Reviewed by Jennifer J.

Halloween has always been a night of mysticism and magic for me, and so reading Zen Ghosts by Jon J. Muth really appealed to me. The beginning pages start out with three children, Karl, Addy, and Michael excitedly talking about their Halloween costumes. Their panda bear friend Stillwater takes them trick-or-treating, and then as a bonus after they collect their candy shares with them a chilling supernatural tale.

Picture books are best enjoyed when read aloud. I took the book with me to my neighbors’ house and read it aloud to her 7-year-old daughter while my 2-year-old daughter pranced around the living room chasing their cat. Her daughter gave me her complete attention (my daughter of course did not), her brown eyes growing wider when I read Stillwater’s ghost story. The tale tells of a man and woman who grow up together, and eventually fall in love. The young woman’s family falls to financial ruin, and instead of offering her hand in marriage to her best friend, she is to wed another man from an affluent family. That night, the young woman and her best friend sail away together. Eventually they decide to return to their small village, and that is when Stillwater’s tale takes a shocking twist.

[amazonify]043963430X[/amazonify]The illustrations didn’t really make an impact on me until we came to a 2-page scene that perfectly depicted an enchanting Halloween night, thick with the magic of children’s imaginations. I must have stared at every detail of this spread for at least a minute before continuing on with the story.

Zen Ghosts is a picture book that adults will appreciate for entirely different reasons than the children. I was verygrateful for the author’s note at the end of the book so I could learn what inspired him to write it. Stillwater’s story is taken from an ancient Japanese koan (a paradoxical question) and will absolutely inspire a discussion between those who have discovered this charming book.

Jennifer graduated from the University of Utah with a BA in English. She occasionally dabbles with her own fiction writing, particularly with the Young Adult and Paranormal genres. She currently resides in Utah with her husband and daughter.

This book was provided free of any obligation by Scholastic Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.