Nature in mind: A Horse Called Now - Peters
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Nature in mind: animals and mindfulness with author Ruth Doyle and illustrator Alexandra Finkeldey

February 6th 2024

This February, we're launching our mini blog series, Nature in mind. Each blog will highlight a recent picture book release which celebrates the relationship between our mental wellbeing and the outdoors. We'll be joined by the authors and illustrators behind these picture books, who talk to us about their creative and personal inspirations, as well as offer advice to your pupils (and colleagues!) about connecting with nature to help improve mental health.

Our first book is A Horse Called Now, a sweet and calming story about a horse who supports her animal companions through their worries, and helps them appreciate the present moment. It is an ideal title for discussing mindfulness or anxiety with your pupils. In this blog, we asked author Ruth Doyle and illustrator Alexandra Finkeldey about the important animal companions in their lives, and how writing and illustrating helps ground them in the here and now.

Tell us about your horse-friends, Winnie, Diesel and Wilson, who you dedicated the book to. What have they taught you?

My horse-friends all experienced early-life trauma. Their courage and resilience teaches me that it’s possible to move through negative events and not feel defined by them, especially if we live in the moment. Winnie was the inspiration for A Horse Called Now – she is the kind and gentle leader of the herd, who is welcoming and accepting of all. Diesel is cheeky and clever, always the first in line for adventure (and treats!); Wilson is sensitive and placid, enjoying time on his own (as long as he can still see his friends). 

Winnie reminds me to stay strong and open-minded; Diesel shows me that there’s always potential for fun, and Wilson teaches me the importance of alone-time.

Now's eyes see ‘the tiniest blinks of magic’ – do you have any advice about paying attention to nature and appreciating the little things? And what are your favourite ‘blinks of magic’ in nature?

It helps to create space away from artificial distractions, to be fully present and alive to the wonders of the natural world.

Some of my favourite blinks of magic are: winter sun on a frosted cobweb, the azure flash of a Kingfisher’s wing, tiny rabbit footprints in the snow, the wind making the trees dance, the Barn Owl hunting above the fields at dusk, the starlings’ logic-defying murmurations, the sunlight tipping the horses’ manes with gold, the first hint of a snowdrop, a rook gathering a beak-full of horse-hair to line its nest…so many!

Illustration by Alexandra Finkeldey. What 'tiniest blinks of magic' will you notice today?
Does writing help you live in the moment? 

When I’m writing, I live completely in the moment and time disappears!

What advice do have for young readers about how writing can help ground you?

I’d advise young readers to let go of anxieties about the technicalities of writing and write freely and without judgement (including silencing their own inner critics). When working in schools, I tell the children that writing is a way to have a voice in the world and that all our voices  - and stories - matter. Every child arrives with a fresh perspective that is both valuable and potentially ground-breaking. When children realise this, and have the opportunity to freely express themselves, it can be empowering and life-changing.

Keeping a journal can be helpful too, as a way of processing our experiences and setting our thoughts free.

 

You dedicated A Horse Called Now to 'all the sweet animals that inspired the illustrations'. What wisdom have you gained from paying attention to animals?

Animals tend to their needs with so much ease. I love that they always appear to be doing exactly what they’re meant to be doing. Whether it’s napping in a sunbeam, frolicking in a field, or foraging for food, they fully commit to the task at hand. And whether I’m working or playing, I try to remind myself of that focus and commitment.

Do you have any pets or relationships with animals which have helped you live in the moment, like Now the horse?

My relationships with my two cats, Mochi and Jo Bean, help me to live in the moment every day. Jo Bean is intelligent, playful and deeply stubborn. He teaches me about confidence and boundary-setting. In contrast, Mochi is gentle, friendly, and easy-going. She’ll readily take a nap anywhere, and is always up for a cuddle. She teaches me about the importance of rest, trust, and gratitude.

What spread in the book made you feel the most peaceful when illustrating it? 

The spread where Now and her companions are watching the storm from inside the barn was the most peaceful for me. I love the contrast of the turbulent, stormy sky against the calm interior.

Illustration by Alexandra Finkeldey. Today, give yourself a calm moment to breathe and observe.
What advice do you have for young readers about how drawing can help ground you?

For young readers, I would say that drawing is an excellent way to use multiple senses. I like to focus on the process as much as I can. For example: the feeling of the paper, the swishing of the paintbrush, the way colours mix together. If I’m feeling stuck or anxious I like to shake things up by using different tools. My favourite grounding materials are clay and collage. They keep both hands busy, which is a great way for me to stay focused.

 

 

Make a list of the 'tiniest blinks of magicyou and your pupils notice throughout the day.

 

Ask your pupils if they have any special relationships with animals - whether that is a pet, or a favourite animal.
How does this animal make them feel? 

 

 

Carry on the conversation about mindfulness and animal relationships with these recommendations:

   
see all children's mental health recommendations
   

 

📚 READ NEXT: HELP YOUR PUPILS EXPRESS THEIR WORRIES WITH THE WORRY JAR

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