As children’s book authors who are also parents, we have read perhaps every children’s book under the sun about mindfulness and breathing. A while back, our six-year-old announced: “No more books about breathing. Breathing is BORING!” Shortly after that he was sitting at the dining room table with his crayons and asked us how to spell “breathing.” Cleaning up later we discovered he made a sign that said “B-R-E-A-T-H-I-N-G” in his crayon scrawl, inside a large red circle with a slash through it.
The moral of that story is that perhaps the best mindfulness lessons are, well, subtle. With that, we offer our list of breathing-free contemporary kids books that manage to include lessons about mindfulness without being explicitly about mindfulness.
1) The Silver Button by Bob Graham
Bob Graham’s simple story recounts events happening simultaneously during a single minute in a child’s life. At 9:59 a.m., a silver button is placed on a doll’s boot, a baby is born, a jogger puffs by, and more. Both of our kids adore the cartoony illustrations and visual repetition in the detailed images as they zoom out from a single bedroom to a neighborhood to a cityscape to the ocean and beyond. The book elegantly demonstrates interconnection, as well as how much there is to notice when we pause, become present, and truly pay attention to the moment.
2) Big Tree Down! by Laurie Lawlor
Looking for a mindfulness book that also includes heavy machinery? This is the book for you! While Big Tree Down! may be more about heartfulness than mindfulness at first glance, after a few reads, many lessons about connection, compassion, impermanence, and the senses shine through. A storm knocks down a big tree and the neighborhood comes together to treasure the day. They watch the workers cart the tree away and restore the power. Neighbors swap stories about Big Tree over melting ice cream and continue to gather in the same spot as the years pass.
3) Leaves by David Ezra Stein
A friend gave us this simple board book when our son was born. It is the story of a bear exploring the forest and hibernating as the seasons change. What resonated for us was how much the book reminded us of the mountain and lake imagery from Jon Kabat Zinn’s books and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) courses. Stein’s book manages to touch on acceptance, change, equanimity, wonder, and growing up all in just a few sparse pages.
4) The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood
We don’t even know how we discovered The Quiet Book, but it quickly rose to the top of the list of books that can be enjoyed over and over by adults and kids alike. Such books are rare. This is essentially an adorably illustrated list of different types of quiet moments. Have you ever noticed the nuances of different types of quiet? When we slow down and pay attention, we realize that “first one awake quiet” really is different from “first snowfall quiet” or “hide-and-seek quiet.” You will notice quiet in new ways long after you close the book.
5) Tiny, Perfect Things by M.H. Clark
We definitely judged this book by its cover: It is strikingly beautiful inside and out. The illustrations are a big part of the magic of this book, as is the invitation to interact with the book as a little girl and her grandfather walk through the neighborhood looking for “tiny, perfect things.” Simply enjoying each other’s company and discovering everyday beauty is itself a mindful appreciation practice. By the end of the almost hypnotic book, our kids’ eyes are wide as they silently search the last foldout page for all the perfect things the girl and her grandfather discovered along their journey.
6) The Sound of Silence by Katrina Goldsaito
Julia Kuo’s illustrations perfectly complement Katrina Goldsaito’s words in the story of a boy searching for absolute silence in today’s busy Tokyo. After enjoying the sounds of the world, and “ma,” the silence between the sounds, he eventually discovers that silence was there all along.
7) Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
Jane Yolen, perhaps better known in our household for her rowdy How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?, takes a markedly different turn here. Owl Moon highlights the simple act of walking quietly through the woods at night. Yolen establishes a kind of gravitas in the child’s adventure while capturing the excitement about being old enough to go on a special voyage. One can feel the moment-to-moment sensory and emotional awareness acutely as a child and his father walk through snowy woods in search of owls. Walking quietly, careful not to stir the animals, or make a sound, takes intense concentration and patience, and similar memories of walking in nature resonate deeply with me (Chris) when I teach mindful walking. As the child anticipates finding an owl, the story also reminds us about the joy of taking one’s time, avoiding shortcuts, and sharing fleeting moments of wonder. After all, that is the only way to see an owl.