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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
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*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
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