Zen Shorts Hardcover – Mar 1 2005
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From School Library Journal
Kindergarten-Grade 4 - Beautifully illustrated in two distinct styles, this book introduces readers to a Zen approach to the world, wrapped in a story about three siblings and their new neighbor, a panda. One by one, the children visit Stillwater, enjoying his company and listening to him tell a brief tale that illustrates a Zen principle. Each time, there is a link between the conversation shared by Stillwater and his visitor and the story he tells; it's somewhat tenuous in regard to the two older siblings, quite specific in the case of Karl, the youngest. The tales invite the children to consider the world and their perceptions from a different angle; for Karl, the panda's story gently but pointedly teaches the benefits of forgiveness. Richly toned and nicely detailed watercolors depict the "real world" scenes, while those accompanying the Zen lessons employ black lines and strokes on pastel pages to create an interesting blend of Western realism and more evocative Japanese naturalism. Taken simply as a picture book, Zen Shorts is interesting and visually lovely. As an introduction to Zen, it is a real treat, employing familiar imagery to prod children to approach life and its circumstances in profoundly "un-Western" ways. An author's note discusses the basic concept of Zen and details the sources of Stillwater's stories. Appealing enough for a group read-aloud, but also begging to be shared and discussed by caregiver and child, Zen Shorts is a notable achievement. - Coop Renner, Hillside Elementary, El Paso, TX
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* K-Gr. 3. Like The Three Questions (2002), Muth's latest is both an accessible, strikingly illustrated story and a thought-provoking meditation. Here he incorporates short Buddhist tales, "Zen Shorts," into a story about three contemporary children. One rainy afternoon, a giant panda appears in the backyard of three siblings. Stillwater, the Panda, introduces himself, and during the next few days, the children separately visit him. Stillwater shares an afternoon of relaxing fun with each child; he also shares Zen stories, which give the children new views about the world and about each other. Very young listeners may not grasp the philosophical underpinnings of Stillwater's tales, but even kids who miss the deeper message will enjoy the spare, gentle story of siblings connecting with one another. Lush, spacious watercolors of charming Stillwater and the open neighborhood will entrance children, as will the dramatic black-and-white pictures of the comical animal characters that illustrated Stillwater's Zen stories. Muth doesn't list sources for the tales, but his author's note offers more commentary about Zen. Stillwater's questions will linger (Can misfortune become good luck? What is the cost of anger?), and the peaceful, uncluttered pictures, like the story itself, will encourage children to dream and fill in their own answers. Gillian Engberg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
This is not a religious book. It is about a (talking) panda who befriends three children and tells stories to them with moral and philosophical themes. It is presented in a narrative that children can enjoy and understand. I was surprised at how much my three year old loves this book - but then we gave it to several of our friends' children and they all seem to like it equally.
The artwork is beautiful for adults and engaging for children.
I heartily endorse this book.
Zen Shorts is such a positive, engaging story for young children. And thought provoking too, as my oldest (whose five) asks many questions about the morals in the stories (there are several). The illustrations are beautiful, the story is unique, and it's a wonderful inspiring read for young minds.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
A panda appears in the backyard of three children. He is holding a large red umbrella (one that he holds over the three children as they talk) and is extraordinarily polite. The book notes that he, "spoke with a slight panda accent". With this initial meeting, the children slowly befriend their new neighbor, Stillwater. When Addy comes to his home with a housewarming gift, Stillwater returns the favor with the gift of a small story about his Uncle Ry. Michael visits the panda at the top of a tall tree. There they discuss, with the help of another story, what luck is and how a person can never really know what is going to happen to them next. Karl, the youngest of the three, brings too many toys to swim with in Stillwater's wading pool. At the end of the day, the two have had a good time, but Karl has wasted much of it by being mad at his older brother. On the way home, Stillwater tells a tale of letting go of what you cannot change. The final image is of Karl perched triumphantly on Stillwater's paw as Addy and Michael look on bemusedly. An Author's Note follows, wherein Mr. Muth defines "Zen" and explains that this book is a grouping of "Zen shorts". These stories are intended to, "hone our ability to act with intuition". Darn tooting.
I'm a praise lavisher by nature. I'm all too eager to say that this or that book is the best in its category. Last year I decided that Jeannie Baker's, "Home" was the most beautiful picture book of 2004. "Zen Shorts", by extension, is the most beautiful picture book of 2005. When I say this, though, I don't want my statement taken lightly. Jon J. Muth has balanced jaw-droppingly beautiful watercolors with a story that speaks with both humor and serenity. Had Mr. Muth preferred to create a book that talked about Zen principles for the preschool-set, he could have done so quite easily without bothering with visual or verbal humor. "Zen" in general is a pretty heady subject, eh? The kind of concept that many an American adult still scratches their head in wonder at. How much more impressive then that Stillwater becomes such an adorable and amusing friend. After telling Addy the story of his uncle, the two are next seen painting pictures of one another in ink, hands gripping their paintbrushes in the correct position. When the two move on to cake, Addy spears a piece for herself while Stillwater's pink tongue reaches out to the bamboo garnish. I especially enjoyed the moment where Karl and Stillwater fill his kiddie pool up with too many toys. Stillwater stands in his bathing suit, his face impassive. Heck, he doesn't even have distinguishable mouth or eyes in the shot! Next to him, Karl has crossed his arms in a huff of anger at his own mistake. These illustrations seem to be perfectly balanced between what is true and what you wish was true. I would love to lie on the stomach of a friendly and wise panda like Michael does. Many a child will feel the same way.
Muth's small zen shorts act as little stories within a story and compliment the larger action perfectly. The shorts are illustrated differently than the rest of the book so that, instead of watercolors, they are lined in thick black ink. Without drawing undue attention to himself, Muth is showing us that he can draw in completely different styles without so much as breaking a sweat. The stories themselves may be familiar to some adults. I particularly remembered "The Farmer's Luck", and love the final amusing image Muth chooses to close out this tale. Kids reading this book may be confused by the selflessness displayed in both the first and the third story towards the undeserving. Intelligent adults will find a way to use such parables towards furthering their kids' understanding of the wider world. The final tale ("A Heavy Load") may require some explanations to children when it comes to the (for lack of a better word) punchline. Otherwise, they are instantly understandable to young readers.
You would be wise to pair this book with Jack Prelutsky's, "If Not For the Cat" if you wanted a storytime tinged with East Asian influences. If you yourself are an adult and you are impressed by his visual style, you may wish to seek out his work on "Moonshadow", or other graphic novels that bear his hand. I, personally, would be amiss if I didn't also talk up his fabulous, "Gershon's Monster" by Eric Kimmel. To my mind, "Zen Shorts" is Muth's best picture book work thus far. This is possibly because it was written with his own words. If we can expect more books of this nature to come out with Muth's voice accompanying them, we can count ourselves lucky indeed. Again, I say that there is little doubt that this is the most beautiful picture book of 2005.
Every so often, when I discover a book, a movie or a CD, I have the impulse to go out and buy as many copies as I can get my hands on, and share it with everyone I know; that impulse hasn't driven me more than a handful of times. Zen Shorts is one of those books. If I don't know you though, you'll have to buy your own copy--but you won't regret it.
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