I have been writing seriously for children now for seven years and while I have learned much about craft and marketing and language, I am often reminded of how much I still have to learn. This doesn’t bother me actually. It’s like gardening, a process, and I don’t want there to be an end. I want to keep learning and growing. My most recent reminder of how much I don’t know came when I asked a friend to take a look at a book dummy I made.
I’ve been learning Photoshop to create the illustrations for my next book – coming soon in January! My friend mentioned that Jon Muth often uses his photos for his art, and oh, he writes picture books too. I didn’t know the name and once home, I looked him up.
It turns out I have seen an example of his work in city dog, country frog which he illustrated. I’m terrible with remembering names, and didn’t recall that I’d reviewed this book in 2014. I got a copy of Zen Shorts (Scholastic, 2005) and Zen Ties (Scholastic Press, 2008) and they’re both delightful. I’m sorry to not have discovered them sooner.
Zen Shorts has three tales adapted from Buddhist and Taoist literature embedded within a modern story of a panda bear and three children. The panda, whose name is Stillwater, is a Zen teacher to the children’s questions and ponderings about sharing, risk-taking and the burden of holding on to anger. Zen Ties uses the same characters and makes connections between anxiety, compassion and neighbors and especially how things are not always as they seem on the surface. Muth put a lot of thought into the execution of these stories and they are beautiful.
The stories really have a Zen feeling to them. Like a meditation, they bring clarity to some of the inconsequential things that I have the habit of moving to the forefront of life where they should not be. I daresay we all do this at times. In one tale a monk is fuming about how his fellow monk was rudely treated when he helped a woman of means cross a muddy path. The end of the tale is perfect:
“I set the woman down house ago”, the older monk replied.
“Why are you still carrying her?”
Wow. I need a panda bear Zen teacher in my life. But what would be even better would be reading these books to a young child and talking about them. Add a fire or snuggly blanket, some hot cocoa and time. That would be pure magic, a Zen-like holiday. I hope you try it.
Here’s a sneak preview of the cover of my next book: