I bought this book thinking that it was one of those gifts that my son probably wouldn't like but that because it was a children's book I could get away with buying it indirectly for myself. Sort of a back-door self gift, at a time when I couldn't afford to buy myself something. Well, I was right about my liking it, but wrong about my son--he liked it too, and still does. We have read and re-read many of our favorite stories (I tend to get in reading grooves sometimes, like the period during which I couldn't read anything but stories from "Interpreter of Maladies").
If you have Paul Reps' famous "Zen Flesh, Zen Bones," you will recognize many of the stories in "Kindess" from there, but in a lushly expanded form. I am impressed by how Sarah Conover is able to expand a simple Buddhist tale without diluting it, and add detail without dragging it out. Everything seems necessary, even though I'm used to shorter versions of the same tales. This is the sign of good writing to me. Not all of the tales are long, though, so you can use it as a bedtime read regardless of the length of time you have available; there are stories you can read in 2 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes--whatever your time frame. What's nice, too, about the book is that it grows with the child. A year ago, my son's favorite tales were the simpler ones (though all are complex in the Buddhist way) such as "Great Joy the Ox" about kindness and "The Dung Beetle" which warns of the dangers of hubris. Now his favorite is a more conceptual story, "The Monk's Heavy Load," which treats the idea of being weighed down by resentments and memories.
Besides being delightful to read, the book is gorgeous to look at and hold. Only the cover illustration is multi-colored; those inside are sepia-toned, but this matters not a whit. Valerie Wahl's illustrations are carefully drawn to capture, (at most, one per story) precisely the key moment of each tale. An aphorism precedes each story also reflecting the theme of each tale. The pages are slick, heavy and a Zen pleasure to handle and turn, as long as the book lies flat on a table. The only negative point about the book's design is that its odd shape (a horizontal rather than vertical rectangle) and weight make it awkward for reading in bed. Hardcover children's picture books in this shape are easy to read, but this is a glossy paged book of 160+ pages which makes it both heavy and floppy (at least in the paperback edition I have). We've worked hard to keep ours in good shape, and we've succeeded, but it might be harder for families with lots of children (or less book obsessed parents).
I can't really imagine a person not liking this book, and if I could, I wouldn't want to meet him anyway. These tales drop lessons softly, the way fragrant blossoms fall from trees. They introduce children to Buddhism, which can't be a bad thing at any time, and can only help things these days. If you have no one for whom to buy this book, then do what I did and buy it for yourself and if, like me, you're worried that the child in your life may not like it, you very well might be proven wrong--much to your delight.
If you're like me and are sick of hearing about Harry Potter from some forty year old guy in a coffee shop than don't go to a coffee shop, stay home, and read this book. Sure its probably aimed for the young kids but c'mon, what's the last thing you did out of kindness? Giving your loose change to the bum outside your office doesn't count. This book shows off some amazing stories that one shouldn't discount. Written by the intelligent and very beautiful Sarah Conover, this book is sure to leave you with a smile on your face so wide that it makes the old woman sitting next to you on the T nervous. Sure get it for your kids, get two or three copies, but get one to fit in your briefcase too. One could learn a thing or two, especially you.