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Kickstart Your Kid’s Quest For Zen With Todd Strauss-Schulson’s New Children’s Book

The Hollywood director and author’s debut children’s book – Your Mind Makes Thoughts Like Your Butt Makes Farts – has gross-out rhymes designed to teach mindfulness to kids of all ages. 

How did you discover mindfulness?

Did a friend give you a book about Zen when you were at your anxieties’ wits end? Did you fall down a Buddhist YouTube rabbit hole while searching for meaning late at night? Did you get caught in an awkward conversation with that hippie who hangs out at the bus stop?

However your mindful journey began, it likely didn’t start back when you were just a snot-nosed kid.

Breathwork, meditation, and reflection: these practices are integral to my ability to function as a somewhat-normal human being in this madhouse world we’re living in. Why did I have to wait until adulthood to be exposed to them?

Why don’t we spend more time teaching children about mindfulness? How would you even teach a kid about mindfulness?

What we need is a children’s book – a mindful children’s book.

Sure, there are a few already out there, but most are just too earnest and serious. Kids first-and-foremost want to have fun and laugh. We need something that will disarm them with (gross-out) humor, so that the lesson can actually land.

We put a call out to the universe, who said this is a job for Todd Strauss-Schulson. The Hollywood director and author has penned a book for any parent looking to kickstart their child’s mindful journey. It’s illustrated by Phil McAndrew (of New Yorker and MAD Magazine fame) and called Your Mind Makes Thoughts Like Your Butt Makes Farts.

The title is not just silly, it’s true.

“A fart doesn’t stay in your butt forever,” the author says, “just like thoughts don’t stay in your mind forever.”

For children picking up this book for the first time, this will stand as a ridiculous and radical lesson in impermanence. Through the metaphor, Strauss-Schulson gives both kids and adults the framework for understanding how the mind produces thoughts, feelings, and anxieties

The lesson is that our thoughts don’t last forever and you don’t have to believe them.

“They will pass,” the author says, “just like gas.”

“I can imagine myself as a young, anxious kid,” Strauss-Schulson says, “and having my parents try to read me a serious, earnest mindfulness book. I would probably be like: this is lame. I’m not helpless. I don’t want some self-help book!”

This is true of trying to teach a kid anything. So if a parent has a child struggling to control their thoughts and manage their anxieties or fears – how can they get the message of mindfulness to land?

The solution? Fart jokes.

“If my parents gave me some gross-out book filled with farts and boogers and jokes,” Strauss-Schulson supposes, “it’d probably become my favorite book ever – and I’d accidentally learn these tools that i would have for the rest of my life – imagine how much money I could have saved on therapy if I had developed a relationship with my mind as a kid!”

Packaging meaning into engaging stories is an art that Strauss-Schulson has been developing throughout his career. A prolific storyteller, he’s directed fan-favorites like A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas, cult-hit The Final Girls (which counted Stephen King and Quentin Tarantino as vocal fans), Isn’t It Romantic (starring Rebel Wilson and Liam Hemsworth), and Pitch Perfect: Bumper in Berlin, produced by Elizabeth Banks, Adam Devine, and Megan Amram.

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“The stuff I make is usually funny, stylish and big-hearted,” he says. “In a weird way, this book is the most personal and poignant of any of the things I’ve made because it’s like I’m talking directly to the 8-year-old version of myself who could have really used a book like this.”

Drool. Snot. Farts. Thoughts. All this and more are explored through the book’s fun rhymes and sprawling visuals. The subtitle reads: “a funny book for gross kids about mindfulness” and everything to follow lives up to the promise.

Thoughts just don’t last, they start and they end like you’re watching a movie, like how farts quiet down when you make a big doody and your drool disappears when you honk a fat loogie,” one particularly goofy page reads. Where the heck do revelations like these come from?

“I was on a ten day long silent meditation retreat,” Strauss-Schulson recalls. “It was the longest one I’ve ever done. On these retreats, your mind won’t stop talking. Sometimes it’s unpleasant, sometimes it’s funny.”

During the ten day retreat in question, the author experienced the latter. “My mind was being playful and was keeping me company. For whatever reason, from day three till seven, all my mind did was come up with these stupid rhymes. I scribbled everything down in a little book as they would come… I left the retreat with most of the book already written.”

From there the mission became getting someone to publish the deviously-disgusting read that Strauss-Schulson had cooked up.

This turned out to be a job for Wisdom Publications, who have put out books for the Dalai Lama, Bhikkhu Bodhi, and now, this fart-inspired mindful children’s book author. Strauss-Schulson wasn’t sure how things would go over with such an esteemed and academic publishing house, but the children’s book was a gas at the Wisdom office.

The editor had one main note: “make it grosser,” Strauss-Schulson recalls.

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Getting expansive, colorful, and wondrously-disgusting illustrations for the book required a call to Phil McAndrew – the cartoonist, illustrator, and writer. You’ve seen his humor and drawings in The New Yorker, MAD Magazine, and Popula, among many other publications.

Strauss-Schulson and McAndrew have been friends for some time – and the cartoonist was all in when the director and author pitched visuals that would blend MAD Magazine’s flair for caricature with the vividly gross subjects found in The Garbage Pail Kids.

The nasty-bits are juxtaposed with McAndrew’s beautifully cinematic hand painted watercolor illustrations. “It drives the point home that this is not just some trashy, gross-out book,” Strauss-Schulson says, “We’re using that tone to do something a bit deeper and more sophisticated.”

On his Instagram, the author has put out a series of videos discussing the book’s greater themes alongside kids of varying ages. It’s fun, silly, and a surprisingly thoughtful look into the inner mind of children. For anyone wondering about the impact of a book like this, these videos are a must watch.

Is it time to get your kid’s mindful journey started? Your Mind Makes Thoughts Like Your Butt Makes Farts by Todd Strauss-Schulson is the goofy book that can spark a life-long practice of meditation. Check it out at your local bookstore, on Amazon, or grab your kid a copy from Simon & Schuster.

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