Monday, October 27, 2014

Review - Maybe: A Little Zen for Little Ones

Maybe: A Little Zen for Little Ones
by Sanjay Nambiar
Date: 2011
Publisher: Umiya Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book

Based on an ancient and beloved Zen fable, "Maybe (A Little Zen for Little Ones)" is about a wise girl who experiences a series of events that at first seem lucky (or unlucky) but then turn out to be quite the opposite. A bike disappears, but then she gets a new one. She hurts herself, but then she enjoys a nice day at home. For each incident, was what happened good luck? Maybe. Was it bad luck? Maybe. Or, perhaps the girl simply does not get caught up in the emotion of the moment, because she can never know what that event might lead to, good or bad...

"Maybe (A Little Zen for Little Ones)" won a Mom's Choice Awards Medal as one of the best children's books of 2011.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

What can I say about this one?  It was weak.  While I can appreciate wanting to retell an ancient fable, I just can't recommend this attempt.

The main problem is that, rather than simply retelling the tale, the author decided to use small children as the main characters.  I don't know about you, but I know of no young children who react to life's ups and downs in such a stoic and zen-like manner.  The main character's answer to everything is a simple, "Maybe."  Whether she's referring to having her bike stolen, getting a new bike from her parents, hurting her arm so that she can't go to school (inexplicably, her boo-boo doesn't stop her from doing yard work), or avoiding food poisoning, her response to her friends' remarks about being lucky or unlucky is always the same: "Maybe."  While this might work in a fable-like setting, it comes across as a bit disturbing in an era where so many children have developmental delays.  When I hear about a kid with a vocabulary of just one word, my first thought isn't, "My, how mature and zen-like she must be!"

I do understand the idea behind the fable, but I think that it would probably be lost on little kids.  And some of the scenarios are kind of irresponsible.  I don't think it's a great idea to teach kids that getting hurt is a good thing because they can use it to get out of school.  I don't think it's a good idea to teach your kids to laugh at their friends when they get sick from eating too much sugar (I thought this was a fable about zen... not schadenfreude).  I don't think it's fair to expect kids to be okay with having their bike stolen because, hey, mom and dad will just buy them a new one.  What if mom and dad can't afford a new bike?  Will the kid be shamed for being upset and not accepting the injustice like a zen master?

The illustrations were also some of the weirdest I've ever seen.  The backgrounds looked like watercolour paintings, and were somewhat decent.  But all of the characters looked like they'd been drawn with a cheap computer program and then plopped on top!  It gave the whole book a really bizarre look that I didn't like at all.

This was pretty much a waste of time.  Thankfully, it wasn't a waste of money, as I got it for free.  Don't bother with this one.

Quotable moment:

One day, her bicycle disappeared.

Her friends said,
"That's terrible luck! You had such a nice bike.
What a bummer!"

The thoughtful girl
took a moment,
and then responded,

Recommended to: nobody

Premise: 2/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 2/5
Illustrations: 1/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 0/5

Overall: 1.17 out of 5

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