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Austin children's author encourages mindfulness, embracing Spanish

Gabi Garcia wanted to find more books that encouraged teaching mindfulness to children. When she couldn't, she decided to do it herself, and also made them available in Spanish.

AUSTIN, Texas — This week marks the 100th anniversary of National Children's Book Week, and it also happens to be Mental Health Awareness Month. 

One Austin author, Gabi Garcia, combines the two in her writing while also encouraging young readers to embrace being bilingual. 

Garcia spent the last 20 years as a teacher and counselor. In the last 10 years, she said she began taking up mindfulness practices and yoga. It's something she wanted to share with the students in her teaching. 

"I was looking for a book that I could share with my students that was discussing the same issues teaching a lot of the same practices and I couldn't really find anything, so I wrote it," she said.

In 2016, Garcia published her first book. She now has three out: Listening to My Body (Escuchando a Mi Cuerpo), Listening with My Heart (Escuchando con mi Corzaon), I Can Do Hard Things (Yo Puedo Hacer Cosas Dificiles).

All of them focus on mindfulness and have a copy in Spanish. 

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Garcia said making sure her books were accessible in Spanish was important for her to do, and not just for the students' benefit.

"I know as a teacher, as a counselor how difficult it can be to find resources that are both in English and Spanish and I didn't want that to be an obstacle for teachers or counselors or for parents. I want this information out there, so I had the ability to do that," Garcia said. "It was really important for me for kids who speak Spanish -- for teachers who work with Spanish speakers -- to have access to these materials."

Garcia's books have an emphasis on mindfulness. She's helping readers pay attention to what's happening to and around them in the moment. 

"It could be identifying, 'What am I feeling right now? What's happening to my body right now? Am I noticing any sensations? Am I cold? Am I hungry?' For kids to make that connection between what their emotions and the physical sensations. So for example, if someone is feeling angry, maybe my stomach gets tight, or my muscles are tight or I notice a change in temperature," Garcia explained. 

She said it's important for kids to be aware of the things they're telling themselves.

"What I have noticed is that kids pretty young kids are having really negative self talk," Garcia said. "So a couple of my books address that specifically to teach them self compassion -- how to be kind to themselves."

She said she her own 6-year-old daughter, Liliana, serves as motivation to continue her writing and making these materials accessible to children her age.

"These are just skills and tools that I want her to have growing up," Garcia said. "They were things I learned about as an adult, but I want her, not just her, but all children, to have access to these tools as they relate to getting to know themselves better."

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In Austin Independent School District libraries such as Becker Elementary, it's clear that learning two languages is highly encouraged. There are multiple books, signs, labels and murals in Spanish across the library. 

"Libraries are all about equity and access to opportunities, so having bilingual and Spanish books is hugely important to have for our duo-language students so they can achieve in both English and Spanish," said Randi Sather, a bilingual librarian for AISD, and specifically Perez Elementary. "Students can read twice as many books and understand twice as many things. They can interact with more people. They have the chance to travel and have better academic success."

Sather shared how it's important for librarians to carry books like Garcia's so that children who don't know Spanish can learn it, but also so that those who come from Spanish speaking homes can continue to appreciate and share their native language.

"It's all about the home-to-school-connection and having children being able to access and comprehend the books that we have in our libraries, as well as see themselves in those books -- to have their families and their stories reflected in the stories they read," she said.

Garcia's books are available on Amazon.com. She has a new book, Mateo Finds his Wow, coming out this month. 

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