Thursday, July 18, 2013

Enlightening Children's Books by Jon J. Muth


If you're not familiar with the work of Jon J. Muth, you're missing a treat! He has been an artist and illustrator for many years, using haunting watercolor and bright colors to bring stories alive. His children's books are unique, enchanting experiences.

My kids love how animals tell the story in these gentle, beautiful scenes. I love the traces of philosophy and the introductions to zen which can be found hidden within the tales.

Here's a list of our favorites:


The Three Questions [Based on a story by Leo Tolstoy] was my introduction to Jon J. Muth's simple, profound, absolutely enchanting storytelling through words and art. It's one of a handful of books I most enjoy reading my children, appreciating the gentle lessons about compassion, helping others, and living in the moment.  Best for children ages 4-8.

Nikolai believes that if he can find the answers to three questions, he will always know how to be a good person. His friends - Sonya, a heron, Gogol, a monkey, and Pushkin, a dog - try to help, but Nikolai is not satisfied with their answers. So, he asks Leo, the wise old turtle. "When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do?" Leo doesn't answer directly, but by the end of Nikolai's visit, the boy has discovered the answers himself.

In Zen Shorts (Caldecott Honor Book), Stillwater the Panda gently teaches three children Zen concepts through three stories.  One speaks of the value of material goods.  One teaches what happens when we hold on to frustration.  And another touches on the boundaries of the duality concepts of good and bad.  For ages 6 and up.

In Zen Ties we have a sequel to Zen Shorts. Summer brings a newcomer to the neighborhood - Stillwater's little nephew, Koo. When Stillwater encourages Koo and the other children to help an elderly neighbor in need, they find their effort to get to know this difficult neighbor to be rewarded in surprising ways.

Stillwater celebrates Halloween with Michael, Addy, and Karl. After trick or treating is done, a mysterious storyteller shares a spooky story. The tale he weaves is a koan, originally written down by a Chinese Buddhist Monk Master named Wu-men Hui-hai in the early 13th century.  This is the story of Senjo, a girl who hoped to marry the boy next door.  Her parents had other plans. Senjo and her love elope, but in time the regret at how she left her family eats away at her happiness, and the two return to try to make amends.

In a spine-tingling twist, her family insists Senjo never left and has been there, sick, the whole time. What's going on? Who is the real Senjo?

While these are my favorites, he's written and illustrated others as well.  You can find a full list on Amazon at: Books By Jon J. Muth.

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