Review: Jewish Mindfulness for Kids

Jewish Mindfulness for Kids

by Blanca Sissa, illustrated by Camila Carrossine

Kar-Ben Publishing (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group), 2024

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Jeff Gottesfeld

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I often say that it is harder for a person to get from zero to one than from one to a hundred. I'd add that it's hard to accomplish anything in life without the ability to sit quietly for ten minutes, even if that accomplishment is free climbing El Capitan. This is a book with a purpose: to help Jewish kids find a Jewish path into sitting quietly, breathing, and being in a mindful moment of not looking backward or forward. The text sets out the problem -- too much going on in everyone's brains, including kids' brains -- and that there is a tradition of "yishuv hada'at" (quiet, calm awareness) in Judaism. Then, Sissa and Carrossine teach kids how to get to it, Jewishly, with focus on the breath, Jewishly. Those methods of focus go through the lens of Jewish food, blowing the shofar, and walking slowly through the desert. 
The illustrations are bright, inviting, and relaxing. In what has now become the admirable and enviable modern Jewish kidlit mainstream, Carrossine's art depicts the broadest possible spectrum of Jewish children, men and women. Everyone is represented. And in what may be a kidlit first, there's a QR code on the back flap that takes the reader to a video of the author (and "yoga master") guiding in Jewish mindfulness. Slick. 
The book might encounter some reflexive blowback in choice of using monkeys to depict wildness (see Edie Campbell's "The Problem with Picture Book Monkeys" in School Library Journal, December 9, 2019), but Sissa has a completely different intent: the idea of the unhelpful "monkey mind" is a mainstay of mindfulness practice, and has its roots in ancient Eastern meditative philosophy. For the right audience, at the right time, this book is absolutely perfect.

Jewish representation in this title is solid. There's a strong effort by the author and illustrator to tie mindfulness practice to Judaism and Jewish tradition, and the focus in on Jewish kids finding their way into mindfulness. This doesn't broaden the appeal in any way, but the specificity makes it a natural title for Jewish settings like schools and camps. 

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Reviewer Jeff Gottesfeld writes for stage, page, and screen. He is the author (with illustrations by Michelle Agatha) of the Sydney Taylor Honor title THE CHRISTMAS MITZVAH (Creston, 2021), and the Christopher award title FOOD FOR HOPE, again with Agatha, (Creston, 2023).