Review: Zen Ghosts by Jon J Muth

As part of my continuing efforts to discover and read excellent children's books, I will be reviewing new and old favorite picture books.  Please feel free to suggest your favorite picture books . . . the ones that stay in your mind long after you've read them.

In Jon Muth's Zen Ghosts (Scholastic Press, 2010), Stillwater, a giant panda with a Zen view of the world, goes trick or treating with three siblings and tells them a haunting ghost story about a woman whose soul is separated into two parallel lives, one of love and one of love lost.  The atmospheric and luminous water colors complement the Halloween story beautifully.  Meanwhile, the ghost story is told with a spare traditional Chinese brush painting style; while these illustrations are not as fully realized as the rest of the story, they are still effective.

This is a story that readers of all ages can enjoy.  I loved the artwork and the Zen koan.  My 9 year old daughter loved the "mysteriousness" of the story.  My 6 year old was entertained by the clever artwork (for example, the smallest child's monster costume's expressions changed with each scene), but did not like the ghost story because she didn't understand it.