A Review of Puppy Mind, by Andrew jordan Nance and Jim Durk
(4/5 Tie Dye Hearts)
When discussing today’s children with anyone from older generations, the topic of frustration that always comes up is the seemingly rapid reduction in attention span and the increasingly common diagnosis of ADD or ADHD. Puppy Mind, written by Andrew Jordan Nance, offers one tool for reversing this trend. Author Andrew Jordan Nance has been an educator for 25 years, and is the founder of Mindful Arts San Francisco, which brings mindfulness teachings to underserved schools in the Bay Area, including 18 years as Conservatory Director at San Francisco’s New Conservatory Theater Center.
Puppy Mind is a picture book, aimed at teaching Pre-K to 2nd Graders how to turn their busy minds from a source of frustration into a friendly tool. It is a timeless story about a little boy and his energetic new puppy. Here, however, the puppy is a thinly-veiled symbol for his overactive mind.
There are many things to like about Puppy Mind. The illustrations have a feel reminiscent of a PBSKids or Sprout television show, thanks to artwork by Jim Durk, well-known for his work on The Powerpuff Girls and Clifford the Big Red Dog. While my adult eye wanted the pictures to be slightly less polished in appearance, the pairing of the images and words create wonderful tools for assisting your child in taming their “busy puppy mind.” In this regard, bright, simple pictures are ideal, as they will be more easily recalled by your child when the tools are needed. I am especially impressed with this early 2 page spread:
My mind is like a puppy,
it likes to wander and explore.
If I don’t watch it carefully,
it goes through any open door
The effect, holding the book open here, as I read it to my girls, with the doors of past memories and future possibilities hovering above two “eyes” in our full field of vision, was incredible. It feels like you’re sitting behind the young boy’s eyes, watching his wandering mind. This is a wonderful visual depiction of a “detached observer,” or “pure awareness” the perceptual goal of any good mindfulness practice. In the end, we also get another brilliant symbol, as the breathing technique taught in the book becomes a “leash” which tames the mind and transforms it into a helpful friend. Throughout the book, kindness toward the “playful puppy mind” is encouraged, avoiding the frustration of the struggle that seems to always arise in a beginner’s meditation practice.
The potential value of these images for helping your kids visualize and calm their minds’ inner activities is reason enough to include it in your family’s collection, give it as a gift, or donate a copy to your local library, church, or community center.
The book is certainly not perfect. Like many books in the “kids books with a purpose/mission” category, Puppy Mind suffers from what first appears to be an awkward or forced rhyme scheme. Upon deeper inspection, the problem feels like one of choices in page breaks, and how rhymes travel from page-to-page. Some of the choices make it difficult to find the correct reading cadence at times, with one sentence requiring me to read it aloud 4 times before I grasped the proper rhythm. While it is possible to decipher these problem areas and read the book smoothly on your 2nd or 3rd (or 500th) reading, you’ll likely stumble once or twice on your first time through. This is also a common problem I have seen with “celebrity” kids books written by non-authors. Even when the rhyming is clear, or not too restrictive as to limit the story, editorial choices on the location of page turns are critical to the flow of any successful children’s book.
Don’t let this criticism deter you, however. While Puppy Mind isn’t perfect, its strengths as a tool for aware parents to pass on critical spiritual tools and life skills far outweigh the limited textual weaknesses.
While the book could be called “mindfulness instruction for kids,” it is very light on actual technique. For the target age (Pre-K through 2nd Grade), this is fine (On their website, Mindful Arts SF offers a “Parent/Teacher discussion guide” for the book, expanding the practice for kids who are ready.) What I find really exciting about Puppy Mind is the subtle, magical way in which the text and pictures call fidgety children to identify their mind and thoughts as something other than “me,” and then giving them a tool to change this “other” from a nuisance to a friendly companion. “Mindfulness” is often code for “secular meditation,” as it seems to be in Puppy Mind. We who have experienced profound states of no-self, either through meditation or sacred plant teachers know, however, that severing the false identification of the Soul/Self with the mind and thoughts is a critical step to experiencing deeper Truth and coming into the presence of Source. Setting these patterns early in life, before synaptic patterns have become more permanent, is a worthy endeavor, and I applaud Andrew Jordan Nance and Jim Durk for their successful attempt to teach this with Puppy Mind.