You may recall that my only reservation prior to our trip to Bhutan earlier this year was dealing with the Buddhism that is inherent in Bhutanese life and culture. I'm feeling that same concern now as I prepare to tell you about a wonderful living book that I found last weekend. In Search of the Thunder Dragon, written and illustrated by Sophie and Romio Shrestha is the best living book about Bhutan for children that you are likely to ever see - just my opinion, mind you!!
The book tells the story of a young girl, Amber, who travels to Bhutan for the first time to visit family. Her grandfather tells her the story of the Thunder Dragons who play hide-and-seek in the clouds during thunder storms. Amber and her cousin, Tashi, long to see the Thunder Dragons and so they set out across the mountains to find them.
At an monastery, an old monk tells Amber and Tashi that they must travel to a place high up in the Himalayan mountains called the Tiger's Nest. There they would find a flying tiger. The tiger would help them find the Thunder Dragons.
Clambering onto the tiger's back they fly higher and higher into the heavens over a patchwork of fields dotted with tiny Bhutanese houses. Thick clouds gather until suddenly two enormous dragons fly towards them...the Thunder Dragons. The children stretch out their arms. They will never forget this night.
This is a not a Buddhist book. It is a book about a Buddhist country. It is filled with monasteries, monks, mythical beasts and chants. But that is what Bhutan is - a Buddhist country. You can't learn about Bhutan without studying Buddhism in the same way that you look at Islam when you study Yemen and Jupiter and Zeus in Ancient Greece. They are inextricably linked.
So what else do you learn? You learn that the Bhutanese live in extended families. You learn that wisdom comes with age and that grandfathers know all. You see their beautiful clothes - Amber's kira and Tashi's gho and the saffron robes of the old monk.. You learn that Bhutanese houses are beautifully carved and painted with images of tigers, flowers and rainbows. You see painted Buddhist thankas on the walls. You see pictures of prayer flags, of butter lamps, altars, temples, fortress dzongs and mountains. Always the beautiful mountains. You see Bhutan.
And so you learn - not because you are told, but because you see. This is what living books do. They don't preach - they teach - through their words; through their illustrations; through engaging the child's imagination. This book does this perfectly.
This is Romio Shrestha's first book for children. Romio is a thanka painter - the sacred Buddhist scrolls that are depicted through the pages of the book. His full page illustrations are exquisite. Samples of his thankas hang in museums around the world including The British Museum, The Victoria & Albert Museum, and the American Museum of Natural History.
Romio believes that he is the 17th reincarnation of Tibetan Thanka painter, Arniko. This concept of reincarnation is intrinsically entwined with Bhutanese Buddhism, and it is interesting to discover this link. You can hear more about this and see some of his original work in this Youtube video:
I don't think you'll find a better book to teach young children about Bhutan. I don't rate my reviews, but if I did then this one would get 6/5. In Search of the Thunder Dragon is without equal.