I want to share some of the books we’ve been reading recently.
One of the books is Zen Ghosts by Jon J. Muth. This book is part of a set of books all featuring a giant panda bear named Stillwater and three children. Each book introduces some aspect of the children’s lives – in this case the question of what Halloween costume one of them will wear – and then has Stillwater tell one or more stories that in some way relates to the children’s situation. The panda’s stories, based off of traditional Buddhist and Taoist stories, are not preachy one-answer-fits-all type of stories but rather a puzzle to think over. The Zen Ghosts story is one of identities, and can a person be two people at once?
One of the things I like about the books is that there is lots for the children to discover within them. The interpretations are open and there are multiple connections that can be made. Then too there are word-plays, such as a joke where by a child starts to name the flavor of candy he has (bamboo) only to be interrupted by someone yelling “boo” at just the right moment to complete the interrupted word. There are picture jokes too, like the owl-pirates on the inner back cover. When I read the story to my four and seven year olds it was not just me presenting the story to them but them pointing out the little jokes and connections.
Another book we read recently is called The Rag Coat by Lauren Mills. The heroine, Minna, is a poor child in a mining town who cannot attend school because she lacks a coat. The local mothers come together and sew her a quilted rag coat but she is teased by the children until she points out the wonder of how all of their stories are kept in the rags used.
As I started reading the book, I thought “yikes, do I really want to share this story of poverty with my children?” The idea she was too poor to go to school caught my attention because I didn’t want my children to somehow misunderstand why they are not in school! At the same time though, my children liked the story and I like the idea of them hearing stories that teach us not to take material things for granted. I wanted to share stories with the children about some of their ancestors. One relative’s toes were deformed from always wearing too small shoes, and another ancestor used to regularly pawn her husband’s wellington boots.
The Rag Coat story reminded me of the story Lassie Comes Home. In both stories there is a father unable to continue working and a family impoverished. In both stories the poor family is found to have something incredible valuable in a non-material way. I think also of the Lingan Strike Song by Maria Dunn the need to teach our children the history of unions and the working men.
Speaking of the need to teach the history of working people, there is a wonderful book series by Monica Kulling about inventors. We have read It’s a Snap!: George Eastman’s First Photo, All Aboard!: Elijah McCoy’s Steam Engine and In the Bag!: Margaret Knight Wraps It Up. They were all terrific. They do a great job of creating the setting and explaining why something was needed. They tell about the inventions of little things that made huge differences and I think they can inspire us to look at our physical belongings differently. Why are things the way they are? What are the stories of the things we take for granted? What are the problems that could be fixed?