Ten years ago, quality dharma books for my preschool children were few: Zen Shorts, Peaceful Piggy Meditation, and Prince Siddhartha were (and remain among) the best. Other early efforts had desultory illustrations, stultifying storytelling, and cheesey packaging. I found that Buddhist ideas were often conveyed more effectively by non-dharma books such as The Rainbow Fish (generosity), The Listening Walk (mindful walking), and The Bear with the Sword (karma). Thankfully, publishers are coming up to speed. Among a plethora of recent books providing high-caliber illustrations, playful story lines, and valuable teaching points are the following:
Children’s books on the Buddha’s life are typically pedantic, banal, and/or poorly illustrated. This fresh version, however, gets it all about right. Tara di Gesu’s richly colored, detailed illustrations match the gentle, tender tone of the writing. Some of the art is worthy of printing in large wall-poster format. Heather Sanche frames Siddhartha’s journey in psychological, social, and spiritual terms—a realistic approach that elides mythological elements and takes some liberties with the traditional narrative. Still, the text provides essential teachings in accessible ways that will prompt young readers to ask good questions.
Susan Verde and Peter Reynolds team up for their fourth book in the “I Am” series for the theme of enacting compassion. I Am Peace, the second in the series, is one of my all-time favorite mindfulness-based storybooks, and I didn’t think it could be surpassed, but I Am Love knocks it out of the park. Verde’s text provides clear ideas for responding to distress, not just for others but in oneself, while Reynolds’s lively, beautifully inclusive illustrations convey a story line that will capture even a small child’s attention right through to the last period. The entire book exudes love, wrapping up with fabulous instructions on heart-opening yoga poses and meditation.
Stop! I can’t bear it—this book is too wonderful! Jason Gruhl invokes Dr. Seuss with some light rhyming and brings up everything that entrances children—tarantulas, slime, comets, you name it. Ignasi Font’s visually complex and incredibly funny illustrations (a blobfish that looks like Squidward?) will keep kids observing even on the hundredth read. A thin line threads through each page, reinforcing the title and drawing the eye through the narrative. And the end—oh, the ending! I almost keeled over in fits of pure joy upon reading it. The book is destined to become a dharma classic.