Zen Ghosts

40p. 978-0-43963-430-4.
Gr 1—6—It's Halloween, and the three siblings introduced in Muth's Zen Shorts (2005) and Zen Ties (2008, Scholastic) are working on their costumes when Stillwater appears at their door. The panda invites Addy, Michael, and Karl to meet him after trick-or-treating to hear a ghost story. The walk through the forest is filled with mystery. Stillwater himself—who said he would be a ghost this Halloween—is at times almost transparent, and his round, white bamboo lantern mimics the full moon. Inside his house is another panda who looks exactly like Stillwater. His story, which is told in words and brush-and-ink drawings, is based on an old Zen koan, or puzzle, about a young woman who is with her husband in a faraway land and yet very ill and at home with her parents. It invites listeners to consider duality, or perception vs. reality, and is at the same time a wonderfully haunting tale that's perfect for Halloween. When the story ends and the illustrations return to the earlier complex, evocative watercolors, it isn't clear whether Stillwater and the storyteller are two entities or one. The children and readers are left to consider this and other mysteries as both tales come to a close. Muth's artistic gifts are so breathtaking that they will draw in even those whose attention spans are not at first up to the demands of the text. The book functions on many levels, from seasonal Halloween story to ghost yarn to deep philosophy, and succeeds spectacularly on all of them.—Susan Weitz, formerly at Spencer-Van Etten School District, Spencer, NY
On Halloween, panda Stillwater (Zen Shorts, Zen Ties) goes trick-or-treating with the kids, then leads them to his house where "a panda who looked exactly like Stillwater" tells them a ghost story based on a Zen koan. Though the text is stilted and hard to follow, Muth's accomplished watercolor and ink illustrations are effectively mysterious and eerie.

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