The children’s book “Everything Is Connected” doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to blobfish. They’re slimy, stinky, scaly and about as loathsome as an animal might get.
And yet, as the book points out, they just happen to be our cosmic cousins, sharing our universe — our water, air and resources — alongside our brothers and sisters, our pets, parents, trees, the sky and even other planets. Understanding the scheme of all things is just a matter of looking around, taking stock, seeing your own place among all the atoms that surround you.
Can kids do that?
Author Jason Gruhl thinks so. So does his publisher, Boulder-based — and Buddhism-inspired — Shambhala, which sells books the world over by such deep thinkers as the Dalai Lama, Matthieu Ricard and Pema Chödrön. “Everything Is Connected” is the debut offering from its new imprint, Bala Kids, the 50-year-old company’s first official move into the children’s market.
Mindfulness might seem like a big concept for young readers, especially the ones who can’t yet see the big-picture benefits of eating their vegetables or pushing pause on video games to do their homework. But “we feel like children can get adult stuff,” said Ivan Bercholz, who heads up the family-owned publishing house with his sister, Sara Bercholz. Shambhala books are distributed through Penguin Random House.
“Everything Is Connected,” which is illustrated by Barcelona artist Ignasi Font, gives children a logical path to junior enlightenment. It starts out small by reminding kids of their own physicality, linking them to their “hands and eyeballs, teeth and toes,” then moves them outward to things like “buildings and bicycles, buses and balloons,” then eventually into outer space.
The journey isn’t limited to the world that can be seen and touched. There are connections to the past and to the future and to spirituality, to “Jesus and Buddha, Muhammad and Moses,” and, because nearly everything rhymes in the book, to “spaceships and aliens with noses like hoses.”
Noses like hoses? I asked Gruhl, who is also a veteran family therapist and educational consultant, to explain how his ideas came together.
Note: This interview has been edited for length, cohesiveness and clarity.
Q. I sometimes think kids, like dogs, in a way, are only aware of “the now.” This asks them to think bigger, no?
A. Ha! I hate to admit that I often compare the two, but I also aspire to be more like kids and dogs, so hopefully that takes the edge off that comparison.
I think it’s true. And it’s beautiful. As adults, we get conditioned by our parents, schools, society, religions, etc., and we forget to check in with our own experience, to be in the moment, and to let that guide us. Kids — and dogs — do this effortlessly until we condition it out of kids.
Q. Who did you write this book for?
A. In general, I always write for kids between the ages of seven and nine — third grade-ish. This is the time when their minds are starting to explode with questions, observations and insights, but most of them are still willing to give their parents a hug.
Q. Still, this is a big concept for young minds.
A. It is a big concept but I actually think it’s a more difficult concept for adult minds. Understanding connection on this level actually requires you to settle into your intuition. Kids have a natural and organic relationship to intuition that I think allows them to see and feel the possibility of what this book is proposing more easily.
Q. Why rhyme?
A. You know, people have a love-hate relationship with rhyme. You can’t even use rhyme these days without someone comparing you to Dr. Seuss. But rhyme is a really timeless and engaging format. I think it sticks in people’s minds — I want people to remember what’s being said. I like the challenge of it as a writer, and I think when you break rhyme in a rhyming book, it can really be a powerful moment for the reader to take in what’s going on.
Q. What is your personal framework that helped you write this book?
A. I’m trying to help kids, and adults, remember their wholeness, and feel at home in their own skin. It’s not just a catchy phrase — our bodies, minds and spirits really are connected and how well we attend to each of these in ourselves has an effect on the rest of the world. In my past work with children with autism and developmental disabilities, it became really obvious that health, mental challenge, social and personal fulfillment and compassion — being accepted and celebrated for exactly who we are — were critical for growth and for new ways of moving forward.
Q. What kind of kid is this book good for?
A. Life hands us a lot of curveballs, from birth to death, and there are times in our lives when we are not able to hear something that we could easily hear later. So while I think this concept is something that helps everyone in some way or another, I think this book is for any kid who feels isolated or alone at times. It’s for kids with scientific minds who want to begin to contemplate the “how” of connection. And it’s for kids who have a really open and soft heart. I’ve always had one of those, and I think this book gives you somewhere to direct that.
Q. What do you hope it will do for kids?
A. The last thing this world needs is one more prescription for how things should be done. I hope the book gets kids thinking about how everything is connected, and what that would actually mean if they are. And from there, that there are a million unique ways of being in this world, and that whatever they’ve got to contribute is something we need.
Q. Is it hard to write a book for young readers?
A. The ideas are never hard. I often imagine the world I want to be living in, or things that I wish I had known sooner, and then just go to work writing something that would be engaging and fun to read. I have a lot of respect for children and I also try to speak to them from a place of intelligence. Kids can handle way more than we give them credit for, and we have to trust them enough to speak clearly and candidly with them.
Q. Did it take long to write?
A. Almost three years to the day from my first word on the page to publishing date. It started in Chattanooga, Tennessee, while I was meditating with an incredible group of women out there. But it really became what it is after a class and critique group at Lighthouse Writers here in Denver. I worked on it a lot while traveling as well, so it was fine-tuned in Barcelona and Morocco, and finally polished by my patient editor, Juree Sondker.
Q. How did you hook up with Ignasi Font? He lives in Barcelona.
A. Instagram is the most powerful digital platform we have today for connecting with creatives. Countless artists post their talent, vision and passion. I found Ignasi there, invited him to collaborate, and the next thing I knew we were on our way.
Q. Anything to add?
A. To be Shambhala Publications’ (Bala Kids) first children’s book after 50 years of sharing and creating some of the legends of spiritual texts is a massive honor, and to have Shambhala Publications right here in our own backyard is a gift. As a Colorado author, it is exciting to be part of this groundbreaking, independent publishing house. Colorado truly is on the forefront of preserving and evolving the history of what we read and how we use it to understand ourselves and others, and to change the world.
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