Zen Shorts (Caldecott Honor Book)

by Jon J Muth

Other authorsJon J. Muth (Illustrator)
Hardcover, 2005



Local notes

E Mut



Scholastic Press (2005), 40 pages


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.


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

40 p.; 10.5 x 0.25 inches


0439339111 / 9780439339117



Media reviews

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)
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Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 58 no8 351 Ap 2005
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.
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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member lnpowers
I liked that this story was bringing the buddhist traditions of Zen to a dominant culture family in the United States by a panda. The children seem to learn from him as I hope the readers would do.

This book could be used in a program that discusses the buddhist religion and traditions.
LibraryThing member leighanngoodwill
Zen is a Japanese word that means meditation and 'Zen shorts' are short meditations, which are stories to puzzle over and think about. John Muth shares a story about a Panda named Stillwater who lives near a family with three children. Stillwater tells a short story to each of the children to help them understand the world around them.… (more)
LibraryThing member Junep
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member AbigailAdams26
When Stillwater the panda arrives in their backyard, clutching a red umbrella and speaking with a slight "panda accent," Addy, Michael and Karl aren't sure just what to make of their new neighbor. But as each of them find their way to Stillwater's house, they discover that this tranquil and wise bear has a gift for telling Zen tales that give them a better understanding of their own experiences.

The three embedded Zen stories, dealing with generosity and not getting too attached to material possessions, the variable nature of luck, and the importance of letting go of anger, are all engaging. But it is the framing narrative, the lovable Stillwater, and Jon J. Muth's beautiful watercolor illustrations that truly make this picture book extraordinary. This was a Caldecott Honor Book, and truly deserved the distinction...
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LibraryThing member ezwicky
"That's a good book, Mama," said my 3-year old. "There's a raccoon in it." I don't think that was her only reason for enjoying it, although it is true that the zen tales the panda tells are all full of animals, and the robber is a raccoon. It is a comforting book, with a wise zen panda who looks soft and calm and solid, and somehow manages to convey good lessons without sounding preachy.… (more)
LibraryThing member elfschild
When Stillwater the giant panda moves into the neighborhood, he has marvelous stories to tell to three siblings. Watercolors illustrate the main story and brush and ink drawings illustrate the pandas stories. Lovely and though provoking. ages 4-8 or older
LibraryThing member LindseyBallard
This book tells the story about three siblings: Michael, Karl and Addy, who have a Panda that lives close by! These characters all become great friends. Each day one of the siblings goes and visits Panda and he intrigues them in a Zen story. The Zen story gets the children to think about things from a different perspective. Such as materialistic things, good and bad and letting go of grudges.

This book was very interesting. I loved how the author portrays the Panda as a very relaxed and care-free Panda that believes in the good of people. Sometimes children have a hard time grasping forgiveness or the difference between bad and good and this book does a great job of getting to the point. Very enjoyable read! This will be added to my favorites!

A great classroom extension would be do have the children write in their journals about a time a friend or family member did something that upset them and how they overcome their grudge toward it. Have them explain ways to let things “roll of their shoulders.” Also, they could pick one of the three siblings and draw a picture or them and Panda having a conversation, basically summarizing the Zen story that Panda told them!
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LibraryThing member Mluke04
This story is a mix of fantasy and legend. The fantasy is the story between the Zen stories that Stillwater tells and the legends are the Zen stories. Stillwater is a panda bear, yet he can talk to the children. This is the fantasy part. The Zen stories have been passed down through the centuries and may even contain a little truth. This is the part of the book that is legend.
The illustrations are helpful in dividing the book into the interactions of the children with Stillwater and the stories thar Stillwater tells. The illustrations with Stillwater and the children are in color and are more detailed while the illustrations of the Zen stories are just made with black ink.
Media: Watercolor and ink
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LibraryThing member sharmon05
The main character in this book is a talking polar bear that travels by umbrella; this makes this book a good example of a fantasy. The illustrations in this book are very interesting because they change between watercolor and ink drawings. The ink drawings are there to illustrate the Zen stories the bear tells. This makes it so the reader can clearly see when they are reading a story within a story.… (more)
LibraryThing member jlsherman
Three wonderful short stories, about looking at life in a different way.
LibraryThing member wturnbull06
This is a good example of a fantasy and religious stories because it has children befriending a panda bear who tells them Zen Buddhist stories to help them understand the problem and teach them lessons.
Characteriztion: Karl is a dynamic character becasue she changes from being mad that his older brother tells him what to do all the time to realizing that the reason why is becasue he has more experiance and knows more things after the pandas story.
Media: water color and ink
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LibraryThing member eecnelsen
This book is very intresting having two story lines. One of the character and one where the character is being told a story.
LibraryThing member tamilarson
3 children befriend a panda who tells them storys with morals to fit their lives and help them become better people.
LibraryThing member kaiserestates
The book tells the story of 3 siblings who each meet a new neighbor who happens to be a pnada bear named Stillwater. The siblings each meet the neighbor on their own terms and are told stories from Zen Buddha book challenges students to reexamine their habits.
LibraryThing member jessielo1981
I am a big fan of panda. Zen Shorts is a beautifully illistrated narritive of three siblings that become friends with a panda named Stillwater. Although the content and themes would be better understood by older readers, all children would be able to enjoy the beautiful pictures and interesting characters. The illustrations seem to flow in such tranquil and soothing ways. These illustrations of the scenes from real life are detailed and realistic, and the pictures that go with the Zen lessons are boldly painted in sweeping black and white. This is one of my favorite books.… (more)
LibraryThing member artlibby
One fine day three siblings meet their neighbor, who just happens to be a panda bear named Stillwater. Each child ends up visiting their new neighbor on their own terms. Each visit spawns a little story that causes the listener to ponder the way they perceive the world. The beautiful and simplistic artwork compliment the story perfectly. The lovely asian motif that covered the front endpaper barely prepares for the beautiful watercolors within! Children will delight in the comfortable friendship Stillwater develops with the three siblings, and will find the insights he provides thought provoking. The author concludes with a note about Buddhism and its relation to the story. A must for elementary school libraries and would make a great bedtime story.… (more)
LibraryThing member cshaw
This is a story about a girl and two boys who meet a Panda. The panda tells each child a Buddhist story which causes him or her to reexamine their ideas, desires, habits and fears. This leads to a lasting friendship between each other and with the panda. This is a great book with wonderful illustrations in both watercolor and ink. The ideas appeal to both children and adults. The art is very effective in setting a warm and friendly contemplative tone for the story.… (more)
LibraryThing member ericarhenry
I really enjoyed this book. This is one that I think both the story and the illustrations are fantastic. The story is entertaining and amusing. It's about 3 kids who meet a giant panda in their backyard and become friends. They each go and have seperate visits with him and it turns out the panda, Stillwater, is a storyteller. He tells each of them a story that has a lesson incorporated into it. He becomes their friend and teaches them lessons. The art in this book is really different and the illustrator uses different techniques. In the story of Stillwater and the kids, it's done in color and paint - I think watercolor. In the stories that Stillwater tells the kids, it looks like it is sketched and it's in black and white with a different background color. Overall, it's a fun book to read and I think kids would really enjoy it.… (more)
LibraryThing member tibobi
For reading time today, my daughter picked out Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth. This book originally came out in 2005 and I remember seeing it at the bookstore but it never caught her eye until recently.

Imagine what happens when a panda bear by the name of Stillwater becomes your neighbor. Michael, Karl and Addy get to know their neighbor through the short "zen" like stories he shares with them.

The book is beautifully illustrated and filled with life-long lessons for everyday life, such as not carrying around anger or how to be thankful for what you have. This book would be great for boys or girls ages 4-7. It's also "adult friendly" in that it was interesting to read to my daughter and was not repetitive at all. It flowed quite nicely. It would make a really nice gift.

On a side note... some of the pages would be beautiful framed. When I had my kids I had grandiose ideas of framing favorite pages from books to hang in their nursery. Wouldn't that be cool? I never got around to doing it but this book would be good for that.
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LibraryThing member NancyStorm
Stillwater is a Giant Panda who moves into a community. He helps children understand some of the controversies about life. He is loved and listened to in this book with great artwork on every page. Can be used to work with youngsters looking for answers.
LibraryThing member joel07
Caldecott winner and a great story as well. Often the illustrations in a Caldecott can over shadow the story but in Zen Shorts the story is equally perfect. The relationships of the children and the Panda is whimsical, but this story packs in wonderful mini stories to teach life lessons.
LibraryThing member missrader
A collection of three short stories within a larger story. Each short story teaches a moral.
LibraryThing member APoteet
Siblings Michael, Addy and Karl meet a giant panda named Stillwater in their backyard. In turn, he tells each a traditional Zen story that challenges readers to look at common situations in new ways.
LibraryThing member h_clark
This is a great story with the wisdom of the panda mixed beautifully throughout with the stories he tells the children. The illustrations are a combination of beautiful watercolors and ink drawings.
LibraryThing member justinscott66
This beautifully illustrated book brings big ideas like wealth, life, giving, forgiving and anger to a very young audience. Perhaps the best thing about Muth's book is the opportunity it presents to a teacher or parent to discuss difficult issues with children. Is that what really good children's literature supposed to do?… (more)




(394 ratings; 4.4)
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