Written & Illustrated by: Jon J Muth
Published in 2010
Genre: Picture Book
Grade Level: 1-3
Summary: Zen Ghosts is a creative retelling of an old Chinese koan, which according to the author is a question that you have to answer for yourself. In this book, three children visit their friend Stillwater (a panda) after trick-or-treating to hear a ghost story. Stillwater is there, along with another panda who looks just like him and who tells them the story of Senjo. In the story, the main character’s soul is separated to live two lives, and is eventually rejoined into one person. At the end of the story, one of the pandas is gone, and the reader is left to decide what happened.
This book had both it’s good and it’s bad parts. On the whole, the story was interesting and the illustrations were very nice. Muth used colorful illustrations to show when the text was talking about the present day, and black and white illustrations to show when the “ghost story” was being told. This added quite a bit to the interest level of the book.
The best part of the book, in my opinion, is the ending. The fact that the conclusion is left open ended and the reader is forced to make his or her own decision is wonderful in my opinion.
On the other side of the coin, there were a few things that brought the book down. First of all, the lead up to telling the story seemed to drag somewhat. There were points when I felt bored rather than engrossed. Another issue was the placement of the text on some pages. For the most part it was ok, but then some text would be placed on top of dark gray or brown illustrations making it difficult to read.
Final Thoughts: This was a nice book, but it had it’s problems. I probably wouldn’t read this unless I was specifically working on getting my students to come to their own conclusions about things. The idea of the book was good, but I felt like it was somewhat poorly executed.
I give Zen Ghosts three stars.