Books for the junior Buddhist set, reviewed by Olivia Donstov, age 10
Illustrated by Julie Vivas
Kane/Miller Book Publishers, 2007
48 pp.; $17.95 (cloth)
This book is about a dog who lived many lives—very strange and different lives, one as a stray, one as a friend, one as a pet, one as an entertainer, until one day he finally learned a lesson about love.
This book really touched my heart, the way that Dog had to learn to love, and how he did, eventually. I love the way it was written, the way Dog was not very nice, shunning people and loving no one, and then learned how to live his life well. The illustrations help capture what the book is saying, the vivid colors, and the action the pictures show.
I think the story at the heart of this book is, you get reincarnated until you can make your time on earth worthwhile, and to be able to love and care for others.
Dog started out as a mean, snarling, vicious dog, and he only cared for himself. But then he became a dog that could love and care for someone more than himself. The message was cleverly hidden, and I liked that.
I think people of all ages who like books about reincarnation, how people change, and how people care for each other would enjoy this book.
Twenty Jataka Tales
Retold by Noor Inayat Khan
Illustrated by H. Willebeek Le Mair
Inner Directions, 1985
152 pp.; $12.95 (paper)
Twenty Jataka Tales has many different stories, but all of them are about the Buddha's past lives, and how he became wiser in these lives, and how he had to learn, just like you and me.
All these stories helped me learn the lessons the Buddha did, and when I read them, I can't help but hope I will become strong and wise like the Buddha, too.
What I didn't like about it was that each story ended with "and they lived happily ever after." Even though the Buddha learned how to be eternally happy, some of the lessons of this book only make you happy for some time in real life.
These stories have many different lessons, and the Buddha learned them all. Some of them were about how to love, some about how to care, and some about how to tell the truth. These lessons help you in life, but I think that the biggest one is that if you help people, or care for people, or love people, you will be able to be happy, no matter what.
Kids who like books with magical, fairy-tale-like elements would enjoy this book, and kids who like stories like Aesop's Fables should read this.
The Robber Chief
W. W. Rowe
Snow Lion Publications, 2003
48 pp.; $12.95 (cloth)
The Robber Chief is a chapter book about three men. One is a monk, one is a slave (who becomes a robber chief), and one is a jeweler. Slowly, but surely, the monk teaches the other men how to truly be happy.
I love the way this book is written because it has three different people who all are connected in a way. The monk helps the jeweler and the slave see how to be a good person, and the slave and the jeweler changed from being selfish, cruel people to being kind, generous people. For example: the slave (when he became a robber chief) stole from lots of people, but before he died, he told the monk where the treasure lay, and the monk shared it with people in need. The jeweler started to give some of his money to beggars and poor people, and he became happy. The plot is a very good one, because it shows how much people can change, and how simple it can be to do so. The lesson really makes you want to be a better person.
The lesson I think the author is trying to get across is that if you help other people, you will be able to be happy, and when you are happy, you will be able to help.
But if you don't help, you won't be happy, even if you think you are. The robber chief was stealing from so many people because he had a bad life as a slave, and his way of revenge was stealing, but in his last few minutes of life he felt guilty, and he did a good deed.
I think this story would make a good read-aloud, or a book on tape. Kids eight and older should read this book, and kids who like books with lots of emotion and meaning, too.
The Monkey Bridge
Illustrated by Fahimeh Amiri
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 1997
29 pp.; $17.00 (cloth)
This picture book is about two kings. One was a monkey, the other a human. One king was wise, the other was selfish, and one day they met. And it was the monkey who taught the human what it really means to be king.
This story is very touching because the monkey king thought of others, not himself, and that's something a lot of people have trouble doing. I also really like it because everything flows, except for one part. The human king is ordering his men to shoot the monkeys, but then when he sees the monkey king, he saves him. I think the author could've written that better, like saying why the king told his men not to shoot the monkeys and their king. I love the illustrations because they really show how it was at that moment in the book.
They capture the emotions and the actions on paper.
I think that the author was very clear about the message that if you think only of yourself, and not of others, your life is meaningless. I believe that you live for others, and it's your friends and family that keep you going.
I think that kids who are concerned about equality should read this book.
The Buddha's Diamonds
Carolyn Marsden and Thay Phap Niem
112 pp.; $14.99 (cloth)
In The Buddha's Diamonds, a boy tries to do everything right. A storm strikes, which leads to events that break the trust between the son and his father. He has to win back that trust, and learn what makes the world a happier place.
This book has lots of characteristic elements of Vietnamese life that really make it enjoyable, such as the way the Vietnamese worship, and how hard life is for them.
I think the lesson of this book is that there is always something to be happy about, no matter what, because it seems as if the main character saw the world as a glass half empty, so he had to see the world differently.
I would recommend this book to all ages, although it is a chapter book. I would also recommend this book to anyone who needs to see the "diamonds" in the world, and to people who need hope, and to people who understand or want to understand how important Buddhism is to the Vietnamese.
Olivia Donstov lives in New York City. She will be starting sixth grade this fall and enjoys reading, piano, eating, and playing with her friends. She is currently writing a series of stories inspired by the Jataka Tales.
Image 1: © Elaine Chu