Zen Socks

illus. by Jon J. Muth. 40p. Scholastic. Oct. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545166690. LC 2014022423.
RedReviewStarGr 1–3—The sage giant panda, Stillwater, returns to bestow knowledge through storytelling, this time while occasionally donning a pair of red-and-white striped socks. As Muth explains in the author's note, Zen Socks was inspired "by all of the unexpected way I have benefitted from those who have 'socked it to me.'" Readers meet Leo and Molly, siblings who have moved into a new neighborhood and are delighted to discover that the unusual panda ("'What's his name again?' asked Leo. 'Mister…Quietpuddle?'") is their neighbor. When Molly expresses the desire to be a famous ballerina with her name on glittery posters, Stillwater tells "The Taste of Banzo's Sword," a humorous tale adapted from Paul Reps's Zen Flesh, Zen Bones (Tuttle, 1957), which emphasizes the importance of patience. Later, Leo and Stillwater muse about the nature of "bad guys" and selfishness. Finally, the trio heads to the beach where they find starfish stranded on the shore. Though there are too many starfish and it seems nearly impossible to help, the siblings rally, coming to understand that even very small acts of kindness make a difference. Muth once again employs dual styles: sumi ink–style black-and-white drawings for the Banzo's Sword story, and loose, light-filled watercolors for the scenes with Stillwater and the children. The compositions create a tranquil atmosphere and an appropriately Zenlike airiness, allowing young readers to focus on the character's interactions and observations. There are certainly lessons here, but they are imparted with gentle grace and respect for a child's developing sensibilities.
VERDICT Muth makes a meditation on patience, kindness, and faith not only accessible, but charming.

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