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Review: ‘Zen Pencils: Inspirational Quotes for Kids’

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Zen Pencils: Inspirational Quotes for Kids
by Gavin Aung Than
Andrews McMeel, $9.99
Ages 7-12 years

The quotes in Zen Pencils: Inspirational Quotes for Kids are oddly chosen. The second is about training to avoid bleeding in battle, attributed to an Armed Forces motto, a strange choice to lead off a book of advice for youngsters. The meanings of several are still argued over by adults, so the “inspirational” nature is questionable. And several are mini-essays, trying the patience of a younger reader trying to understand the point.

Zen Pencils: Inspirational Quotes for Kids

While a few of those quoted will be known—Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie—the majority rate a “who?” There are a few short sentences in a back section that explain who the speakers were, but the quotes seem to have been selected based on what they say instead of who said it, perhaps to spur further reading and research.

Many seem to have been chosen so Than would have a chance to draw action scenes, regardless of how well-suited that art is for the material. I found the quote about doing what makes you come alive appropriate, but the accompanying sequence about an unhappy attorney visualizing herself as a female wrestler executing an elbow drop on her opponent seems to reveal more about Than’s interests than insight into the quote. (This character returns a couple more times to struggle against continuing adversity.) Similarly, a Jack London quote about not wasting days is inappropriately illustrated by a Green Lantern rip-off. Later, there’s a Batman copy as well.

If not mismatched, then the sequences are full of the most predictable choices possible, such that they could have been paired with any of several texts. Or they have messages that I’m not sure were intended, as with the one about a little girl with unibrow who, after being taunted, is just fine after learning of the existence of Frida Kahlo. So we shouldn’t take simple strides, such as using tweezers, to make ourselves feel prettier or more comfortable? And if Frida is such an inspiration, shouldn’t her last name have been included in the script, so other kids would know who’s being referred to? (The table of contents and back matter do give the full name.)

Too many of these quotes are about determination in doing what you love. Some more balance would have been appreciated. Kids are already fed so much “just keep on and you’ll be rewarded” that it becomes misleading, causing some to become discouraged when they have to make more practical choices.

This book is sloppy, repetitive, and feels slapped together to extend the brand. The quotes are poorly chosen, often too wordy, predictable in topic, unbalanced in perspective, and not well served by the mismatched art.

Johanna About Johanna

Johanna Draper Carlson has been reviewing comics for over 20 years. She manages, the longest-running independent review site online that covers all genres of comic books, graphic novels, and manga. She has an MA in popular culture, studying online fandom, and was previously, among many other things, webmaster for DC Comics. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

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