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Jon J Muth Zen Shorts

Last updated: September 26, 2023


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Product Details

In our analysis of 99 expert reviews, the Jon J Muth Zen Shorts placed 12th when we looked at the top 13 products in the category. For the full ranking, see below.

From The Manufacturer

*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

Expert Reviews


What reviewers liked

Author and illustrator Jon J. Muth has fashioned a classic children's book with exquisite visuals; the cover is of the panda balancing precariously on the pointed roof of a house. He also has given us glimpse of Zen that vividly catches and conveys the startling perspectives of this path.
Readers will fall easily into the rhythm of visits to Stillwater and his storytelling sessions, and many more will fall in love with the panda, whose shape and size offer the children many opportunities for cuddling.
The short tales address the existence of good and bad luck, the nature of frustration and forgiveness, and the role of material possessions.
The pictures are as full of peace and solace—and humor—as the text: The title page has the panda dancing in a pair of oversize shorts; the cake Addy brings for tea has a stalk of bamboo in it for Stillwater; Karl and the panda bow to each other at the end of their day.
Each of Stillwater's "Zen Shorts" shows the children something special about their world, something simple and yet profound. This simplicity extends to Jon Muth's wonderfully spare yet powerful watercolour and ink illustrations
The illustrations are beautiful, the story is interesting, and reading it always returns me to my calm Zen place.
This tale encourages us to reshape our idea of luck from the cultural norm of an immediate good or bad, to simply accepting what comes because we never really know what might happen next, or how the current event might impact that.

What reviewers didn't like

While some may feel that the stories told by Stillwater are beyond the ken of children four through eight years of age, we're sure that Muth would respond that he'd rather see them stretch than rest in a safe harbor of familiarity
Though the stories ask the reader to slow down and think about the nature of life, these are not morality tales. There is no summary sentence at the end to help the reader figure out what the story is trying to teach
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