A panda for all sea­sons in verse and pic­tures

Book for kids con­veys a sense of peace

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Books - BERNIE GOEDHART

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

Hi, Koo!

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