Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Zen Ties

Zen Ties

Jon J. Muth
Picture Book
For ages 6 and up
Scholastic Press, 2005   ISBN: 978-0439634250

Stillwater is waiting at the train station. His nephew Koo is coming to spend the summer vacation with him. When Koo arrives, Stillwater gives his little nephew a bunch of colorful balloons as a welcome gift. Then the two panda bears begin to walk to Stillwater's house. There is a park on the way where they stop to have a little tea. Stillwater's friends Addy, Michael, and Carl arrive, and the bears and the children have a grand time playing together for a while.

While they are playing, Michael tells Stillwater that he is going to be in a spelling bee. He is nervous about the whole thing and is worried that his nervousness will prevent him from doing his best. Stillwater suggests that the children come with him to visit Miss Whitaker that afternoon. Miss Whitaker is ill, and Stillwater is going to take her some food. Though the children are afraid of Miss Whitaker, they agree to go along.

Miss Whitaker does not seem happy to see the children, and she certainly looks unwell, but Stillwater does not worry about her ill temper. He encourages the children to clean up the house and to paint some pictures for the old lady. He also encourages them to return the next day.

At Miss Whitaker's house the following morning, Stillwater tells Michael that the old lady used to be an English teacher. In no time Miss Whitaker is helping Michael to study for his spelling bee. After all, she knows a good deal about words and how to spell them.

The next day Michael has great news to share with everyone and the children who were once so afraid of Miss Whitaker learn that they truly have a new friend.

All too often in this day and age we forget that we do not all exist on separate islands. Instead, we are all connected, and when we do things for one another those connections often turn into something very special indeed. In his big soft panda way, Stillwater brings together an old lady and three children, and in no time at all warm friendships spring up between them.

Readers who like poetry will greatly enjoy the clever way in which the author has little Koo speaking in haiku, the Japanese poetry form. The poems capture the moments they describe to perfection, and sometimes with humor as well.

Clever word plays, a tender story, sections of poetry, and Jon Muth's evocative watercolor paintings combine to create a picture book that readers will not forget in a hurry.