Here and Now: A Picture Book Meditation on How to Live Life More Fully Present
Written by Julia Denos, Illustrated by E.B. Goodale
Published by Candlewick Press, 2019
“Right here, right now, while you are reading this book, many, many things are happening…” With each turn of the page, Here and Now celebrates the beauty, magic, and wonder of every moment and the interconnectedness of all things. Written as a “real-time meditation” (author’s note), the spare picture book reads like a recipe for living life more fully present. Author Julia Denos gently reminds readers of the power and possibility of simply noticing the details of the world around you: the book in your lap (or your hands or in someone else’s) , the floor under your feet, the grass and the dirt that make up the Earth. Yet, the lyrical text also serves as an invitation to imagine what might be: the Earth spinning, rain forming, even a telephone ringing. Interspersing two-page spreads, character close-ups, and purposeful use of white space, E. B. Goodale’s ink-and-watercolor illustrations honor the vibrance of the natural world and the diversity of humanity. Readers of their first picture book collaboration, Windows, will recognize similarly drawn characters, including a young Black girl and an Asian-presenting adult figure. Some illustrations include copies of Here and Now and Windows serving as playful elements for readers to gleefully notice. While many meditation practices encourage going inward, Here and Now invites us to open our senses wide to the world instead. An antidote to the hurried, distracted nature of contemporary living, Here and Now adds to the growing collection of picture books ripe for read-aloud that encourage mindful contemplation and greater presence.
Teaching Ideas and Invitations
Duet Model: Pair Here and Now with Windows. Pair Here and Now with Windows, the first picture book collaboration between Julia Denos and E.B. Goodale. Support students to notice similarities across the two books both in terms of writing style and illustration choices. How do both books pay tribute to the natural world? In what ways do both books support thinking about universal human experiences while also honoring the diversity of humanity? What do students notice about the intentionality of the page-turns? While Here and Now is explicitly noted by the author as a “real-time” meditation, how does Windows have similar qualities?
Duet Model: Pair Here and Now with Now. Pair Here and Now with Antoinette Portis’s picture book Now. In what ways do the characters across the books live life in the moment? How do both authors explore the outer natural world and the inner world of children through the text and illustrations? In what ways can both books help us to live life more kind to ourselves and more present to those around us? Use both books as touchstones for creating a here and now (or simply, now) class mural that celebrates the things about the present that students love. What do they want to tell the world about that they appreciate in their life right now? Invite other classes to leave sticky notes of appreciation around the mural as a way to honor students’ creativity and the ways in which their mural can help others to be more present in their lives.
Out of the Book and Into the World. Here and Now is a book that invites readers to go out into the world with greater awareness of the sights, sounds, and possibilities around them. Gather clipboards and various sketching materials like colored pencils as well as cameras to document what students see. Prepare students to use all of their senses as they look, listen, jot, and sketch the world around them. When students return, create a class list through shared or interactive writing that documents the things students noticed, wondered, and imagined. From that list, have students work in partnerships to create their own Here and Now picture books using the original as a mentor text for their writing and illustration.
Celebrate Student Voices and Build Fluency: Audio-recording Here and Now. The spare text in Here and Now is a perfect opportunity to celebrate students’ reading voices and to practice building fluency skills through repeated reading. Have students select a few lines from the text that they are responsible for orally reading either independently or in pairs. Following several rehearsals, audiorecord students reading their lines of the text to create a collaborative read aloud of Here and Now. To create a multimedia display, scan each page of the text to serve as a visual background to students’ voices using programs like iMovie or Animoto. Share students’ voices with families and the school community.
Family Invitation: Here and Now at Home. Brainstorm with students ways that they (and family members) could show one another they are focused on the present and one another. Share that brainstorming list with families as an invitation to commit to being more fully present when in the company of one another and when out in the world. Encourage families to select ways they can strive to be more fully present from the list for a set period of time such as two weeks. Then, encourage families to share how being more present with one another has changed their habits and family relationships for the better.
Mindfulness Practices and Trauma-Informed Teaching. Julia Denos describes in the Author’s Note how the book grew from a poem called “In the Moment” as part of her meditation practice. While traditional meditation uses breathing, the book uses words and page-turns to build awareness of the moment. While meditation as a practice has many benefits (focus, compassion, self-awareness), it can also aggravate or trigger trauma when students are asked to engage in practices like closing their eyes or sitting still. Invite (never require) students to try different mindful action techniques based on Here and Now that go outward rather than inward, including looking and listening to the world around you rather than emphasizing quiet stillness.
Text Set that Invites Contemplation, Gratitude, and Mindfulness. Here and Now is part of a growing collection of picture books that invite greater contemplation, gratitude, and mindfulness. At the Classroom Bookshelf, we have written about many such books including: Thanku: Poems of Gratitude by Miranda Paul, Tiny, Perfect Things by M.H. Clarke, The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld, Round by Joyce Sidman, Before Morning by Joyce Sidman, Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner, Grand Canyon by Jason Chin, Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, What Do You Do With a Chance? by Kobi Yamada, The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater, and Waiting by Kevin Henkes. Make these books available for students to browse as well as sticky notes for students to jot what they notice, wonder, and imagine while reading the books.
Campoy, F.I. & Howell, T. (2016). Maybe something beautiful. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Chin, J. (2018). Grand Canyon. New York, NY: Roaring Brook Press.
Denos, J. (2017). Windows. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
Henkes, K. (2016). Waiting. New York, NY: Greenwillow Books.
Paul, M. (2019). Thanku: Poems of gratitude. Minneapolis, MN: Millbrook Press.
Sidman, J. (2017). Round. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Sidman, J. (2016). Before morning. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Slater, D. (2017). The antlered ship. San Diego, CA: Beach Lane Books.
About Katie Cunningham
Katie is a Professor of Literacy and English Education at Manhattanville College. There she is also the Director of the Advanced Certificate Program in Social and Emotional Learning and Whole Child Education. Her work focuses on children’s literature, joyful literacy methods, and literacy leadership. Katie is the author of Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning and co-author of Literacy Leadership in Changing Schools. Her book Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness will be released September 2019. She is passionate about the power of stories to transform lives.
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