In the 2005 book Zen Shorts by Jon J Muth, Stillwater the giant panda moves next door to siblings Abby, Michael, and Karl. Stillwater becomes their friend – he plays with them, talks with them, lets them climb on him, and tells them stories that relate to their lives. The stories Stillwater tells are simple stories rooted in the Zen Buddhist tradition. In the book Zen Ghosts, it is Halloween, and Stillwater is helping the children decide what costumes to wear. He invites the children to meet him for a ghost story after they go trick-or-treating, and the story he tells is eerie and mysterious, yet gentle (and not exactly scary). Afterward, there is swapping of candy and quiet enjoyment of the moonlit Halloween night.
Muth uses watercolors to illustrate scenes of the children and Stillwater, and brush and ink to illustrate Stillwater’s ghost story. The watercolors capture the beautiful colors of autumn, and there are a couple of wonderful wordless spreads – one being an evocative picture of all the costumed trick-or-treaters out on the darkened neighborhood street that readers will pore over. In the author’s note, Muth explains that the ghost story Stillwater tells is a koan, a kind of story that is a paradox to be meditated on, from the Zen Buddhist tradition. As Muth writes, “They appeal directly to the intuitive part of the human consciousness, not to the intellect.” Zen Ghosts is gentle and philosophical (though more playful than ponderous), and a wonderful Halloween read aloud for kids in grade K and up (it would make an especially good match for older kids).
Books featuring Stillwater the panda include Zen Shorts, Zen Ties, and Zen Ghosts (and you can meet Stillwater’s nephew Koo again in Hi, Koo!).
Posted by: Parry