Zen Ghosts by Jon J. Muth
The wonderful Stillwater the panda returns for a third time with another picture book filled with Zen. In this book, Stillwater spends time with the children as they prepare to go trick-or-treating. Then after they are finished, he brings them to a place where a panda tells them the story of Senjo. In the story, Senjo is in love with her best friend from childhood. But when her father gets ills, she is forced to marry a wealthy man. Ochu, the man she loves, leaves the village because he cannot bear to see her marry someone else. But as he is leaving, he sees Senjo on the bank and they run off together. Years later, Senjo feels she must try to reunite with her father. When they return to the village, Ochu speaks to her father and then discovers that Senjo has been ill in bed since the night Ochu left years ago. The two Senjos meet and merge together into one. So the question asked is which Senjo is the true one? It is a marvelous Koan that is not meant to be solved. Modern children may be frustrated by this type of story, but all the more reason for them to hear it.
Muth takes the setting of Halloween, combines it with a ghost story of sorts, and turns the holiday into something new. The children in the story are always talking about their candy and their costumes. Just as in the other Zen books by Muth, the children remain children completely. They ponder new ideas and discover new ways of thinking, but they are children still. Muth’s water colors are rich and autumnal here until the story within the story begins and the colors fade to whites and grays. Muth offers several great double-page spreads that really capture autumn and Halloween.
This is a very different Halloween story, but one that really has a place in every library. It is beautifully written, illustrated with elegance and offers a new perspective for readers. What more could one want? Appropriate for ages 5-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic.