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Zen Shorts

by Jon J Muth

Published by Scholastic Press, 2005
40 pages
ISBN: 0-439-33911-1

Ages 4-8

Jon J Muth introduces three short Zen meditations (which he describes as “ideas to puzzle over” in his clear, concise author’s note) in a playful, contemplative book that does indeed gently encourage children to think more deeply about how they can choose to perceive and respond to what happens in their lives. The meditations are three entertaining stories rooted in both Zen Buddhism and Taoism. The stories are told to three contemporary children -- Addy, Michael, and Karl – who have made friends with Stillwater, a Giant Panda who showed up in their yard one day, in pursuit of an umbrella carried off by the wind. Each of the three children makes a separate visit to Stillwater’s home, and he offers each in turn a story perfectly suited to that child in the moment at hand. When young Karl arrives he is angry over how bossy his older brother can be, and continues to fret after a day of play. Stillwater tells him a story called “A Heavy Load,” in which an older monk helps a selfish woman across a puddle without thanks. The young monk who is his companion can’t stop brooding over the woman’s rudeness. Finally the older monk says, “I set that woman down hours ago…Why are you still carrying her?” Stillwater’s wise and benevolent spirit is both a comfort and challenge in a delightful book that inspires contemplation. Muth's trademark soothing watercolor illustrations (including the teasing visual pun on the cover showing Stillwater dancing on rooftops in boxer shorts) are juxtaposed with black-and white line drawings that illustrate each of the three traditional stories. (MS) ©2005 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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