Thursday, January 6, 2011

Ancient World History (India): The Stories of Buddha

Right before learning about Buddha, we studied Aesop (from ancient Greece) and his tales which my children have been reading (and memorizing) since kindergarten.  They learned about his life and culture in more depth.  We have been reading a couple of his tales each day from the book Aesop’s Fables (by Jerry Pinkney).  Some of the tales are a review while others are new to the kids. 
Buddha also told tales using animals as his characters.  Like Aesop, each story has a moral or lesson, such as “Riches and fame come and go like the wind” and “Treat others with kindness and your deeds will be rewarded.”  It has been insightful to compare these two men and their methods of storytelling.     

Buddha StoriesBuddha Stories (ages 4 and up) by Demi  
Demi is one of my favorite picture book authors, so I was thrilled to see she had put together a collection of Buddha’s stories.   Each two-page spread has a story written in a short, concise manner (comparable to an Aesop’s fable) while the other side is an illustration in gold ink over a dark background.  In addition, there is a one sentence moral at the bottom like “Don’t be deceived by a donkey in lion’s skin.”  This collection of 11 narratives is ideal for a sampling of Buddha’s stories or for reading in several short increments. 

I Once Was a Monkey: Stories Buddha ToldI Once Was A Monkey (ages 7 and up) by Jeanne M. Lee 
A group of animals take shelter in a small cave during the monsoon rains.  At first, they bicker in the small space, all vying for the upper hand.  Suddenly, a statue of Buddha illuminates the dark space.  Such is the framework used to impart some of the stories of Buddha.   They are told from the perspective of an animal (the same types as the ones arguing in the cave) that Buddha believes he was in his many past lives.  Each of the six narratives has a lesson in treating others—no matter their size or strength—with respect, kindness, and wisdom. After the rains cease, the animals part ways, showing greater compassion and consideration for each other.   The framework and stories in I Once Was a Monkey are good.  The pictures are adequate.  The drawback with this book is that it is too long for a single read, but it can be confusing for repeated reads.   We read it on and off over a few days.  I had to keep reminding the children of the context and previous stories since they were written to build on each other. 

I have not had a chance to do any thing more than peruse the following two books.  I’ll give a quick summary of what I observed.
The Wisdom of the Crows and Other Buddhist Tales (ages 6 and up) by Sherab Chodzin and Alexandra Kohn
The stories in this collection vary in length from 1-11 pages.  The vibrant illustrations are the best of the books I reviewed.   Overall, the layout and format are attractive.
Buddhist Stories (ages 7 and up) by Anita Ganeri
There are 8 stories included in this anthology that vary from 2-5 pages each.  The illustrations are adequate.  One unique feature is the numerous “Did you know” boxes that feature information about Buddha and Buddhism. 

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