cover image Enlighten Me

Enlighten Me

Minh Lê, illus. by Chan Chau. Little, Brown Ink, $24.99 (144p) ISBN 978-0-7595-5547-1; $12.99 paper ISBN 978-0-7595-5548-8

Lê (Real to Me) adroitly applies the foundational story of Siddhartha, the prince credited with founding Buddhism, and select Jataka tales to build a narrative arc attuned to contemporary tweens’ fears and worries. After Vietnamese American tween Bình is nearly suspended for fighting back against a bully at school, his parents take the family on vacation to a silent meditation getaway at Three Jewels Mountain Retreat, hoping that the atmosphere will help Bình practice inner peace. Bình is dreading their stay; not only are participants not allowed to talk, he must also leave behind his beloved Game Boy, which he often escapes into to manage his anxiety. While sitting still in meditation, his mind drifts to past events, revisiting them as 8-bit video game battles against mean classmates and his intolerant school principal. Sister Peace, a Buddhist monk and retreat instructor, takes the youngest participants aside and shares with them Jataka tales of Buddha’s past lives before he attained enlightenment. By visualizing these stories as games, Bình learns how to rely on his intellect, family, and community to navigate everyday challenges. Cinematic digital art by Chau (Jessie’s Secret Language) renders pensive, autumnal mountain landscapes alongside action-packed 8-bit-style sequences using dynamic framing and movement. A bibliography concludes. Ages 8–12. (Sept.)