For this entry in our "Spotlight On" series, we are focusing on the very talented artist and author Jon J. Muth.
Here are a few of our favourites that he both wrote and illustrated:
Our first exposure to Muth and his work was 2005's "Zen Shorts" which tells the story of three children who live next door to a Zen-practicing panda named Stillwater. Through the course of the book, Stillwater tells each child a Zen tale. In effect, "Zen Shorts" is three short stories within a longer one. Each Zen tale has an idea or lesson to think about and meditate on. Once you have fallen in love with this story be sure to check out the other installments of the Zen series "Zen Ties" and "Zen Ghosts".
In "The Three Questions", young Nikolai wants to be a good person, but doesn't know how to go about it. He searches for the answer to three questions, "when is the best time to do things?", "who is the most important one?", and "what is the right thing to do?" in order to find some guidance. Although his animal friends try to help, they are not able to answer his questions to his satisfaction so he travels to see the wise old turtle. Through this journey, he finds he has the ability to find the answers himself. This adaptation of a tale by Leo Tolstoy is as beautiful as it is profound.
"Stone Soup" tells the story of three traveling monks who arrive in a small village. Due to tough times, the villagers are unfriendly with each other and suspicious of outsiders. After being turned away for shelter by every household they approach, the monks decide to make a stone soup for themselves in the middle of town. The villagers watch the monks with great interest and eventually curiosity gets the better of them and they venture out of their houses to find out how you can make soup from stones. The monks gladly talk about the soup with the villagers and suggest other ingredients that would make the soup better. As each villager pitches in and donates a different ingredient, everyone learns that working together and sharing makes things better.
When you are looking at exceptional children's picture book artists, Jon J. Muth is at the top. Each page of his watercolour art is a masterpiece on its own. His writing is also exceptional and usually involves a morality tale or teaching which is why we keep going back to his books. As with all great children's books, the best part is that they are a great read for adults as well. Drew personally learned a lot about himself from Zen Shorts and tries to remind himself on a daily basis about the tale of the two monks who carry the wealthy woman. If all adults were required to read Stone Soup, our world would be a far better place.
In addition to these great books, check out these other books we love that Muth illustrated for other authors: "City Dog, Country Frog" written by Mo Willems, "Come on, Rain" written by Karen Hesse, "The Old Turtle and the Broken Truth" written by Douglas Wood, "The Christmas Magic" written by Lauren Thompson, and "Gershon's Monster" written by Eric Kimmel.
Thought-provoking, beautiful, and ageless. Jon J. Muth's books are highly recommended.
Now go read a book with your kids...
As bookstore owners, we often get asked about our opinion on what will become of the printed book with the current shift to e-readers, apps, and digital books. While it is impossible for us (or anyone else for that matter) to predict what the near future holds, we do have a couple of things we would like to talk about.
Our family is far from tech savvy and obviously still very much value the printed book. We love the way books look, feel and smell. We love to sit with our daughter and turn pages together. We love to see the books lined up on the bookshelf. Besides, don't we all spend too long in front of screens as it is? So for us, it will be a while before e-readers are a prominent fixture in our household. However, we can't deny the appeal and potential benefits that e-readers and apps offer. They are also here to stay, like it or not, so embracing the technology is necessary. However, there are a few things we worry about when it comes to children's picture books in the digital world:
1) With all the features and possibilities with apps for the iphone and ipad and whatnot, we worry that reading a book will become too much of a passive experience. Taking the printed page of a picture book and bringing it to "life" with animation is fun and entertaining, but is it taking away too much of the child's imagination in the process? Isn't it part of the thrill when reading a book to imagine what is happening rather than being shown? We admit interactivity has benefits, but we worry about the loss of engaging the imagination.
2) Having the electronic device read the text out loud is an intriguing option. Even more so when a child can interact with the words by touching them individually to hear them pronounced. These are exciting advancements that will go far in helping children learn to read. However, we fear the loss of reading together as a family. If your family is up to date with all the hardware and app store options, we plead with you to please, please, please still sit down with your children and read the ebook together. Handing a device to a child and pressing "play" might become too frequent of an occurrence in our busy lives. Our family cherishes the time spent together before bed reading and hope that everyone else does too. This time spent together is so important and will have life-long benefits.
3) We are big advocates of taking children into a bookstore or library and having them look at all the books on the shelves. Exploring what is available and discovering new characters and authors is exciting for children and we believe it's a necessary part of developing a love of reading. It's also a great opportunity for them to develop their decision making skills. Sure, they won't always pick the best book, but they will at least pick something that excites and interests them. What is the digital version of this? Is it perusing the app or ebook stores? We're not sure how well this will translate and hope that this doesn't result in the loss of this option for little ones.
Again, there are more questions than answers right now in the book industry and how things will progress is anyone's guess. All we can say is that things are changing and we just hope it's for the best.
Now go read a book with your kids...