Sunday, November 01, 2015

Zen Socks by Jon J. Muth

Leo and Molly sat on the porch of their new home.

"Look," said Leo, "It's going to happen again!"

"Yep," said Molly. "It's almost time."

"What's his name again?" asked Leo. "Mr. Quietpuddle?"

said Molly.

Of course, their neighbor is Stillwater, the philosophical giant panda, wearing striped socks instead of the Zen Shorts (Caldecott Honor Book) of an earlier book, this time acting as mentor to the new kids on the block, Molly and Leo.

"Hi, Stillwater. This is our cat, Moss!" says Molly.

Moss hops into the basket of Stillwater's bike and the three head off for a spin, Molly just has to tell Stillwater about her ballet lessons, bubbling on about how she's going to be a top star, featured in glamorous, sparkly posters and adored by the public. Stillwater listens in bemused silence and then launches into the Zen parable of Banzo's Sword, in which the gungho young Jiro wants instant results in his swordsmanship. When Master Banzo tells him it will take thirty years of study, he is not willing to wait.

"I want to master the art now!" Jiro insisted.

"I see," said Banzo, "in that case you will have to work for seventy years!"

"I understand," said Molly. "I am not being patient. I will practice as long as it takes."

A few days later, it's Leo's turn to learn a lesson, as he and Stillwater agree to play with his robots.

"I'll be all the good guys, "said Leo, choosing all the best figures, "and you will be the bad guy," he says, taking charge.

"I love being the bad guy," Stillwater announced."

And to illustrate his role, he grabs the biggest cookies with the biggest chocolate chunks off the snack plate. Leo gets the message.

Then Stillwater and the kids happily head for a walk on the beach, but they are saddened to see the beach littered with starfish, left high and dry in the outgoing tide. They rush down and start tossing the beached starfish back into the water, but the task seems endless.

"There are too many," says Leo. "This won't make any difference."

Molly picked up one starfish and threw it back into the water.

"It will for him!" she said.

Caldecott-winning author-illustrator John J. Muth's Zen Socks (Scholastic Press, 2015) brings back his celebrated character in another story of Zen Panda Stillwater and his new young friends. Gentle wisdom bolstered by standout illustrations make this new one a winner as well for Muth, whose stunning draftsmanship and judicial use of colors give his illustrations impact and balance, just like his themes. For a Halloween-themed Stillwater story, pair this one with Muth's Zen Ghosts, (see review here).

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