it!
by Rashmi Bismark, MD, MPH, Mindfulness educator and author of Finding Om
This is such a fun story that required me to actually pause and think because Math isn’t my strength. What inspired you to write this story?
My family has always been a fan of math puzzles, both when I was a kid and later when I became a parent. My son, in particular, loved music and math from when he was very little. So he was my inspiration for writing a picture book involving a math puzzle and featuring a main character who loves music and math.
The Author’s Note is really informative. What type of research did you do for this book?
I researched the history of binary numbers, but the math was already something I knew. The biggest challenge was to break down the concept of binary numbers in a way that made it understandable to those who aren’t familiar with this concept.
Was math your favorite subject?
I would say it was tied with science...and English...and history...and French. I liked school a LOT.
I liked how Bhagat set out to be a musician for the rajah, but something totally unexpected happened instead just when you think all is lost. It’s a great reminder, especially for children, that they possess more than one strength or gift. Tell us how that idea came about and if there were many revisions.
When I first drafted this book, I had Bhagat succeed at becoming a singer for the rajah. But I put this story away for nearly a year, and when I went back to it and revised, I changed the ending. I think this ending occurred to me because I’ve always felt like I had a foot in different worlds...especially as a doctor who writes books for kids. Am I good at science, or at writing? As it turns out, for me the answer is that I’m good at both—and the same is true for everyone, especially kids. Sometimes we can surprise ourselves with our varied talents, and all the different ways in which we can succeed and be happy.
Since the pandemic authors haven’t been able to have normal launch parties. What did you do to celebrate the release of Seven Golden Rings?
I had a virtual launch party with a wonderful local bookstore, the Silver Unicorn Bookstore in Acton, MA!
What are you working on next?
I have five books publishing in 2021! My next book is a middle grade novel in verse, RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE, with Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins in February 2021. It’s set in 1983 and tells the story of 13-year-old Reha, the daughter of Indian immigrants in a small Midwestern city, who feels torn between the world of her parents and community and her school and 1980's pop culture. Then her mother falls ill, and she’s torn in a different way. It’s a story that involves immigration and assimilation, Hindu mythology and 80's pop music, holding on and letting go.
What's the one piece of advice that has helped you as a writer?
Learn how to find the heart of your story. Then, when other people—your critique partners, your agent, or editor—give you feedback, see how this holds up to your intentions for the story. You are the author, and you get to decide what to change in order to serve your story.
Rajani LaRocca was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now lives in the Boston area with her wonderful family and impossibly cute dog. A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Medical School, she spends her time writing novels and picture books when she’s not practicing medicine. Her middle grade debut, Midsummer’s Mayhem (Yellow Jacket/Little Bee Books), an Indian-American mashup of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and competitive baking, was an Indies Introduce selection, an Indie Next pick, a Kirkus Best Middle Grade Book of 2019, and a 2020 Massachusetts Book Award Honor title. Her debut picture book, Seven Golden Rings: A Tale of Music and Math (Lee & Low Books, October 2020) is set in ancient India and involves a math puzzle and an explanation of binary numbers.
If you’d like to learn more about Rajani LaRocca please visit her social media links below!