Early last month I purchased a copy of the book ‘My Happy Place’, compiled and edited by Melissa Melbus.
My Happy Place is a book that features memories and happy thoughts from 54 prominent New Zealanders and is illustrated by children aged 5 – 13 years, from partner schools of the charity KidsCan.
The KidsCan charity was founded in 2005 and today supports the education of thousands of disadvantaged New Zealand children. Dr Airini from The University of Auckland states that “as many as 25 percent of New Zealand’s children – about 270,000 – currently live in poverty. That’s one in every four children” (2013).
The KidsCan mission is to meet the physical and nutritional needs of Kiwi kids less fortunate than others so they can be more engaged in their education and have a better chance of reaching their potential in life. KidsCan concentrate on giving the basics directly to children in need in partnership with the schools they attend, including food, shoes, raincoats and healthcare (KidsCan Website).
Melissa Melbus refers to the inspiration behind the creation of this book as a ‘reference book of happiness’ for readers. The principle goal of the book is to donate proceeds from sales back to KidsCan, thereby helping New Zealand children living in poverty reach their potential in life.
It’s a stunning book, colourful, heartwarming and full of joy and inspiration. Each page tells a different story and is complimented by a child’s illustrated interpretation. Last week I sat with a small group of children to read and discuss My Happy Place. As you can imagine the concept quickly captured their thinking. Thoughts about things that make us happy, and are close to our heart flow easily for children (for further reading refer to Christine’s earlier post, A map of my heart). With the right provocation and resources these thoughts were again transferred into artworks.
In the lives of children and ourselves art invites us to look closely, to ask questions, to take new perspectives, to explore emotions, to examine thinking, and to communicate and listen (Ann Pelo, 2007).
Inspired by Melissa’s prompt for her contributors to the book I asked our children:
“What is a happy place for you, something that makes you smile or fills up your heart with love?”
Here are a few of their reflections…
“My happy place is the pools because I can swim there with my mummy. I hold round my mummy’s neck and she swims with her arms in the coldy pool” Kate
“My happy place is going to the farm park. I love patting the animals. I love the guinea pig best; it’s fluffy and warm” Taika
“My happy place is going to the beach. We jump on the rocks and we find crabs under the rocks. We take the crab’s home; they are already dead when we pick them up. I like going to the beach with my family” Emma
"My happy place is riding my bike. My bike looks pretty because it has a basket on it, and it has a babies seat for my bubba to ride in. I ride my bike outside and inside too" Madison
Friedrich Froebel, the father of kindergarten, believed that young children should be involved in both making their own art and enjoying the art of others. To Froebel, art activities were important because they encouraged each child's "full and all-sided development" (Froebel, 1826). More than a century later, early childhood teachers are still concerned with the "all-sided" development of each child. Our curriculum includes activities that will help children develop their cognitive, social, and motor abilities. As Froebel recognised, making art and enjoying the art of other people and cultures are very important to the development of the whole child (Englebright, & Berry. 2008. Earlychildhood News)
“My happy place is home because my mum is really lovely and my dad and my sister. I play toys, and I play lego’s at my house” Eirwin
"My happy place is when my mum reads me a book at night-time. We sit on my bunk bed and I love reading the Little Yellow Digger" Hori
“My happy place is seeing my nana. I go to her house and play toys. My granddad makes porridge, I have sauce and salad with it” Tane
“My happy place is my family. I love my mummy and my grandma and my nana and dad AND! Oscar, Amelia and all of my cousins. I have 1, 2, 3 cousins” Livia
“My happy place is going to life-saving. We play Captains coming and I ride on my boogie board in the water” London Rose
“My happy place is going to my house. It doesn’t have a pool just grass and a house. I like playing with my toys.
When it’s dark I get my blanky and I snuggle with it and my mummy, she sings me a lullaby” Hezekiah
It is interesting to note that the children's reflections of happiness almost always focus on feelings and experiences. These are a timely reminder to us that it is not things, but people and places that fill our hearts with gladness and joy.
In the foreword of My Happy Place author Witi Ihimaera acknowledges that through aroha children are able to connect art with life. One of my great privileges of working with young children is being able to tap into this well of love and generosity everyday.
Catriona Williams (My Happy Place, pg. 33) captures this thought beautifully when she states, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take but by the moments that take your breath away”.
My Happy Place can be purchased online at; shop.mhappyplace.com/ or check out a leading bookstore.
Nga mihi nui