KidLit in Color authors Kirstie Myvett and Rashmi Bismark sit down with fellow member Tina Athaide to discuss her new book, Meena's Mindful Moment.
What inspired you to write Meena’s Mindful Moment?
Meena's Mindful Moment is inspired from visits to Goa, India when I was a child. In the afternoons, my grandfather and I walked through the village and visited some of the same places that Meena goes with her grandfather. I brought my own imaginary hurly-burly hullabaloo on those walks and Grandpa patiently welcomed it on our adventures.
The idea of a young child being scolded isn't usually explored in picture books. You have a scene where the villagers wag their fingers and shake their nets to show they are frustrated with Meena. Why did you choose to include that scene?
I have been a special education teacher for thirty years. Every year, I have students who share Meena's exuberance. Their behaviors are well intended, but not always viewed that way. Meena represents that group of students and shows them that they are not alone. It shows them that there is someone else like them who understands how they are feeling.
As Meena connects with calm, she meets a sense of her own agency. She learns how to use her attention and breath to relate with her Hullabaloo energy. She remembers she can guide her body, feet, and mind. Do you or your students enjoy any mindful yoga practices in particular?
I work with students in TK all the way to grade 12 and a phrase I use with all of them is "finding our calm place". In Ian Wright's book, Dynamics of Stillness, he explores ways to bring the nervous system to a state of quiet. Our school environments are hectic and can be over stimulating at times. I use mindful yoga practices to help my students find their "calm place" or state of quiet.
We close our eyes, which helps block what is happening around us and calm our energy.
We take deep breaths, like Meena and Dada, to shift our focus on ourselves and allow our bodies the space to settle.
When we are shifting from one subject to another (i.e. math to science), we will incorporate some yoga stretches, which wakes up our bodies and gives our brains that break it craves. My students love the strength of warrior pose and the challenge to maintain their balance in tree pose.
It is all about teaching my students how to take their awareness of their bodies back to a place where they feel stillness and quiet. It is what Meena does when she guides her Hullabaloo energy.
This is your first picture book. What was that process like in comparison to your middle-grade book Orange for the Sunsets?
A picture book is so different from a MG because the words are only half of the story. I was very lucky that the team at Page Street invited me to be a part of the book-making process. My daughter and I even picked the image for the hurly-burly hullabaloo character.
The illustrations by Åsa Gilland are vibrant and fun. Tell us about your illustrations and what it was like working with Asa on this project.
Åsa’s art is incredible and she captured the spirit and soul of my characters. It was important to me that the people and culture were portrayed accurately and Åsa made that a priority, too.
What are you working on next?
I love taking kids on a journey to other countries. I am working on a picture book set in La Fontainhas--a colorful colonial neighborhood in Goa--and a middle-grade story set in London in the early 1970s.