________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 29 . . . . March 30, 2018


The Sweeper: A Buddhist Tale.

Rebecca Hazell.
Boulder, CO: Shambhala Publications (Distributed in Canada by Penguin Random House), 2017.
32 pp., hardcover, $22.99.
ISBN 978-1-61180-438-6.

Subject Headings:
Buddhism-Juvenile literature.
Buddhist literature.

Grades 2-4 / Ages 7-9.

Review by Ellen Heaney.

** /4


This book from a small religious publishing house in Colorado is a story which tries to encapsulate the teachings of the Buddha for children.

      Padme is a lowly sweeper working in a wealthy household where she is berated and criticized. One day, a visitor is announced, and Padme speculates as to what sort of grand person may be coming.

A crowd of people surrounded the man, but he was not seated on an elephant
as a king would be, or on a horse as a warriors would be, or on a camel
as a merchant would be. Instead, he was walking! And he was not dressed
in fine silks, or in sturdy armour, or carrying a pack of goods but in simple
cotton robes the colour of marigolds

      It is the Buddha, who greets everyone equally and, after a meal, sits and talks to all, master and servant alike, in the courtyard. This is Padme's introduction to the idea of meditation. She feels that her work will make meditation impossible, but in a private session the Buddha enjoins her to use the repetitive nature of her daily tasks to provide a rhythm for calming and channeling her thoughts. Putting this into practise, she finds her awareness of everything around heightened.

      In time, she marries the gardener's son (who has become the head gardener) and they have two children. Years go by, and when the old master and old mistress die, Padme is in distress.

"It is just the same for all of us. We all suffer and change. We all
age and get sick and die. I wish I could do more for the world than
just sweep and clean. I wish I could at least pray for everyone, too,
but I don't know what prayer would be best."

      Fortunately the Buddha comes on another visit, and after a discussion about how to find guidance, Buddha shares this with Padme and her family:

"May all beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.
May they be free of suffering and the root of suffering.
May they enjoy the great happiness free from suffering.
May they dwell in the great balance that is free from
craving, anger and misunderstanding."

      The writing is somewhat plodding (the first quotation used here is about the most well-honed passage in the whole book), with repeated use of the word "then".

      The illustrations for the book are provided by the author. They are in the style of traditional Eastern art, with exaggeration of arms and emphasis on the eyes, and the use of line and wash and clear, light colours. But many of the human forms are awkwardly rendered, although the background detail is pleasing.

      The Sweeper would be useful as a template for a lesson on the teachings of Buddhism comprehensible to younger readers, but it does not make for a very exciting literary experience.

Recommended with Reservations.

Ellen Heaney is a retired children's librarian living in Coquitlam, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, contact cm@umanitoba.ca.

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