Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda

A book about mindfulness for children? Yes, please.

As we continue our journey toward being more mindful and embracing our emotions in healthy ways rather than pushing them away, my daughter and I are reading many more books about this practice. It’s such a different way of life from most Western families, so at first it feels really foreign—even after practicing meditation together for years! Anger is one thing that our family can regularly do—we just have not necessarily handled it very well, until now.

A lovely book about mindfulness for children is Lauren Alderfer’s Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda. We have previously learned about mindfulness from the panda Stillwater in the books Zen Shorts and Zen Ties by Jon J. Muth, but this book goes a bit farther. Instead of engrossing us in a story—which was wonderful in the Muth books, mind you—Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda actually walks us through the practice of mindfulness, explicitly explaining how to do this every day.

Monkey approaches Panda and asks how the animal is able to stay both happy and calm every day. The book does not use “he” or “she,” but merely Monkey and Panda, which I absolutely love. There’s no gender segregation or implied wisdom from one sex to another, and the book can easily apply to any audience. Panda tells Monkey that being happy and calm come when you live now—not tomorrow or yesterday. Panda eats, sleeps, works, and plays, and though Monkey does these things, too, Monkey thinks about other things while doing them (for example, eating while working). Panda tells monkey that to be happy and calm, you only think about what you are doing right then and there, all of the time, and Monkey loves that so much that Monkey decides to do the same thing right then and there.

My daughter immediately asked if we could buy this book, since I borrowed it via interlibrary loan, and to read it again. I think it was worth the loan just for that! But I also love this approach and it’s simple enough for both kids and adults to learn from it. If our culture was just a bit more mindful, I think it could do us all a lot of good. In the meantime, I’m going to be mindful today by eating only while eating—not while working or reading, as I normally do. You have to start with baby steps!

Soul Thief

It’s not what I expected.

Reading The Demon Trapper’s Daughter was so much fun. While it wasn’t my favorite book of the year, it was extremely enjoyable and I couldn’t put it down. That’s why when I read the second book in the series, Soul Thief, I was left so confused.

I just don’t get it. Where is the adventurous, take no prisoners trapper in training we came to love in the first book? In this book, it felt like Riley was simply whining over Simon not being affectionate enough with her. And when he finally tells her to leave, she claims she’s not giving up on him.

What was that? Not giving up on him? Because I distinctly remember a Riley who had been burned by not one boyfriend but two—well, one plus Beck—who had certainly learned not to waste her time with boys who do not treat her right. And okay, so Simon was hurt; she did give up her entire freedom to make a deal with Heaven to save his life, after all. Why not tell him that? Why go all noble on a boy who is so religious that he’ll probably worship you like a saint if you told him your angelic experience firsthand? Nope, instead we’ll help make him even more suspicious. There wasn’t nearly as much action to be had in two, either, which I missed.

Then, by the end of book two, Riley has been made a fool yet again, this time by a fallen angel! And to make matters worse, this ultimate betrayal was followed by plenty of criticism and double standards from Beck, who sleeps around with every girl under the sun. The first book was so filled with Riley’s badassery that I honestly did not see this “How could you do this!” crap from Beck coming. Where’s Riley’s independence? Where’s the acknowledgement that it’s highly ironic for Beck the Tramp to be condemning Riley’s single sexual experience?

After reading book three, it becomes apparent enough—but Riley’s guilt in the situation still remains, despite knowing of Beck’s own exploits. And book three also nearly makes up for these situations in book two, but Soul Thief remains a mystery, particularly when sorting out the storyline. I’ll continue reading the series for sure—I definitely want to know where it’s going and what will become of Riley and Beck—but this second installment seriously felt out of place in regards to the first.

So-Called Self-Help Gurus are So Annoying

Annoying, in this case, means arrogant, self-righteous slime balls.

I used to be a huge fan of self-help paths. Whether it was confidence or body image, artistry or writing, or anything in between, I’d go buy the book and give it a try, hoping it would better my life. I have to say that many of these programs really did help me. They are what you put into them for sure, and books like The Artist’s Way and The Four Agreements really aided me in getting through tough times and becoming a stronger person and writer.

However, once I started to get to know self-help authors (not the above ones, mind you)—whether via work, free teleclasses they offered, or otherwise—I came to realize that most of what I was being fed was sheer bull. Much of it was simply the same stuff passed on and re-written as something new (much like many people have complained about The Secret simply being The Law of Attraction).

Many of these people were complete frauds. Some thought they were really helping others when their messages were quite the contrary. Some hired others to do their work and simply took credit for it—and while I know that ghostwriting is “all the rage” these days, with even YA lit writers and James Patterson taking advantage of it, if I buy something, I want it to come straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak (especially if it costs big bucks). And as a professional writer, I think that anyone who does engage in ghostwriting should both A. share his or her profits fairly for the material sold, and B. provide credit for the writing completed. I can hear the ghostwriters among us chuckling already; that’s not going to happen.

These people, these so-called experts who claim to know how to live better than you do, and will diagnose you and your family with anything they can to get you on board without even knowing you—without even speaking to a person!—also have similar irritating habits. One that I’ve noticed is how they try to trick you all of the time with their wording, their empty promises, and their sales pages. They lie; that’s no surprise. But they also condense their writing into narrow paragraphs to make it seem shorter so you’ll continue reading, which is just incredibly annoying to anyone who reads for pleasure or to even get news. I have discussed this with several other writers, and we’ve all unsubscribed from any and all newsletters that are designed in this dumb-you-down fashion.

They also make the same stupid noises. Have you noticed this? It’s usually a noise like “Mmmm,” like they’re buzzing bugs, or maybe savoring a piece of cake; sometimes, however, it’s “Ahhh,” or, also often, “I love that!” Ugh. Be original, will you? And stop buzzing in my ear.

Snow White, Blood Red

Having recently finished another collection of short stories by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, I must confess that it is not my favorite. That’s okay; they’ve all been enjoyable so far, and this one is no exception. It seems to me, though, that while Snow White, Blood Red promised to be a lush, provocative set of tales, it ended up being more flesh than fairy, with many tales simply lacking magic at all. Though all were well written, not many had that fantastic element of otherworldliness that I had come to expect from these editors. Even the cover of this book—though you should never judge a book by its cover!—sort of annoyed me, as it didn’t seem to pertain to the rest of it very well.

Some of the tales you will encounter in the book do remind us of familiar fairytales we know—and those are the ones that I always love most, the ones that spin stories I know into a whole new direction. An updated version of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” for example, details Jack as an adulterer with a giantess—definitely not something we’d pictured before. In a telling of “Puss in Boots,” Puss is something altogether different from a cat—a gargoyle? A vampire? We never know for sure, making this dark tale one of the best in the book. A retelling of “Red Riding Hood” is quite chilling, though a supernatural element may or may not be at hand; subtlety is often a theme in these stories. Another favorite of mine is early in the book, in which a witch’s garden holds a magical secret that dooms both her and her daughter.

Many of the tales hardly seem fanciful at all, however. In a retelling of “The Snow Queen,” for example, though the prose itself seems magical, the story itself reads more like The Great Gatsby. It’s possibly one of the most well written in the bunch, but it just didn’t have the magic element that I had hoped for after reading so many compilations from these editors. The “Rapunzel” story doesn’t seem very different from the version I am familiar with at all, and its magic was at a minimum—though I did enjoy the ending. And while the futuristic telling of “Snow White” was disturbing—even chilling—I felt like its connection to the tale was loose at best, and that there was little magic to be had in the story at all.

If you are a fan of these compilations, I would say read it; it’s still worth it because of the good stories (all are good, really; it’s just that not all feel like fairytales) that are within the book. I just would not recommend this as a first book in the vast collections available, as it doesn’t do the others justice.