Wednesday, October 14, 2020

When you Breathe, with Diana Farid

Eager and worthy readers! 

We are all going through a lot of stress, uncertainty, anxiety and a whole host of upsetting experiences these days, sometimes its hard to remember to breathe and step back and appreciate the fact that we can breathe and see, sense, and experience our breath mindfully and its flow through our consciousness and bodies! Even if our breathing is through masks! I recently interviewed author, physician and busy, busy, busy mom Diana Farid MD, we spoke of her picture book gem When You Breathe!

Buy the book here:

 Here is my interview with Diana Farid

  1. Please introduce yourself to our readers in your own words. What do you do besides write?

Hi everyone. I’m so excited to be able to be featured on Drew’s blog. Well what do I do besides write? Mainly I am a mom. I have four kids. They’re all in school, so right now as some of you are experiencing, they are all home. These days I spend a lot of my time getting snacks and meals ready, finding that science supply that went missing, the workbook under the pile of papers and being the IT expert for connecting online. When not being a mommy, I also work as a doctor, at the Stanford Vaden Health Center, taking care of Stanford University students. As a clinical assistant professor in Stanford’s department of medicine, I also work with medical students and the medical faculty integrating the arts and story into learning about medicine and promoting health concepts to the general public, especially through film. 


Author and mom Diana Farid

  1. Introduce your picture book when you Breathe in your own words? 

When You Breathe follows the magical journey of a breath from air to deep within the lungs of a little girl as she prepares to sing. It uses an upside down tree as a metaphor for imparting human biology concepts about the respiratory system and breathing. It uses poetry to ignite the imagination. It’s a testament to the power of breath and our connection to each other and the world. It’s science + poetry. And it’s gorgeously illustrated by fine artist Billy Renkl.

  1. Please explain the motivation and the writing process for this book for you? 

After the birth of my daughter, my first child, I remember feeling her breath touch my neck as I held her - that made me acutely aware of breath, the power of her future voice and my desire to teach her as much as I could about the wonder of our body’s workings. At the same time, while working as a physician, I noticed that my patients knew very little about how their bodies worked. For my youngest patients who could understand, especially ones who were having respiratory symptoms, I’d tell them the upside - down tree analogy/story and describe where their breath travelled to when they breathed. I found that it helped them understand their symptoms, feel more comfortable about what they were experiencing, my care and it helped them understand any treatments that I was recommending. About 10 years ago I started writing the poem that eventually became the book When You Breathe. It came out in bits and pieces as I took walks, watched my kids play in the yard, and thought about how I wanted to share the magic of breathing with children. After working on it for a number of years, it became what you see in When You Breathe.

  1. When you Breathe is the most precious picture book collection of poems that tells a narrative story of mindful breathing with purpose. The pictures are stellar and add new dimensions to the text. You told me that you have a professional friendship with the illustrator, how did this happen? 

Thank you so much for that generous description of the book. I feel the same about the illustrations. I didn’t know the illustrator, Billy Renkl, until recently. The publishing company, Cameron Kids, found him when they first noticed the art that he did for his sister’s adult non-fiction book. Billy and I got to meet this last winter at a children’s book writers and illustrators conference. We hit it off, especially connecting over our mutual awe with the science of human biology and how that overlaps with the wonder that art inspires. Since then, we’ve been able to support work around When You Breathe with a lovely collaborative spirit.

  1. The book is clearly crucial as a gentle reminder to take time to breathe and collect air to reconnect to our ever living, ever shifting universe. What made you choose few words to connect readers to mindful breathing as the vessel for such an important lesson for all ages? 

My intention was to impart to children that they are all wondrous, worthy,made of the same stuff as the stars (literally - here’s cool article about that: and that we are all inextricably connected. I also know that human biology concepts are largely missing in early public education and I know that an entertaining introduction would be the most effective way of imparting the magic of breathing to young children- through the power of story, art and poetry. As a poet, I am fond of the least amount of words making a large impact, which drove the sparse text of the book.

  1. What are some of your favorite picture books and why?

The Dot by Peter Reynolds - I love the way it shows that if one stops judging one’s own art and lets it flow, truthfully, the process and result can be wonderful. I also love how it shows the potential power of supporting a child and valuing their expression.

Forever or a Day by Sarah Jacoby - It’s beautifully illustrated. I love how it is a thoughtful and poetic celebration of time - what can’t be seen or touched - but is still felt in so many ways.

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson - This is a vital picture book for all of us, folding poetry with Black history untold or denied with unstoppable illustrations. I hear a song , a hymn, when I read it. It begs to be read aloud, it celebrates what has risen from every attempt to subdue black lives, that there is more rising to come - and in the face of persistent attempts to defeat the recognition of one human family,  rising will persist.

  1. How can readers of all ages make this poetic meditation on breathing into more than just a brilliant story time and bedtime book? 

Oh, that’s a great question. One thing that’s great about the book is that there’s a glossary in the back that contains simple, digestible definitions of words that are related to our respiratory biology, air, and breathing. They offer a great gateway to exploring more about what each word means, how they relate to what we’re made of and how we live in the world. 

Even the first three lines that start the book are invitations for a reader to explore science concepts. For example: One could ask “What exactly is happening when the tree leaves sway? How does air actually move something? Or how does the leaf get energy from air? In the phrase about a bird flying, we could explore how flight takes place, how air moves around a wing to create lift. What is the structure of a bird wing? And then in that final phrase about music moving through air, we could explore concepts of sound waves with young children and hearing.There’s so much exploration that can springboard just from that spread alone. That’s really exciting to me. The book is a great cultivator of curiosity which can last well beyond while it’s read. For younger children the publisher and I have also created a few printable activity sheets that are a fun supplement to the book, which can be found on my website at

In addition, fundamentally, the book sparks a wonder for breathing, the amazing things that take place in the seconds that we take a breath, the energy that we get from that breath, the pumping of our heart without us even thinking about it, moving that energy throughout our body and allowing us to do all the things that we want to do and be with all of the people and things that we love. So a reader can make more than just a good story time read by becoming more aware of their breathing. They can practice deep breathing a few times a day (I have a video about how to do this on my Youtube channel Diana Farid). They can also take action to be stewards of our environment, the air, and each other.

  1. Whats next for you as an author? Whats next for you professionally?

 Right now, I am revising a middle grave novel written in verse. I’m also working on drafts for potential follow up picture books to When You Breathe such as When You Sleep and When You See. I plan to also continue making films that bring audiences entertaining stories about health topics, right now these are available at my YouTube channel: Diana Farid.

  1. Do you have your own mindful connection practice? What is it? 

Some days I’m better at this than others. Sitting in silence, in a quiet space, and taking deep slow breaths, even if it’s just for a few minutes, can be powerfully centering for me. When I can’t do that, I find connecting to a piece of music that I really love, reading a poem or words of a spiritual teacher and meditating on its meaning, and being in nature, especially if it’s at an ocean shore or on a freshly snowed on mountain , reminds me of the things that I truly value in life. To me, being reminded of what’s important is the most powerful outcome of a mindfulness practice. I also shouldn’t forget to mention that a big source, before the pandemic, of mindful connection for me, was going to a music concert and connecting wholly to a song and the listeners around me - all being on the same amazing acoustic ride together. 

  1.  When you Breathe is an anchor, a foundational book for connection especially now during COVID.  Any parting words to our readers? Advice? Encouragement? 

There’s beauty in the workings of your breath and all the amazing functions of your body. I encourage readers to be curious about how their bodies work, to explore that curiosity with their children. Because when we all know more about the truth of our workings, we will be more prepared to keep ourselves whole and healthy, and able to critically evaluate what others might claim can keep us and our world beating. I hope the book can encourage us to see and celebrate each other’s light. And I hope it encourages us to recognize that like science, poetry and art should be embraced as fundamental ways to explore truth.

Please purchase the book here!!

Thank you to (with new window links)

Diana Farid,

Cameron Kids

Abrams Kids publishing,

Books Inc,

and all of my Worthy and Eager readers! Thank you all!

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