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!
What I’m wondering is how do you continue to protect children from the over-stimulation of the modern world once they are old enough to be subjected to peer and marketing pressures? There’s a danger surely that under pressure to conform they will succumb to these influences as marketing people no doubt intend.
I don’t think you can protect them entirely. Even when they’re as young as mine they’re bombarded with marketing in the form of backpacks and friends’ toys and conversation about how awesome some cartoon character is. I’m amazed what they pick up at school and from friends.
But we don’t have a TV, so that limits a lot of advertising. We don’t listen to commercial radio. We read a lot, so that the kids learn that quiet pursuits are fulfilling. We do a lot of physical activity for the same reason (yoga, gymnastics, dance, sports). I’m hoping that with that early basis of relatively non-commercial upbringing, plus some critical thinking skills and an awareness of how marketers are trying to manipulate them, they’ll stand a chance of resisting some of those pressures.
This sounds brilliant. Wish I’d heard about it before Christmas. I have a 5 year old granddaughter and have become concerned recently that she seems incapable of being calm, quiet, or contemplative. She is surrounded by so many stimuli and “things to do”. She often gets over-excited and ungrounded. So I’ve been pondering how to help her discover the value of quiet and stillness. And concentrating fully on just one thing at a time.
Thanks for the review. Will get hold of it anyway, even though Christmas has passed this time round.
I was regretful that I left the review so late :(
Maybe re-post this review come mid-November when folks start thinking about Christmas again?
I’m going to get hold of the book anyway. It might be OK for reading at other times of year, I guess.
Have you come across any other books about helping children to appreciate the experience of calm / stillness / concentration? There must be some out there, mustn’t there?
Have just bought this for my grand-daughter. Love it. Think she will too. Can’t wait for Christmas day to read it with her.
Just to repeat my suggestion that you re-post this review now (early Nov) giving people time to get it in time for this Christmas.