Gail Silver’s fourth picture book, Mindful Bea and the Worry Tree, came out April 16 with Magination Press, the American Psychological Association’s children’s book imprint. Gail lives in Philadelphia, and when she’s not writing picture books she is running Yoga Child Inc. and The School Mindfulness Project.
Anna: Thanks for being here Gail—and congratulations on Bea! Can I offer you a little something to drink this morning?
Gail: Thanks so much, Anna! I’m thrilled to be here with you, and I’d love an herbal tea. A Chamomile with a slice of lemon should do the trick.
Anna: Great. I’m going to go with a little green tea—Genmaicha is my go-to these days!
If it’s okay, by way of introduction, I’d like to share the story of how you and I first met.
Gail: Yes, please do! My mind’s eye remembers everything about that day as clearly as if I had captured it on film.
Anna: I’ll go for broad strokes since it’s more of a blur for me!
So: thirteen years ago, I was eight and a half months pregnant with my second child. I had a toddler underfoot and my husband in the hospital with a ruptured appendix and sepsis, when I learned that my new baby was sunny-side-up, meaning I was going to have back labor. Back labor had been just the tip of the iceberg with my first daughter’s traumatic birth, so I freaked.
A friend sent me to Gail for help. She came right to my house and taught me yoga poses and breathing techniques for back labor. More than that, though, she gave me a sense of my own capability at a moment when everything felt very much out of control. And that gift, I think, is the same gift that she shares with children in her picture books.
Gail: I just got goose bumps. Thank you, Anna.
Anna: Thank YOU, Gail!
So, who is Bea, and how did she enter your life?
Gail: Sure. Bea is the heroic protagonist of Mindful Bea and the Worry Tree, but by design, she’s intended to represent any child who experiences anxiety, which according to the CDC, is about 4.4 million kids in America alone. What I admire about Bea, though, is that she has faced her worries enough times to know that she can use the power of mindfulness to overcome her anxiety. And although her mom is nearby and supportive, Bea really does the hard work on her own, which in my mind, makes her more of a warrior than a worrier.
Bea came into my life in response to seeing people I care about struggle with anxiety. Anyone who knows me knows that one of my central life-tenets is that mindfulness (when applied regularly) can make nearly anything feel easier. If Bea can help a child struggling with anxiety while also breaking down the stigma that so often isolates young warrior-worriers, then she’s done what she set out to do.
Anna: That’s a great goal! Your first three books also introduce kids to mindfulness practices. Can you tell us a little bit about the relationship between your books and your “day jobs” with Yoga Child Inc. and The School Mindfulness Project?
Gail: Sure, I’d love to! Thanks so much for asking about this.
Anh’s Anger, Steps and Stones, and Peace, Bugs, and Understanding have been incorporated into the curricula of both of these organizations for the purpose of helping to integrate mindfulness practice into classroom life.
Yoga Child is a Philadelphia-based organization and a registered children’s yoga school that has been providing school-based yoga in Philadelphia classrooms since 2003. When Yoga Child trains yoga teachers to teach its curriculum, instructors are taught how to integrate the books into their yoga classes. For example, if the yoga theme of the day is self-expression, a Yoga Child teacher might reserve time to read Anh’s Anger to the class as a way to help students self-regulate using the practice of sitting meditation; or if addressing bullying and kindness, then they might employ Steps and Stones as a guide for walking meditation or Peace, Bugs, and Understanding to facilitate the practice of friendliness meditation. The endgame is that the books provide a road map for the related practices that follow.
Their use in The School Mindfulness Project (SMP) is similar, however SMP is a nonprofit that provides sustainable yoga and mindfulness programming to whole schools, fully supporting both teachers and students and working exclusively with underserved schools. Its mission is to improve school climate and enhance the physical, social, and academic well-being of entire school communities by engaging every body and every mind in that school. Every classroom in each school receives a gift copy of each book so that after SMP educators teach the lesson that highlights the skill that comes alive in that particular story, students can easily return to the book and the practice again and again, without being dependent on the presence of their mindfulness educator.
Anna: Are there ways that your books connect or teach differently from your other work?
Gail: This question deserves an emphatic “Yes!” It’s really something that I love to talk about. I think narrative is one of the most meaningful ways to impart a lesson or inspire a new skill, possibly because engaging with a protagonist provides just enough distance to allow a young reader to identify with the character and their obstacle without becoming overwhelmed by the issue at hand. Young readers might recall the story and the steps for managing a particular emotion simply by remembering or revisiting the images and the depiction of the character’s journey. Books also have the perk of finding their way into the hands of children who might not be able to enjoy a yoga and mindfulness class or who might not have a therapist to help them through their anxiety. It always makes my heart sing to read a review by a grown-up explaining how a child or student has come to make a beeline for the bookshelf in order to manage their emotions along with Anh and his Anger.
Anna: It seems that you have a really clear platform that has evolved organically and that you’ve found niche publishers who are a really great fit. Can you talk a bit about the publishers you’ve worked with and what that process has been like?
Gail: Thanks, Anna! I’m incredibly grateful that the fit has been right each time, which definitely helps support that “organically evolving platform.” I’m fortunate in that Parallax Press, the publisher of Anh’s Anger, Steps and Stones, and Peace, Bugs, and Understanding, has a built-in audience of mindfulness devotees. And now I’m sort of doubly blessed in that Magination Press, as the children’s book division of the American Psychological Association, will publicize Mindful Bea and the Worry Tree to psychologists across the country for use in their professional practice.
If you visit the “About” page of gailsilver.com, you can find a sort of ironic account of the phone call I received from Parallax Press in 2007 when then-Editor Rachel Neumann introduced herself before gently asking if I might want to publish Anh’s Anger with them. “Um, yes, please!” Being a mindfulness practitioner, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to publish with an organization where the staff begins each workday with group mindfulness practice. When practicing regularly, the benefits of the practice extend to those you interact with, so I sort of saw myself as a lucky beneficiary of their dedication to the practice. There are other perks of working with a niche press too, like being involved in choosing an illustrator and being invited to sign books at Book Expo America in NYC where you can find yourself sitting starstruck beside Mo Willems and Jon Muth, barely able to concentrate on your own signature.
When Mindful Bea needed a home, I wondered if she and I might be ready for a more mainstream press, especially since mindfulness was becoming “trendy” and childhood anxiety was becoming increasingly prevalent on social media and in the world at large. It took just one afternoon at a publishing conference for me to learn I should wonder no more. “This book needs a niche press,” I was told by more than one industry professional, and so I went home to my publishing roots. I knew about Magination Press from the exquisite job they had done with Lauren Rubenstein’s Visiting Feelings, and after talking with Lauren, I crossed my fingers that Magination might want to do the same with Bea. I’m thankful they saw in Bea what I did, and that, like Parallax, they solicited my input from early edits right up to choosing the artistry of Franziska Höllbacher. I’m as thrilled with Magination and Franzi as I am with Parallax and illustrators Christiane Krömer and Youme Ly.
Anna: Thanks so much for sharing your story and your work, Gail. Your niche is such an important one, and your publishing history is so fascinating. Congrats, again, on Bea!!