Seasonal Inspiration from a Zen Master

March 7, 2014 § 3 Comments

Hi, Koo: A Year of Seasons by Jon J. MuthNormally, I’m all for aspiring to live in the moment. But not right now. Not this week. Because, it’s March, people, and the ground is once again covered in snow; we’ve lost another two days of school; it’s grey and cold and, frankly, there’s nothing to be gained from living in this moment.

Instead, our family is busy making plans for the future—and living in the delicious anticipation of those plans. My kids are dreaming up the giant sandcastles they intend to make on our upcoming trip to Florida (I am dreaming up the cocktails I intend to make). We are gazing out the window at the trees we planted last fall, wondering what they are going to look like with new, green leaves. JP is plotting how much money he might make selling freshly-squeezed lemonade on the hottest of summer days. And, because September is only six months away, both kids are beginning the daily debate about what their birthday parties should entail. Normally, I might interject a dismissive, “well, we’ll have lots of time to discuss that when it’s closer to the date”; but, right now, what else do I have to do? Sure, let’s talk about how the cake needs to have your name on it (“so everyone knows it’s my birthday”) and how the balloons need to be tied down just right so that they don’t blow away (“like that one time”). Bring it.

I’m betting that others are in the same boat. And that’s why I’m betting that Jon J. Muth’s brand new Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons (Ages 3-8) will be a sure bet for anyone in need of some assurance that spring (and summer) are just around the corner. Those who already know Muth’s extraordinary Zen Shorts trilogy will recognize the profound, roly-poly Giant Panda at the forefront of this book—although, here, Koo is less concerned here with the meaning of life (he is, after all, already a Zen Master) than with frolicking in the natural gifts that each season has to offer. A third of the way into the book, Koo is joined by a boy and girl, and the three spend their days roaming, discovering, questioning, and making (occasional) mischief. As always, Muth’s dreamy watercolors and calligraphy-inspired ink strokes are bursting with delight: our world has never looked more exquisite.

Muth tells his story of the year through poems—which puts his picture book right up there with my other favorites about the four seasons. But, in Hi, Koo!, we are treated to the poetic form of the haiku: a three-lined poem, whose intention, Muth explains in the Author’s Note, is to feel like “an instant captured in words—using sensory images.” Indeed, all 26 haikus in the book are utterly captivating in their ability to make us feel something—whether awe, humor, excitement, even sadness.

The book begins with a creative take on the falling leaves:

Even my current contempt for winter lifts a little to see our panda sporting a clump of jagged snow on his head:

We can all relate to this poem that opens the spring section:

And, of course, the endless possibilities of long summer days await us:

Thinking of the moments ahead and the moments behind may be just the encouragement we need to get back to the moments of the present. And when we get back there/here, we’ll hopefully feel like Koo in the final spread, cross-legged on a blossom-filled branch with his back to us and a cardinal’s nest on his head—my favorite haiku of the bunch:

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