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Zen Shorts (Caldecott Honor Book) Hardcover – March 1, 2005

222 customer reviews
Book 1 of 3 in the Zen Series

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Editorial Reviews

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.

From Booklist

*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

Product Details

  • Age Range: 4 - 8 years
  • Grade Level: Preschool - 3
  • Lexile Measure: 540L (What's this?)
  • Series: Caldecott Honor Book
  • Hardcover: 40 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press (March 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0439339111
  • ISBN-13: 978-0439339117
  • Product Dimensions: 0.2 x 10.5 x 11 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (222 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,236 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

In 1999 Mr. Muth started what has been over a decade in children's books. He has received numerous awards and critical acclaim and worked with many talented people. He is the author and illustrator of "Zen Shorts" a Caldecott Honor book, which Kirkus Review described as "Every word and image comes to make as perfect a picture book as can be". He is the illustrator of the anthology, "A Family of Poems", with Caroline Kennedy. His book "The Three Questions" has been described as "quietly life-changing" by The New York Times.

Muth worked for over twenty years in comics and graphic novels; culminating in the industry's highest honor, an Eisner Award for "The Mystery Play".

In an interview with the Paris Review, E.B. White once said, "You don't write down for children. You write up." Muth wholeheartedly agrees. "Children are completely capable of intuiting wisdom as readily as adults are... they just may not have the ability to put it into words ... [but] they get this stuff very quickly. Even the kids who come to the book (Zen Shorts) because it has a giant panda tend to come back because there's some itch that's created -- in their minds or in their hearts -- to re-examine what's going on."

Mr. Muth has had a life long interest in Asian Studies, including tai chi chuan, sumi ink drawing and chado, "the way of tea". His work has been translated into more than a dozen languages and he lives with his wife Bonnie and their four children in New York.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

216 of 230 people found the following review helpful By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on November 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover
If at first you don't create the world's most philosophically sound picture book, try try again. When illustrator and sometime graphic novelist (though you wouldn't know it from his bookflaps) Jon J. Muth turned a Tolstoy short story into the picture book, "The Three Questions", response from professional journals was mixed. People liked the IDEA of making Tolstoy accessible to children but "The Three Questions" just didn't seem to cut it. When the book didn't get much in the way of attention, Muth could've abandoned the whole idea of bringing larger ideas to very young people. Instead, he came right back with a heaping plateful of Zen with panda. "Zen Shorts" is the result and remains perhaps the most beautiful picture to be published in the year of 2005. To call it classy doesn't even begin to cover it.

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.
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54 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Robert Cannon on June 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read this to my children last evening. It resulted in a lengthy discussion about anger, giving, forgiving, wealth, and life. A wonderful book with a structure that is conducive to discussion. Divided into three parts with stories that Stillwater tells to visiting siblings, each story is an opportunity to stop and discuss.
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84 of 90 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Customer on March 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I picked this up on a whim because of the title and the gorgeous illustrations. I got a real treasure! My five year old son loves to have it read to him, and I love reading it.
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By A. Meikle on August 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I first overheard my wife reading this book to our children; then I realized what I was listening to and became captivated; Zen stories made accessible to all as they are related by a panda to his neighbors. Then I saw the pictures; the illustrations are of a world you'll long to inhabit--and you may be jealous of the children that they have a neighbor like Stillwater. Tears of joy and satisfaction welled up as I read it, and I realized that I had in my hands a truly wonderful book. The stories that Muth tells through Stillwater (the perfect name for the Zen panda) speak to all of us--I am sure I get something different from their telling than my eight-year-old and four-year-old, but the stories spoke to all of us. There is also tremendous subtlety in the relationship between the story that the children are in, and the ones that they hear from Stillwater. That subtlety was not ultimately lost on me nor my eight-year old, as we shared the wonderful experience of reading this book together.

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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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By A.S. on October 20, 2005
Format: Hardcover
There is something about the quiet way in which this book unfolds that is appealing to adults and, apparently, to young children as well -- my four-year-old leafs through the pages on his own every day since the day I bought it, and sleeps with it, too. There is gentle wisdom here that is sure to foster thoughtful discussion about how we should treat ourselves and others.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Michelle G. Heinrich on June 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is a singularly wonderful book for children and adults. The illustrations are beautifully rendered - I particularly love the contrast between the "real time" pictures of Stillwater and his new friends and the more traditionally "Japanese" style pen and ink drawings of the Zen tales themselves. Stillwater himself is cute and appealing for young children, but the stories themselves are just as appropriate for adults and older children. While these are unquestionably tales that teach children valuable life lessons such as sharing and the dangers of anger, etc., they are just as thought provoking for adults and older kids. What I love most is that the stories in this book are not the bland, didactic morality tales that we hear endlessly as children but begin to question as we grow older. There are no obvious, simplistic answers to trite moral situations. Instead we are asked to think. In true Zen form, Stillwater (and, therefore, Muth) is neither preachy nor direct; instead, he allows the children (and the readers) to quietly consider the story and its implications. I am sure that we can all benefit from not hanging on to anger and from adopting a broader view of what we consider to be good or bad luck. Muth as given his readers accessible retelling of famous Zen parables packages in a beautifully appealing format.
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