When my daughter strolled in from middle school and told me she was planning on staying after for a meditation class the next day, I almost choked on my green tea. Don’t get me wrong: I was thrilled. But I was also shocked. The year before she had rolled her eyes at the silliness of mindfulness exercises her elementary school practiced together. The word “mindfulness” became tinged with a layer of uncool that I was sure could not be scraped away. In fact, it seemed to give cooties to anything remotely related. Meditation and yoga were most definitely lumped into a ball with it and avoided at all costs.
But when a teacher who was decidedly cool wanted to teach her students some methods she used, throwing in yoga poses and calming lavender oil, my daughter was suddenly an enthusiastic convert. The new book This Moment Is Your Life (And So Is This One) by Mariam Gates has a similar power.
Self-improvement books can be a tricky category for the middle grade group. Tweens and teens are balancing on that slippery line between wanting to be independent and make choices for themselves (which makes most adults and anything they might teach decidedly uncool) and wanting to know they’re unconditionally loved and understood. Somehow, Gates manages to navigate This Moment Is Your Life (And So Is This One) perfectly through those murky waters.
The format of the book puts the power squarely in the reader’s hands: It’s broken up into different chapters on mindfulness, yoga, breathing, and meditation and designed to allow kids to bounce around and focus on what most interests them (no stodgy rules here!). The chapters include Try It exercises that quickly demonstrate what Gates is describing as well as Tool Kits that provide more in-depth techniques. The final chapter is made up of a series of 5-day Mindfulness Challenges to help readers practice the new techniques they’ve learned about and find ways to incorporate them into their day-to-day lives.
Gates’s writing is simple and straightforward and never underestimates the smarts of her reader. She explains things like mindfulness and the mind/body connection in a way that not only makes sense, but that relates to feelings and urges her reader is sure to understand (like being nervous about something at school or feeling tied to your phone). She also includes short blurbs from kids that help to illustrate the feelings she discusses.
Equally important and helpful are the illustrations by Libby VanderPloeg that are sprinkled throughout This Moment Is Your Life (And So Is This One). Playful and bursting with color, they breathe life into the book and ensure that it never feels boring. They add visual interest while building on the text. Featuring a diverse cast of girls and boys, the illustrations add a surge of coolness that will grab hold of readers that are somewhat reluctant and draw them right in — kind of like the cool teacher looking to share something fun with her students.
I won’t tell my daughter this (I’m trying to make sure mindfulness doesn’t get dumped back into the uncool zone), but I learned from and loved this book just as much as middle grade readers will. I’m hoping to work through the Challenges section with her this summer. I’ll just have to remember to let her be the cool guide while I fall into the role of the bumbling student.