“The Christmas Quiet Book” by Deborah Underwood & Renata Liwska
Are you sitting comfortably? Have you silenced all the alarms on your computer and phone? Have you closed all other windows or switched your browser to full screen mode? Have you taken three full breaths, closed your eyes, and spent a few minutes quietly listening to the world around you? No? OK, go do that now…
I adore Ms. Underwood’s books. So does my six-year-old daughter and, to a lesser extent, my four-year-old son. My wife’s a big fan, too. Underwood writes a lot of different kinds of children’s book, but those that I suspect are most popular are those she’s least known for: The Sugar Plum Ballerinas books, which are nominally by Whoopi Goldberg, but which in fact are written by Deborah Underwood. These books are so well-written that dad is always pushing the kids so that he can go back and catch up on the two chapters he missed when it was mom’s turn to put them to bed.
This isn’t a review of the Sugar Plum Ballerinas books, but I’d just like to note that I found myself wondering if Underwood was a meditator, given how good she is at describing the physical sensations of emotion (and if you don’t get the connection, read this article). The reflective nature of The Christmas Quiet book, and its predecessor, The Quiet Book, reinforces Underwood’s meditative aura (actually, she is not only a meditator, but is a fan of Wilmdind — I asked her).
As I wrote of her earlier “Quiet” children’s book, Underwood “creates a space of stillness in which children’s imagination and attention can grow.” That’s true of the new book as well, especially given the snowy Christmas settings of many of the vignettes that illustrate the many kinds of quiet that normally slip by us unnoticed. There’s an old Buddhist saying that what we repeatedly turn our attention to becomes the inclination of the mind, and by focusing children’s attention on quiet, they will learn to appreciate silence and stillness. This is a kind of contemplative children’s picture book.
Thus we have Searching for Presents Quiet, Getting Caught Quiet, Hoping for a Snow Day Quiet, and Bundled Up Quiet — in all, 29 forms of quiet. As you’ll have picked up from the few examples given, there are storylines connecting some of the vignettes, and the illustrations reinforce those storylines, helping us to see how one kind of quiet can flow into another.
The illustrations themselves are charming, with a dramatis personae of various fluffy and not so fluffy animals, from bunnies to iguanas (but even the iguana seems cuddly, somehow). The drawings are varied, evocative, and emotionally expressive. The crouching bunny in “Shattered Ornament Quiet” is a study in shame and anxiety, while the skating owl in “Skating Quiet” exudes quiet confidence. The varying emotional tone of the images will surely help children to slow down and empathetically enter the world of the characters.
This is an adorable book. If you have children up to the age of six, and you’d like to encourage them to pause more, be more introspective, to empathize more, and to be quiet, I’d highly recommend The Christmas Quiet Book.
PS. The Sugar Plum Ballerinas rock!