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Zen Shorts (2005)

by Jon J. Muth

Series: Zen (1)

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2,4531984,269 (4.37)30
When Stillwater the bear moves into the neighborhood, the stories he tells to three siblings teach them to look at the world in new ways.
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    The Lost Horse: A Chinese Folktale by Ed Young (muumi)
    muumi: The story of the old man who lost his horse, told by Stillwater the panda in Zen Shorts, is recounted at greater length in The Lost Horse -- with puppets to act it out included.
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» See also 30 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 198 (next | show all)
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. -- GoodReads
  EKiddieKollege | Aug 10, 2020 |
I read this for the "Book Used In A Celebrity Book Club" part of my 2020 reading challenge. I enjoyed it, the panda was adorable and the "zen shorts", short additions of classic fables, was a really great idea. ( )
  Linyarai | Feb 16, 2020 |
This book is comprised of one main story with three shorter stories in it. It starts when three children befriend a panda bear named Stillwater . When each child takes his or her turn to visit Stillwater, he gives them advice by telling a story. I think children can really learn from the stories while enjoying the book. ( )
  bernadettecasey | Aug 20, 2019 |
Top 100 pick because:

Zen Shorts is my jam.
I write haikus all the time.
Although they're just meh.

I studied abroad in Japan, particularly Zen Buddhism so this picure book was a delight to read. It elquenctly and effortlessly captures the essense of zen, meditation, Taoism, and more. The watercolor illustrations are a great fit for this topic, and the emotion and zen behind the story delicately captured through them. ( )
  EMiMIB | Aug 9, 2019 |
A philosophical panda moves in next door and tells the neighbour children tales beloved in Zen lore and Chinese folk tradition, including my favourite good news/bad news story When The Old Man On The Frontier Lost His Horse. ( )
  muumi | Jun 11, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 198 (next | show all)
Limpidly beautiful watercolors and a wry, puckish gentleness mark these three Zen stories, one for each of three children. Michael, Karl and Addy discover a giant panda in their backyard. (“He spoke with a slight panda accent.”) His name is Stillwater, and he tells Addy the tale of his Uncle Ry, who gave the robber who could find nothing to steal in his house his own tattered robe. (The robber, in the black-and-white illustrations that mark the three stories, is a raccoon.) When Michael comes to visit, he climbs a tree to sit with Stillwater, who tells the story of the farmer’s luck. Karl comes to visit carrying too much stuff for Stillwater’s wading pool, and hears just the right story for him. 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. The Buddha lurks in the details here: Every word and image comes to make as perfect a picture book as can be. (author’s note) (Picture book. 5-9)
 
Addy, Michael, and Karl meet Stillwater the giant panda when he enters their yard to retrieve his breeze-blown umbrella. In their subsequent one-on-one visits to Stillwater's house, the siblings enjoy short stories from the Zen and Taoist practices told by Stillwater. Though the children's interaction with Stillwater instigates the telling of each story, these tales connect only tenuously with the frame narrative, and their primary purpose seems more to provide food for thought than to offer resolution to the problems presented in the frame story. Indeed, as explained in an author's note, these shorts are traditionally used to guide meditation rather than to entertain. In keeping with the intention of the text, the line-and-watercolor illustrations display a meditative balance of color and smoothness of movement--figures in motion appear to float in the lemon and azure air, even as their bodies retain a decided weight. Images of climbing and bouncing figures emphasize that ethereality, which, when combined with the delicately expressive human and panda forms, positions the visual effect of the illustrations halfway between realism and surrealism. The art for the internal short stories is given in dramatic black ink sketches, the strikingly energetic elements silhouetted against white or white and a single pastel. In spite of the quality of the illustrations, peaceful reflection is not an easy sell to picture-book aficionados, so the contemplative text limits the youthful audience to those who have strong interests in this aspect of Asian culture or those with impressive powers of concentration. A note explains more about Zen and Muth's specific inspirations.
added by ReneHohls | editBulletin of the Center for Children's Books 58 no8 351 Ap 2005, Timnah Card (Apr 1, 2005)
 
Stories within a story give readers many layers to enjoy and explore. Jon Muth writes about three siblings with a new neighbor -- a giant panda named Stillwater with the wisdom of an ancient Buddhist monk. Stillwater doesn't lead his listeners to any conclusions, which guarantees that each reading can lead to new ideas and epiphanies.

The beautiful watercolor and ink illustrations are -- like the stories they accompany -- deceptively simple. But a careful examination will reveal small details that reinforce the Asian inspiration. On the last page, Muth gives more details about Zen, the real people behind his imaginary characters, and shares the origins of the stories. Kids who are ready to think about complicated ideas about justice, kindness, and retribution will value the book, and even younger kids who just want entertainment will be pleased.
 

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Zen (1)
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Epigraph
Dedication
FOR BALLARD BORICH
the Giant Panda I've often found dancing on my porch
First words
"Michael! There's a bear outside!" said Karl.
Quotations
"What's he doing?" Michael asked. / "He's sitting. He has an umbrella," said Karl. / "An umbrella?"
He spoke with a slight panda accent.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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When Stillwater the bear moves into the neighborhood, the stories he tells to three siblings teach them to look at the world in new ways.

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Curriculum Connection:  3rd Grade Reading  Std. 2 Reading for All Purposes
Concepts and skills students master:1. Strategies are needed to make meaning of various types of literary genres
iii. Recount stories, including fables, folktales, and myths from diverse cultures; determine the central message, lesson, or moral and explain how it is conveyed through key details in the text. (CCSS: RL.3.2)
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