Zen for the Younger Set

Peace, love and Zen. If we had a little more of these in our lives, the world might — almost certainly would — be a better place. You can help foster these qualities when you stock Maybe (A Little Zen for Little Ones), a delightful book that reinterprets a classic Zen story in an accessible context for kids.

The book, by Sanjay Nambiar, tells of a wise girl who experiences a series of events that at first seem lucky (or unlucky) but 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 where that event might lead. The book is beautifully illustrated with modern graphics juxtaposed with traditional backgrounds and a relatable “heroine.”

“While many ancient Zen stories are powerful and poignant, they feature farmers, monks, traditional prose, and other elements that make it hard for modern audiences to relate to them,” notes Nambiar. “This book tells a wise fable through the lens of today’s world, with kids as the characters instead of farmers or animals. I hope that makes the beautiful themes within the story more accessible for our modern culture,” he adds.

Sanjay Nambiar grew up in Carson, CA, where he overcame a gang-and drug-riddled environment with the help of a closely knit family and a focus on education. He graduated with honors from UC Berkeley, with degrees in Economics and Neurobiology, and earned an MBA from UCLA. Now a freelance copywriter in Los Angeles, Sanjay practices meditation on a daily basis and sees extraordinary potential for happiness (and frustration) in the confluence of Western lifestyles and Eastern philosophies. Through his books, he hopes to inspire readers to consider life in a different perspective, one that incorporates a little bit of Zen, as well as a lot of fun.

The language in the 32-pager is simple to understand, so toddlers can enjoy having it read to them while older kids can manage the story themselves. The author decided to have a girl as the central character because he has identical four-and-a-half year old twin girls. With equal opportunity, he will give a boy the starring role in his next book.

The girl, whose experiences make up the story, lives in a modern, multicultural world with a modern family, school and friends. Whatever comes her way, she doesn’t focus on the emotion of the event but simply lets life happen as it will. If kids take away even a smidgeon of this message, parents and caregivers will find them more relaxed and philosophically prepared to deal with events as they take place. The very last page of the book invites young readers to color the girl they have had so much fun reading about.

Part of the reason Maybe is so compelling is the simplicity of the narrative — easy to understand but sufficiently complex to invite contemplation. There’s no right or wrong, just the unfolding of everyday events like a birthday party or a favorite meal, but each action is rich with meaning. The illustrations are a collaboration with the author and editor serving as creative directors, working with three artists from 3-Keys Graphics and Design, which has teams in the San Francisco Bay Area and India.

Maybe is the first in a series with the next book due in 2012. To order this book for your shelves or an in-store storytelling event, visit www.alittlezen.com