Q & A with Author Deborah Sosin

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Photo by Kevin Day Photography

Today, I’m thrilled to talk with Debbie Sosin, a writer, editor, and clinical social worker who specializes in mindfulness-based psychotherapy, about her first picture book, her choral singing, and how kids respond to her presentations.

In your career you write for adults and children, work within the publishing industry, provide publicity services, and teach. How did you get started? Did you always want to write?

I kept a diary starting at around age ten and always loved writing for school or for fun. I started getting more serious about writing for publication in the past ten years, studied at GrubStreet, attended the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, and eventually went back to school to get an MFA in Creative Writing. I wish I had started earlier, but it’s been rewarding to finally follow my true passion.

What influenced you to write Charlotte and the Quiet Place?

I wrote the book as an independent project as part of my MFA studies at Lesley University. They say “write what you know,” so I thought about my childhood growing up in kind of a noisy house, where my brother played the piano, my father had a radio and TV on simultaneously, and my mother was on the phone a lot. And then I thought about my longtime meditation practice and how tuning in to my breathing has helped me find a quiet place inside. So I wanted to write a story about children finding their own quiet place inside themselves.

You give school presentations on mindfulness and your picture book Charlotte and the Quiet Place for various ages. Is there an experience from any of these that you would like to share?

School visits are my favorite part of being an author! No matter what age the students are, they love to help me tell the story by repeating the “noisy” sounds and the “hoo ahh” breathing sounds. We usually do a few calming/breathing exercises together and, without fail, even the squirmiest group will settle into a beautiful, shared, often profound silence. Once, when asked where Charlotte finds her quiet place, one kindergarten girl said, “In her belly and in her brain, where it’s calm.” Many kids get that idea. What could be better? I also love showing them my early scribbles and illustrator Sara Woolley’s wonderful sketches and storyboards, and sharing the step-by-step process of publishing the book, from concept to completion

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Deborah Sosin reads Charlotte and the Quiet Place to students at Newton Montessori School. Photo courtesy of Newton Montessori School.

Can you talk a little about mindfulness and how it can benefit children?

Mindfulness has become a catchword these days, but my favorite definition is from Dr. Amy Saltzman: “Noticing what’s happening right here and now, with a friendly, curious attitude, then choosing what to do next.” Many top-notch scientific studies show that mindfulness can help kids with concentration, attention, self-soothing, anxiety, depression, sleep, mood, compassion, confidence…I could go on. Compared with adults, most kids are naturally mindful, that is “in the moment,” but kids do get stressed out and worried about the past or the future, so mindfulness helps. I sometimes worry that parents and teachers might use it for disciplinary reasons (“Enough! Go be mindful in the corner!”), which is not the point. It’s a whole-life practice, not a technique or intervention. And, as the book shows, mindfulness can lead us to a quiet place inside that we can access whenever we want.

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Students at the Cottage Montessori School in Arlington, Massachusetts play the Silence Game with director Karen Wagner, watching the sand in the hourglass. Photo courtesy of Stacey Moriarty.

Can you tell me a little about your work with Grub Street, a creative writing center in Boston?

I started taking classes at GrubStreet in 2008; my first class was “Six Weeks, Six Essays,” and from that class, I helped form a longtime regular writing group. I started blogging soon after and then submitted personal essays for publication, with some good luck. GrubStreet is a fantastic, inclusive community, with excellent faculty and a huge range of motivated, smart, and enthusiastic students, from beginners to veterans. After a few years, I applied to teach classes there and am proud to be on their instructor and consultant rosters now.

You are an accomplished choral singer, having performed at Lincoln Center, the United Nations, Boston’s Symphony Hall, and on an international tour. When did you begin choral singing? Do you have an anecdote you’d like to share from any of your experiences?

I’ve been singing my whole life and have been in choruses since elementary school. Singing with other people is extremely gratifying and, after all the “verbal”-type things I do, including my work as a psychotherapist, it’s a lovely change of pace. I spent about 15 years in the Zamir Chorale of Boston, which specializes in Jewish choral music. Our tours to Eastern Europe, Italy, and Israel were extraordinary. In 1999, when we sang at Auschwitz and Terezin, the sites of former concentration camps, it was hard to keep our emotions in check, but it felt important to revive the voices of the Jewish people that the Nazis had attempted to quell. A PBS documentary film, “Zamir: Jewish Voices Return to Poland,” chronicled our tour that summer. I think it’s still available through the Zamir Chorale website.

What’s the best part about writing for children?

After having focused almost exclusively on nonfiction for most of my writing career, it’s been wonderful to work in the very precise and rich world of picture-book writing with so many lovely, funny, imaginative, and supportive fellow writers I’ve met through SCBWI and the amazing Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, Mass.

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Debbie’s niece Mollie and a friend draw a noisy thing at The Oblong Bookstore event. Photo courtesy of AM Media Group

What’s up next for you?

I have a couple of Picture Book manuscripts in progress and I’m participating in Storystorm (formerly PiBoIdMo) this month, so I hope to generate more ideas and get some new work out there soon.

Since this is a holiday-themed blog, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you at least one question about holidays, so…

What is your favorite holiday and why?

Thanksgiving is probably my favorite, as it means getting together with my family, which is now spread far and wide, and having an opportunity to express our gratitude.

Thanks, Debbie, for stopping by and chatting! I wish you all the best with Charlotte and the Quiet Place and all of your future endeavors!

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You can find Charlotte and the Quiet Place at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Parallax Press |Porter Square Books (signed copies available)

Connect with Deborah Sosin on

Her Website | charlotteandthequietplace.com | Facebook | Twitter

Review of Charlotte and the Quiet Place for International Quality of Life Month

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About the Holiday

How one achieves their definition of a good quality of life may differ for every person, but in general it encompasses being happy and satisfied with one’s relationships, work, living conditions, and self. Whether you find happiness and quality of life in outdoor or indoor pursuits, with others or alone, at work or at home, this month’s holiday gives you time to get in touch with your inner quiet place and reflect on changes or improvements to bring you more peace and happiness in life.

Charlotte and the Quiet Place

Written by Deborah Sosin | Illustrated by Sara Woolley

 

Charlotte is a girl who likes quiet who lives in a noisy world. Everywhere she goes, it seems, it’s impossible to escape from sounds that disturb her peace. At home the hallway creaks where “the floorboards groan,” the living room is like an arcade where the “TV bellows and blares,” and the kitchen is filled with Otto’s barks for his dinner. Even in Charlotte’s bedroom, “which is supposed to be a quiet place, the old steam radiator hisses, whistles, and whines. Where can Charlotte find a quiet place?”

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Image copyright Sara Woolley, text copyright Deborah Sosin, Courtesy of sarawoolley.com

When Charlotte goes to school, things are no better. In the classroom kids are boisterous and bells ring; the lunchroom echoes with clattering trays and scuffing chairs; and the playground blares with big voices and stomping feet but also with the little squeaks and rattle of the swings. “Even in the library, which is supposed to be a quiet place, the children giggle, yammer, and yell. Where can Charlotte find a quiet place?”

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Image copyright Sara Woolley, text copyright Deborah Sosin, Courtesy of sarawoolley.com

The outside world resounds with the din of jackhammers, horns, sirens, shouts, cars, music, and the “screeches, rumbles, and roars” of the subway. “Even in the park, which is supposed to be a quiet place, the leaf blower buzzes, blusters, and hums.” Charlotte puts her hands to her ears. “‘Nooo!’” she cries, “‘I have to find a quiet place!’”

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Image copyright Sara Woolley, text copyright Deborah Sosin, Courtesy of sarawoolley.com

On Saturday Charlotte takes her dog for a walk in the park. Suddenly, Otto spies a squirrel and takes off running, wrenching his leash out of Charlotte’s hand. She chases after him down a hill, over a bridge, into the middle of a grove of trees. Out of breath, Charlotte and Otto sit beneath a tree. Gasping, Charlotte’s “belly rises up and down, up and down. Her breath goes in and out, in and out. Hooooo ahhhhh. Hooo ahhh.”

Slowly, Charlotte’s breath comes easier and “her mind slows down.” In this state, she discovers another, even quieter place. It is a place deep inside where her breath is soft and her “thoughts are hushed and low.” It is “a place as quiet as the small silence on the very last page of her favorite book, the silence right after ‘The End.’”

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Image copyright Sara Woolley, text copyright Deborah Sosin, Courtesy of sarawoolley.com

In a little while, Charlotte and Otto leave the grove, but now whenever home or school or the neighborhood is too loud, Charlotte remembers where she can find a quiet place. She simply closes her eyes and pays attention to that place deep in her belly and deep in her mind—“that quiet place inside.”

For so many children the world is a blaring, clattering place where their thoughts are drowned out by the noises around them. Deborah Sosin’s award-winning Charlotte and the Quiet Place validates these feelings and offers children a way to discover inner peace wherever they are. As a tonic to today’s hyper-stimulated environment, kids and adults alike will benefit from the method of mindful reflection Sosin presents. Sosin’s combination of evocative verbs and repetition makes the story fresh and an excellent read-aloud while also mirroring the sounds that are a part of our everyday life.

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Image copyright Sara Woolley, text copyright Deborah Sosin, Courtesy of sarawoolley.com

Sara Woolley’s beautiful watercolor illustrations vividly depict not only Charlotte’s world but the sounds that disturb her peace. Amid the fully realized home, school, and neighborhood environments, complete with realistic details kids will recognize, sharp cracks of equipment, blaring bells and whistles, high-pitched voices, and other noises spark the page. Portrayals of Charlotte, her hands over her ears and her eyes sad, express her distress in a way kids will understand. When Charlotte finds the grove of trees in which she first experiences inner peace, Woolley’s color palette turns softer, with peaceful tones of green, blue, and yellow where, previously, “louder” purples, reds, and golds predominated.

Charlotte and the Quiet Place is a very welcomed book for those times when peace seems elusive and will give comfort to children who prefer quiet places and have more introverted natures. The book would make a wonderful addition to all children’s book shelves as well as to school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Parallax Press, 2015 | ISBN 978-1941529027

Visit Charlotte and the Quiet Place on her own webstite! You’ll find resources, images and videos, news about events, and more!

Discover more about Deborah Sosin, her writing for children and adults, writing workshops, mindfulness services, and more on her website!

View a gallery of artwork for books, comics,  and other illustration work by Sara Woolley on her website!

International Quality of Life Activity

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Share a Smile Cards

 

Life is better when you share smiles with those you know—and those you don’t! Try it! When you’re out today at school or other places, look someone in the eye and smile. You’ll probably get a smile back—and you can be sure that you will have made the other person’s and your day better!

Here are some Smile Cards that you can share. Why not slip one into your dad’s pocket or your mom’s purse, put one in your friend’s backpack, or sneak one onto your teacher’s desk? You can even leave one somewhere for a stranger to find! Have fun sharing your smiles, and see how much better you and the others around you feel!

Click here to print your Share a Smile Cards.

 

Picture Book Review