Joy Talks Mindfulness with Susan Verde, author of I AM ONE

Article by Joy

The second I read Susan Verde’s biography, I knew she was someone I had to interview. Admittedly the fact that we were arranging virtual school visits for her worked its way in there, but mostly it was my own fascination with how her life translated into her books. She writes about mindfulness a lot, and as someone who keeps trying to develop a more consistent relationship with yoga, I was drawn in by that, too. Her new book in particular, I AM ONE - well, I believe in the power of one person to make a difference, so that pulled me, too. In any case, I was thrilled to get to sit down laptop to laptop and chat. Here’s what Susan Verde had to say about life, writing for children, yoga practice and more!

Joy Preble: I love your mindfulness series, and in particular this new title, I AM ONE. The idea of the difference that one person can make always resonates, but particularly now… Can you talk a bit about the series in general and its inspirations and about what inspired this book in particular?

Susan Verde: Thank you for such kind words! The I Am series actually began with the one book I Am Yoga. The intention at that point was not to create a series but just a book about yoga for kids, as I am a children’s yoga and mindfulness teacher in addition to writing. When I sat down to write I Am Yoga it was important to me that it be a book about how yoga makes us feel like we can manage our worlds and opens us up to creativity and joy as opposed to an instructional book. Once that story was out in the world it only seemed natural to follow it up with mindfulness and then all of the other topics of self-care and self-love and how to care for others. As a former teacher and a current mom, I see kids struggling with the stressors of the world and not seeing good examples of how to care of themselves and also treat each other with kindness. Kids need these tools to feel good in the world and have compassion and empathy for others. As the series grew, it seemed there were more and more messages kids needed to hear. I Am One is meant to show kids (of all ages) that they can make the world a better place and that even the smallest gesture is meaningful and can lead to something bigger. Sometimes children feel like they don’t have a voice or are powerless to make a difference. I wanted them to know they are important and powerful.  

JP: So very true - and often hard to remember sometimes when you’re little and the world has gone topsy turvy. Or even when you’re a grown-up! So thank you for these fabulous books. And speaking of wonderful things, I’ve read that your collaboration with the fabulous Peter Reynolds - who is the perfect partner for your work - came about differently than the usual ‘publisher picks one for you.’ Can you spill that story for us?

SV: Peter is brilliant and it is a complete joy to work with him, our meeting was total serendipity and actually inspired one of our books You and Me by the way. I had been writing and writing and had this great big stack of manuscripts but had no idea what to do next. My friend and fellow author (whose son was my kindergarten student), Emma Walton Hamilton runs the Children’s Literature Conference every summer near my home. I asked her for advice, and she suggested I take the picture book workshop. I took it twice and the second time Peter H Reynolds was the teacher. I was already a HUGE fan, so it was very exciting! I was also asked to be his assistant as I had attended the workshop the year before. I was a terrible assistant BUT a very good student. One of the perks was showing Peter our work and when we sat down together, he pulled out a poem I had written called The Museum and said, “This is a book and I will be very upset if someone else illustrates it.” After pinching myself multiple times, we spent the next 6 months creating a dummy (on file cards) and sold our book to Abrams and the rest is history. I never take for granted that I was incredibly fortunate to begin my career as an author this way. I tell everyone just keep showing up and going to things and sharing your work. You never know! 

JP: So true! As a writer myself when I’m not doing the bookstore job, I know that so much of what we do is that strange combination of luck and work. But working with Peter certainly sounds idyllic. And moving on to other delightful-sounding parts of your life, one thing that leaped out at me while reading your bio is that you grew up in a Brownstone filled with books and mocha chip pies in Greenwich Village, and spent your time roller skating with your skate key around your neck - which essentially is my fantasy childhood.  Did your idyllic sounding childhood influence your work in any way? Or is it your own children? Or your years teaching and your yoga practice? Or?

SV: Ha! I wouldn’t dare to say everything about my childhood was idyllic at all. I was a child who had a lot of challenges, but the backdrop of the village and my neighborhood were definitely big influences on my view of the world and certainly on my writing. I grew up in an incredibly diverse community on all levels. People of color, LGBTQ+ people, neurodiverse people…it was a place where we all saw each other and were supportive of one another. It was filled with artists and actors, musicians, writers and incredibly creative people. And yes, I guess that does sound idyllic but it just was what was and of course what should be. My childhood friendships and neighborhood and our connection as humans certainly have influenced how I write and what I choose to write about. I would say in addition, that my own struggles with anxiety and the challenges my kindergarten students and my own children face also influence my work and of course so do the yoga and mindfulness. It’s a big melting pot of influences but at the core of it all I just hope to do my part helping kids feel seen and heard and full of love for themselves. Perhaps though I should write about the roller skating one day! Can you believe there were once keys for skates?

JP: I can indeed believe - because I had a pair of slip onto the bottom of your shoes skates myself! Back in the day indeed!  And skating to other matters, what’s a day in the current life of Susan Verde like? (Pandemic or non-pandemic version or both!)

SV: Pre and post pandemic daily life have a lot in common. Typically, I wake up and meditate and reflect and write in my gratitude journal. I feel like this has been so helpful for me mentally during this time especially. I have a lot of worries and anxiety and when I get overwhelmed, remembering all there is to be grateful for puts things in perspective and helps a great deal. I then do some exercise and yoga. I like to get that movement in right away to clear my head first thing so I can face the day with a good foundation. Then it’s work time. I set aside 2-3 hours every day for writing and work-related activities. I used to work out of the house at a local coffee shop because home can be distracting but I have obviously adjusted and made it clear to my 3 teens that they can’t interrupt my work time. Luckily, they are teens, so they are often still sleeping when I sit down to write. The rest of my day is spent being mom. That means I am a driver, a rule maker, a rule breaker, a chef, a housekeeper, one who says no but can usually be talked into saying yes and managing all of the other stuff that goes into running a house and caring for my complex and interesting and infuriating and wonderful teens as a single mother. Pre-pandemic I had a lot of school visits and travel which I absolutely love and miss terribly but thank goodness for online platforms. My kids and I were big travelers and I hope one day we will be able to do that again. I see friends, my mother who lives close by and make sure I get to the beach with the dog every day. He’s pretty happy about all of us being home. Sometimes I feed my son’s pet snake! 

JP: The beach every day! Glorious. Our beach here is at least an hour away. But I totally get the life  multi-tasking. It’s a journey for sure. 

Besides your own books, what are some other books for young children that are your favorites and why?

SV: There are so many wonderful books out there and I am constantly buying new ones and looking to the fabulous teachers and librarians for the latest recommendations. I could give you a long list but just to name a few…anything by Peter H Reynold’s of course. Not because I am bias but really because the messages in his books are so important. The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson. Any book by Amy Krause Rosenthal. Love by Matt de la Pena, Anti-racist Baby by Ibram X Kendi. Andrea Beatty’s books in the Questioner’s series. I could go on and on. What I ultimately recommend is that people read a variety of books, ones in which they see themselves and in in which they see others. Read the funny and the serious and the loving. We need to hear all voices and perspectives. 

JP: Those are some phenomenal choices! And as for Susan Verde books, what’s coming next for you?

SV: Well, as you know the next in the I Am series has just come out. It’s called I Am One: A Book of Action and there will be more to follow. I also have another in my “feel good fairytales” series out in spring The Tossy-Turny Princess and the Pesky Pea illustrated by Jay Fleck. And I have a wonderful book I have co-authored with writer Courtney Sheinmel called Thank you, Love Sallie Bee illustrated by Heather Ross. It is a book about gratitude and also a little guide to writing a thank you note, which seems to be a lost art that we need to get back.  There are many things “in the pipeline” so I will keep everyone posted for sure! 

JP: Ooh! Very exciting! Love Courtney Sheinmel’s work, so I’m definitely looking forward to that collaboration! Thank you so much, Susan!!!

For more information on Susan Verde (who will be doing virtual school visits for us next week!), click here: https://www.susanverde.com

This interview has been edited for clarity.

I Am One: A Book of Action Cover Image
By Susan Verde, Peter H. Reynolds (Illustrator)
$14.99
ISBN: 9781419742385
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 7-10 Days due to Covid-19 shipping delays.
Published: Harry N. Abrams - September 15th, 2020

I Am Yoga Cover Image
By Susan Verde, Peter H. Reynolds (Illustrator)
$14.95
ISBN: 9781419716645
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 7-10 Days due to Covid-19 shipping delays.
Published: Harry N. Abrams - September 8th, 2015

I Am Love: A Book of Compassion Cover Image
By Susan Verde, Peter H. Reynolds (Illustrator)
$14.99
ISBN: 9781419737268
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Harry N. Abrams - September 17th, 2019

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