How do you prove to middle grade students (and older) that picture books aren’t just for “little kids”? Introduce them to Stillwater the Panda and his Zen lessons. Jon Muth’s gentle giant panda enlightens his young friends (brothers Michael and Karl and sister Addy) with elements of Zen Buddhist philosophy in the form of a koan, a story, the meaning of which cannot be thought out rationally, but needs to be understood intuitively.
By setting Zen Ghosts within the Halloween season, with revelers in costume, Muth invites comparison to his story within a story framework. Stillwater relates his ghost story, a story Muth reveals in his Author’s Note, moved him personally when he heard it from a Zen teacher.
Muth’s delicate watercolor illustrations are mood setting, presenting Halloween not as a harrowing night of fright but as a metaphor for a human being’s multiple personas. Take time to observe closely the double-page spread of Halloween “trick or treaters” – there are definitely a few tricks!
This is a beautiful seasonal treat of a book. 40 pages Ages 4-8
Recommended by Katherine Stehman, Elementary school librarian.