Reviewed: April 16, 2008
By: Jon J. Muth
Publisher: Scholastic Books
42 pages, $17.99
I am familiar with Jon J. Muth’s work in comic books, but I am new to
his picture books. Zen Ties is the sequel to a pervious book in which Stillwater,
a giant talking panda, made his debut. The oddity of a talking panda wearing
a red necktie is noted by a little girl on the first page of the story, but
she had never met Stillwater before, so we can forgive her that. All sorts of
other children know him and would not find it odd for him to be waiting for
a passenger at train depot.
The passenger is Koo, his nephew, who wears a little bowtie and speaks exclusively
in haiku, so of course Stillwater greets him by saying, “Hi, Koo.”
Some of the rest of the book is just plain fun, but half of it is about how
the kids get to know an old lady named Mrs. Whitaker, and how she gets to know
them, and what comes of that.
Muth’s artwork is evocative of small towns and nicer times, but the watercolours
are more than pretty pictures. They advance the story when there are no words,
and no words are needed for that lovely Rembrandt-like page where the old lady
looks at the simple paintings that the kids made for her.
But wait! She’s looking at a painting of an apple, and apples follow us
through the rest of the story until she makes apple tea for the children on
the last day of Koo’s visit.
Because of Stillwater’s quiet influence, everyone in the story finds more
value in everyone else than they would have expected. That’s a great idea.