Zen and the Ten Oxherding Pictures
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Zen and the Ten Oxherding Pictures

  • written & illustrates by: Demi

  • Juvenile Fiction / Religious / Buddhist






Date Available:

Available now


4 and up

Grade Level:

Kindergarten – 3


10″ x 10″

Page Count:


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In this beloved Zen Buddhist allegory, a boy is searching for his missing ox, which is meant to represent his true self. Once he finds it, he struggles to tame and train it. So, the journey and actions of the young ox herder can illustrate the process of a person’s journey toward enlightenment. On another level, it shows us how to focus on and then overcome stubborn challenges that we encounter in daily life.

Although some terms in the story such as “ego” will be beyond the understanding of younger children, parents and teachers could find simpler, more age-appropriate terms to apply to the metaphor of the search for the ox. For example, many young children will be able to understand “selfishness,” and should be able to see that because the boy can rid himself of any selfishness and anger, he can find the ox more easily and that it will be more willing to accompany him home.

This allegorical story may remind us of the morality plays of earlier European literature. Buddhists, too, have for many centuries known that simple stories can help children — and adults — see human shortcomings more easily by featuring them in a story. As adults we are able to engage in soul-searching, but most of us got a headstart on this when we were children through Bible stories, fables, or, as in this case, allegorical tales.

Award-winning author Demi presents the story of the herd boy and his ox with all the simplicity and beauty of the traditional Zen Buddhist representations. An appendix provides further details on the history and meaning of the oxherding pictures and on the special branch of Buddhism called Zen, which flourished in China, Korea, and Japan, and was later introduced to the West in the early 20th century.

Demi is the author and illustrator of over 130 bestselling children’s books, including The Fantastic Adventures of KrishnaShivaMahaviraGifts of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Talking to God Her titles have sold over half a million copies. The Empty Pot was selected by former First Lady Barbara Bush in 1990 as one of the books to be read on the ABC Radio Network Program Mrs. Bush’s Story Time, sponsored by the Children’s Literacy Initiative. Demi’s book Gandhi was named a New York Times Best Illustrated Book and received an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award.

Major exhibitions of Demi’s artwork have been held in numerous museums in the U.S., including the Time/Life Gallery in New York, the Botolph Galleries in Boston and Cambridge, and the Los Angeles County Museum. Demi won a Fulbright Scholarship to India, and in addition she represented the U.S. at the First International Children’s Book Conference in Beijing, China, in 1992.

Demi lives with her husband in Yarrow Point, Washington State.


  • Winner in the “Children’s Religion” category of the 2023 NYC Big Book Awards
  • Winner in the “Book Cover Design – Children’s Picture Book” category of the 2023 NYC Big Book Awards
  • Named one of “The Best Spiritual Books of 2022” for children by Spirituality & Practice website
  • Silver Medal in the “Children’s Picture Books” category of the 2023 Midwest Book Awards


  • “The ten Zen Buddhist oxherding pictures, with their accompanying prose, come to us from the brush of Kakuan, a Rinzai monk, based on earlier drawings by various Zen teachers. They depict the stages of spiritual progress by gradual purification. Demi has ingeniously taken these teachings and turned them into a joyous exploration for four-to-eight year olds of the quest for Enlightenment. She introduces a little boy named Zen who is out searching for his lost ox, following its tracks and glimpses of its horns and nose. As the boy recaptures and tames the ox — an image of the deeper Buddha nature gentling the ego — the pages grow increasingly joyful. Demi’s illustrations, in round frames on the square pages, have the spacious serenity of Asian paintings.… Demi includes at the end a two-page discussion of the history and meaning of the Zen Oxherding Pictures, followed by two pages about Zen Buddhism. We especially appreciate — in both Kakuan’s and Demi’s renditions — that the enlightened joy spills back over into the world, with the tenth and final frame being devoted to ‘entering the city with bliss-bestowing hands.’ You may already be familiar with Demi’s more than 300 bestselling children’s books, covering a wide range of spiritual traditions. (See, for instance, this review of her Hildegard of Bingen.) She has received more than 20 awards and honors, which you can view on her author biography page at Wisdom Tales Press.”

    – Patricia Campbell Carlson

    , Spirituality & Practice

  • “Meditatively beautiful full-page artwork is coupled with a Zen style text. The result is a unique, entertaining, thoughtful and thought-provoking picture book for young readers. While Zen and the Ten Oxherding Pictures is strongly recommended for family, daycare center, preschool, elementary school, and community library Buddhism, Asian, and Multicultural picture book collections for children ages 4-8, it should be noted for personal reading lists that it is also available in a digital book format….”

    – from a review in “Children’s Bookwatch”

    , (by Midwest Book Review), October 2022, in the Buddhism Shelf

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Sample Page Spreads from This Book

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