Book Review - Zen Ghosts

Author/Illustrator: Jon J. Muth
Publisher: Scholastic Press (September 1, 2010)
Age Level: 4 to 8 years
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

Description from GoodReads:

On Halloween, Stillwater the panda, who dons a spooky costume and mask, promises his friends Addy, Michael, and Karl a spine-tingling ghost story to be told by a mysterious storyteller.
The storyteller--who looks remarkably like Stillwater--tells the children an unforgettable ancient Zen story about a girl named Senjo who hopes to marry Ochu, the boy next door.
But Senjo's parents have different plans for her future. They want her to marry a more prosperous man than Ochu--someone who will care for the family and her ailing father.
Heartbroken by the prospect of being separated, the two run off to a far away village and marry.
As the years pass, Senjo's regret for having left her family slowly eats away at her happiness, and she and Ocho return home to make amends.
But a surprise ending is in store. For Senjo's father swears his daughter has been sick and living at home with him the entire time. Yet Ocho knows differently, for he has been living with Senjo for many years. What is the truth? Who is the real Senjo?
The story of Senjo was originally written down by a Chinese Buddhist Monk Master named Wu-men Hui-hai in the early 13th Century. This type of story, called a Koan, is used by students of Zen to attain enlightenment. It provokes thought and conversation--yet has no concrete answers.
With Zen Ghosts, Muth has once again presented an original, beautifully crafted story, perfect for Halloween--or any time. 

This is the third book in Jon Muth's "Zen" series.  In Zen Shorts, the reader is introduced to Stillwater, the Giant Panda, who tells tales to three siblings (Addy, Michael, and Karl).  The tales each are intended to assist the children in looking at things from a different perspective.  In a similar vein, Stillwater has returned to provide new insight to his three young neighbors.  In a nod to Halloween, the children are each dressed up and go out into the neighborhood trick-or-treating.  They are joined by Stillwater, who is dressed as a ghost (of sorts).  

Muth's watercolors are breathtaking, and the two page inner spread captures the magic of a neighborhood in full Trick-or-Treat mode, with children dressed up in costume, and trick-or-treat bags.  I was mesmerized by the beauty of the paintings and the richness that they contribute to the story. 

In this installment, Stillwater shares with the children a surprise - their own special ghost story in the form of a Koan based on an original Zen story by the Chinese Buddhist Monk Master Wu-men Hui-hai.  The story presents to the children a mystery - how can one girl both be the wife of a man but also lay ill in her parents' home?  As with any koan, the intention is to provide the listener with a puzzle to contemplate.  

For younger children, the dichotomy presented in Stillwater's story may be confusing.  For older children, this same dilemma can provide for valuable conversation to develop critical thinking skills. This is a beautiful book and an excellent addition to any personal collection or school library collection.