Kaya’s Heart Song

Authored by Diwa Tharan Sanders
Illustrated by Nerina Canzi
Published by Lantana

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Another gem from Lantana, this beautiful story follows a young girl as she discovers her ‘heart song’. For young children connecting with their inner self may not actually be that difficult but understanding what it is is much more complex. Using the analogy of a ‘heart song’ to represent the self makes it much easier to comprehend. 

The concepts of mindfulness are woven into a very simple story that young children can understand. On the surface a beautiful story but delve a little deeper and you can explore some of the cultural references. The setting is Malaysia and begins with Kaya’s mother in a meditative pose.  Malaysia is the ideal country to explore a range of Asian cultures: Chinese, Indian as well as Malay). This physical image of mindfulness is mirrored with two girls in yoga poses at the end of the story.

If you have incorporated meditation or yoga practices into your school wellness programmes, this book would be an excellent accompaniment to practicing the physical acts of mindfulness.

The message in this story is clear: We all have a heart song – you hear it when everything is quiet. It encourages the reader to slow down and embrace silence, to think in the present – in the moment and to quieten the mind. When you discover your heart song anything is possible and happy hearts have their own songs.

The illustration is this book is part of its appeal to young children. The vibrant and colourful spreads do much to represent a sense of place and also to spotlight some symbolic features such as the butterfly that Kaya follows as she begins her journey – representing focus. Many cultures associate the butterfly with our souls; with endurance, change, hope, and life and the butterfly is a common feature in wellbeing books of this kind.

The butterfly leads Kaya to an elephant carousel in the jungle which is broken and bound with vines that are preventing it from working. Only when she stops and quietens her mind can she unravel the vines and kickstart the carousel to life. The elephant image, synonymous with mental strength in the Buddhist culture is another culturally significant symbol in Kaya’s Heart Song.  The metaphors are clear to an adult reader and can be used to stimulate discussion. The significance of the broken elephant carousel is good example of healing something that is broken through self awareness and self discovery. The healing practices are gently weaved into the plot as opposed to being presented as a checklist of things to do to feel good.

This book helps children to identify and consider their emotions from a very early age. If you are familiar with CBT theory you will recognise several elements here. 

Using the imagination to discover the’ Heart Song’ conveys the message that wellbeing encompasses both physical health and mental health.

I love that there are ‘Elephant rides for everyone’ as the story moves from self- awareness to recognizing the happiness of others. There is an important message here -to be yourself – find your own path but also empathise with others. I particularly like the fact that although the story begins with one child on a journey of self discovery, it moves on to recognise that everyone has an inner self.  Connecting with others is as important as connecting with oneself. 

The Afterword of explains the concept of mindfulness (likening it to a magical experience to help explain the concept to young readers), which involves simply “be-ing” and staying present in the moment. This informative page consolidates some of the self help practices throughout the story.

This book is perfect to share with Early Years or Year 1 if you are going to delve a little deeper.