Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Stillwater, the gigantic panda - my hero!

This has got to be one of my favorite picture books ever. It's definitely not for young preschoolers - I think kids six and up would be most interested in it.

The illustrations are amazing, first of all. And the story-within-a-story format is presented brilliantly -- which is important, because this book may well be the first experience a child has with the concept. It is easy to tell which is the main narrative and which are the stories within it, not only because of the change in tone, but especially because the airy watercolors of the main narrative become dark, stark, stylized drawings for the stories.

The book is about three children who befriend their neighbor, Stillwater, who just happens to be a very polite giant panda. The three siblings have their own issues and concerns, and in the course of the book the children are each told a story by Stillwater that connects to their particular situation in an important yet understated way. I don't know that it is necessary to point out the connections to the readers -- it is more fun to let them figure it out on their own. The stories are extremely relevant to our lives, and they teach useful lessons (but not in an annoying preachy way). The child (not to mention the adult) who takes these lessons to heart will have the upper hand in the face of adversity. Really!

Zen Shorts by John Muth (Scholastic, 2005)

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