A panda for all seasons in verse and pictures
Book for kids conveys a sense of peace
The cover of Hi, Koo! — subtitled A Year of Seasons — is a paean to spring, with its spray of cherry blossoms overhead and pale green grass below framing a roly-poly young panda doing a headstand of sorts, with a bright red cardinal perched on his bottom. Author John J. Muth is a master at watercolour illustrations that convey a sense of peace and joie de vivre.
This volume, best suited for children four to eight, marks a return appearance by Koo, first introduced to Muth’s fans in the 2008 publication Zen Ties, one of three picture books featuring Stillwater, the giant panda.
Koo, his young nephew, is fond of haikus — a passion reflected in the pun that serves as the title of this new edition, which opens with an author’s note explaining that the traditional haiku, as poetic form, originated in Japan, where it consisted of 17 sound parts divided into three lines (five, seven, and five).
English syllables, however, are not the same as the Japanese sound parts, and haiku translated from Japanese directly into English may be shorter than 17 syllables. “Over time, haiku has evolved,” Muth explains, adding that he hasn’t restricted himself “to the fiveseven-five syllable pattern that many of us grew up learning haiku must be.”
Instead, he gives us three-line By Jon J. Muth Scholastic Press verses that capture a sensory image — 26 of them, one for each letter of the alphabet, divided into four seasons.
The book starts with fall: “Autumn, / are you dreaming / of new clothes?” he asks us, as Koo reaches up to catch some of the colourful leaves blowing down.
Five other scenes follow before we get to winter — “snowfall / Gathers my footprints / I do a powdery stomp” — and there is Koo, in shiny red boots and a striped scarf, manoeuvring through the snow with two young friends as a snowman looks on.
We might be tempted to rush through the next six snowy scenes, but there’s no denying they have appeal: the image of Koo, puzzling over a cat who sinks almost out of sight in a snowdrift, and the one that shows Koo wearing a snowy crown while the cardinal looks down from a branch overhead.
Still, the section that begins with “New leaves / new grass new sky / spring!” is probably going to be more to our liking these days. And by the time we get to summer, it’s clear Koo and his pals are making the most of their time in the sun. By Adam Begley Harper