We spoke with children’s book publisher, Alice Xavier, about Circus House’s debut book: Mind Hug.
What inspired you to start a series of books about mental health for young children?
Everyone in my family has worked for the NHS. Themes about health and care are normally our main subjects of conversation and the spirit of wanting to help others and support universal health was a big influence. Before starting Circus House, I worked in children’s publishing for eight years and I felt there was definitely space for more books in this area.
The idea is to make a series to gently introduce and guide good mental health and wellbeing from an early age, encouraging healthy habits of mind and resilience as children grow.
At a national level, one in four adults are experiencing a mental health problem each year, so we all know someone who may be struggling, or that someone may be you. There is now a lot of energy behind mental health awareness and positive action is really gathering momentum, from Children’s Mental Health Week to the Heads Together campaign, it’s all very inspiring. We seem to be at a turning point in our understanding of mental health as something much more than simply not being ill, and that it’s something we need to nurture.
Experts say that good mental health and wellbeing starts in childhood, and when I looked into it, I thought there was a lot of potential for creative stories that could make a big difference from a prevention perspective. The idea is to make a series to gently introduce and guide good mental health and wellbeing from an early age, encouraging healthy habits of mind and resilience as children grow.
What pushed you to pick mindfulness and mindful breathing as the topic for the first book?
Using elements of mindfulness with children isn’t new, but it has become popular. It has already been integrated into many school, nursery and care routines across the country, such as Shepherds Hill Nursery. The book is about supporting these initiatives with a story resource, and giving families and people working with children access to a story-led starting point. Stories are really valuable for stimulating thoughts and opening discussions, so we thought it would be a positive contribution to the information that’s already out there.
How important do you feel mindfulness is for children?
I think mindfulness is important for everyone at every age. Children are sometimes described as naturally mindful because they are often wholly engaged in one task at a time, with their full attention, and they are curious about themselves. But children can also be over-stimulated by screens, lose the rest and relaxation of quiet time, or get stuck with strong emotions. By encouraging their natural ability for present-moment awareness, we can help to strengthen it as they grow up, helping them flourish when they face more challenging situations and choose tools for self-care, comfort and calm when needed.
You worked with a number of consultants to create Mind Hug. What made you decide to work with such a variety of consultants?
We know it’s good practice to thoroughly research a topic and consult with a number of professionals as there is always a range of opinions about any subject, and there are several stakeholders in a child’s life. It was fantastic to have support from experts in health and education who have been trained in mindfulness – a family GP with a special focus on neurodevelopment and emotional and mental health, a teacher and a psychotherapist.
What other topics do you plan on covering with the series, or will mindfulness be the main focus? Do you already have a second book in the works?I’m pleased to say that there are several more books in the pipeline, each with a different focus, and we are looking forward to sharing more information about them soon!
Part of every book sale goes towards Place2Be’s work in schools. What inspired you to support them?
Place2Be is an excellent, inspiring charity. It is school-centric, with support provided for the emotional wellbeing of pupils, families, teachers and school staff. This holistic, practical approach makes a real difference to a school community. Their work sounds amazing and we are so happy to support it.
If you could share just one message about mental health with children, what would it be?
It’s important to look after our brain, our emotions and our body – they are all connected.