Now (Antoinette Portis)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Now by Antoinette Portis, a lovely meditation on the simple pleasures of living in the moment.

An exhilarating breeze blows through a little girl’s hair; this is her favorite breeze. She holds a crimson autumn leaf the same span as her face; this is her favorite leaf. With each new object, sensation, or activity, the little girl proclaims each as her favorite – the tree because she is swinging from it, the mud because she is squishing it between her toes, the moon she is gazing up at. Each moment she is currently in is her favorite, because each is what she is experiencing right now… and because of who she is experiencing it with.

This is a simple story with a quiet and somewhat unassuming presence, but it will surprise you: it’s filled with quiet, guileless elegance and a phenomenally satisfying emotional payoff. While the tone definitely suggests themes of zen or mindfulness, the truth is that it does a great job of embodying the way little ones see the world – that each moment is their most important yet – and how we as adults impact this. It’s an enlightening perspective for both age groups to consider. Portis’s art echoes this, capturing both the trivial and the sublime, and examining the magical details that children notice and adults all too often overlook. The length is great, JJ adored the art, and the last page is a stunner for anyone who loves to read with their child. Thoughtful, warm, and full of wonder, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

Zen Ghosts (Jon J. Muth)

Hello, friends! Today, we’re starting our four-day extravaganza of Halloween books! To kick things off, we’ve chosen Zen Ghosts by Jon J. Muth, the third book in the delightful yet deep Stillwater Panda series.

It’s Halloween, and Stillwater Panda stops by to visit his young friends Addy, Michael and Karl, who are preparing their Halloween costumes. Karl is going to be a monster, Michael is deciding between an owl and a pirate (maybe an owl pirate?), and Addy is going to be a radiant moon princess. In fact, her lovely costume reminds Stillwater of a Halloween story, and he invites his friends to meet up with him after trick-or-treating so that he can have a storyteller perform it for them. The friends and Stillwater meet and head to Stillwater’s home, where they find that the storyteller is a panda who looks identical to their familiar friend. He imparts a tale of love and duty, and leaves them, and the reader, with a sense of mysterious wonder, as well as the question: what makes a ghost?

I’ve always been a fan of the Stillwater series, which teaches children Zen concepts, koans and thought experiments through the stories of a quiet, wise Zen panda and his young human friends. And this is a great addition to series: the serene way the story (and story-within-a-story) are told is lovely to read, and left open-ended enough that it encourages readers to contemplate its meaning, as any good Zen lesson should do. The art here is just as lovely as in previous Stillwater books, this time capturing the crisp, bright colors of fall and the ethereal environments of the ghost story beautifully. The length may be pushing it for the youngest bookworms, but JJ loved it. A strange and wonderful Halloween story full of mystery and wonder, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

Zen Shorts (Jon J Muth)

Summer Reading Day 72: Our book today was Zen Shorts by Jon J Muth, a book about a panda named Stillwater who uses the lessons of zen stories to help his young neighbor friends. 

If you’ve never read any of the Stillwater stories, it might seem like a strange concept, but these books are absolutely wonderful. Stillwater uses ancient zen thought experiments (shorts) to show concepts such as forgiveness, kindness and optimism, while Stillwater himself celebrates friendship and generosity. The lessons he teaches are great for young and older minds alike, and the way Muth packages it, with gentle dialogue and sweet, muted illustrations, ensures that the stories are fun to read aloud and listen to. 

That being said, these books are a little lengthy for babies JJ’s age, and even a baby bookworm like her was starting to get antsy. Still, older bookworms will love these stories and the lessons they impart. Baby Bookworm approved!